First Growth Focus – Château Mouton-Rothschild

Pretender to the throne or deserving champion?

When Mouton-Rothschild was not selected as a First Growth in the 1855 Bordeaux wine classification Baron Philippe de Rothschild declared it a “monstrous injustice”. Given that the classification was based on market prices and that those of Mouton-Rothschild were equal to those of Lafite-Rothschild, it seems a reasonable claim. It is suspected that its English-ownership had far more to do with Mouton’s fallen star than the demand for its wines.

It was an injustice that was reversed in 1973, making Mouton-Rothschild the only wine to have been promoted in a classification that has remained otherwise unaltered for the last century and a half. Since that point, Mouton has always held its own (and often more than that) as a member of the five great First Growths of Bordeaux, proving perhaps beyond doubt that it should have been included all along.

The vineyard occupies around 75 hectares of some of the best soil in Pauillac and is planted with approximately 80% Cabernet-Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet-Franc, 8% Merlot and the rest Petit Verdot. The resulting wines are often described as being the most opulent and perhaps more “feminine” of the First Growths, with their exotic styling and glossy fruit. While lacking neither seriousness nor structure, they are often among the more showy of the big five, especially at a young stage.

This stylistic exuberance is complemented by artistic enthusiasm when it comes to the labels of the Grand Vin. Since the Second World War, Mouton-Rothschild has commissioned artists to design its labels, including legendary greats such as Warhol, Picasso, Bacon, Kandinsky and Dalí. More recently they have also sought designs by artists from China and Japan – cynical perhaps, given the current market, but successful: the rumours of a Chinese artist featuring on the label of the 2008 vintage prompted huge surges in the wine’s market price.

This interest in the 2008 vintage has recently fuelled a readjustment of prices for previous vintages of Mouton-Rothschild, which had formerly languished a little behind those of Latour and Lafite-Rothschild – since November 2010, the vintages between 2000 and 2007 have seen an average price rise of 16%.

2010 vintage
Having had the privilege to visit the Château to taste the 2010 vintage, it is clear that Mouton’s star is still rising. The wine is a tour de force of expertly handled Cabernet-Sauvignon. The structure is profound, with fine-grained, but nonetheless monumental tannins providing a framework around which the opulent, pure, almost-creamy-textured fruit can be hung. Rich, glossy and immensely stylish, this is a wine for the long term and certainly one of the wines of the vintage.

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