Mouton Just Over the Hill

Today’s Story: Château Mouton Rothschild

Château Mouton Rothschild is a historic and highly regarded wine estate located in the Pauillac appellation on the Left Bank of Bordeaux. It is one of five First Growths in Bordeaux, however it did not achieve this status in the original Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 and instead received the status in 1973 after significant lobbying by Baron Philippe de Rothschild. The estate traces its roots back to the year 1720, when it took its name of Château Brane Mouton from Joseph de Brane when he purchased the estate from Nicolas-Alexandre de Segur. The estate was producing world-class wines during the 18th and 19th centuries, ultimately shifting hands when Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild purchased Brane Mouton in 1853 in a somewhat run-down state. Baron Nathaniel replanted the vineyards and changed the estate’s name, so Château Mouton Rothschild was born.

Though the Rothschild family owned the estate, Baron Nathaniel was part of the English branch of the family and never really traveled to or became involved in the estate. The modern era of the estate actually began in 1922, when Baron Nathaniel’s grandson Baron Philippe de Rothschild, then 20 years old, took over the estate and devoted his life to it. Baron Philippe wasted no time in improving the status of Mouton, becoming the first owner in Bordeaux to insist that all his wine should be bottled at the estate to maintain the highest quality standards and control from the vineyards to the finished product. This was at a time when many producers sold their wines to négociants in barrel for them to bottle, so it was already a revolutionary idea. With all bottling done at Mouton beginning in 1924, Baron Philippe built the now-famous Grand Chai in 1926 for necessary added storage. This Grand Chai is a popular and awe-inspiring stop on a visit to Mouton, as it is 100 meters long, beautifully designed, and home to 1,000 oak barrels on a single level.

Another important contribution Baron Philippe made to Mouton is the tie into art. Beginning with the 1945 vintage, the labels of the Grand Vin change each vintage and feature artwork created by world-renowned artists specifically for the Mouton bottles. For example, a couple of my favorite artists including Picasso and Warhol were featured in the past and add a unique, fun, and eye-catching aspect to the estate’s wines.

When Baron Philippe passed away in 1988, his daughter Baroness Philippine de Rothschild inherited the Mouton estate and left her acting career to pick up after her father’s passion. With her children Camille, Philippe, and Julien, the Baroness not only expanded the reach of the estate but also oversaw still-increasing quality and a stronger tie into the world of the arts. She also oversaw a renovation of the château, and a new vat room came into function in 2012 with a marriage of traditional and technological progress.

The Mouton estate today consists of 90 hectares (222 acres) of vines, planted to roughly 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. The vineyards lie on deep, gravelly soil which provides optimal growing conditions and the average vine age is 44 years. All harvesting occurs entirely by hand, with the fruit destemmed and sorted again at the winery before being gravity fed into the fermentation vats. The majority of these vats are made of oak, with a decent percentage left to stainless steel as well. All aging occurs in new oak barrels for about 20 months.

Today’s Wine: 1988 Château Mouton Rothschild

75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot; 12.5% ABV

The 1988 Château Mouton Rothschild is deep garnet in color, not really showing any signs of bricking. I drank this as a pop-and-pour, which seemed to be the best bet as this didn’t really change too much over time in the glass. The aromas are of medium intensity, showcasing notes of cassis, cigar box, graphite, green bell pepper, olive, forest floor, coffee grounds, and cedar. Meanwhile the wine’s flavors are also of medium intensity, displaying notes of dried blackcurrant, tobacco, mocha, mushroom, dried green herbs, and cracked pepper. This is a dry red that is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish. Though I still get some nice notes on this, it is certainly over the hill with the tertiary notes dominating and the structure showing the test of time. I think drinking this 5 years ago would’ve been the correct timing.

Price: $550 (shared by a friend who paid $450). The value proposition of these wines is often less than stellar, for one because there are incredible values for half the price and two with wines of this age provenance becomes key. This bottle I would say was in very good condition and of excellent provenance, however you may get luckier in your tasting if you have an immaculate bottle. Nonetheless, consider drinking up.

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