Mouton Rothschild: Wine as Art

The wine estate Château Mouton Rothschild is nestled in the village of Pauillac in the Médoc region, north-west of Bordeaux. Spanning 75 hectares, the vineyard is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon (80%), Merlot (16%), Cabernet Franc (3%) and finally Petit Verdot (1%).

Legendary wine critic Robert Parker once described Chateau Mouton Rothschild as “… one of the immortal wines of the century, with decades to go”. He was right, today its grand vin ranks as one of the world’s most expensive wines at nearly £500 for a 750ml bottle. But what makes it so special?

A Unique Approach to Production

This chateau’s approach to wine production is notably labour intensive and also very unique; annual production of the estate’s ​grand vin is around 20,000 cases. Below are some key factors of Mouton Rothschild’s methods:

* The estate practices green harvesting, the dropping of unripe green clusters of grapes from the vine as a way to thin crops and thus manage yield.
* 100% of their grape picking is done by hand—young vines are harvested first and fermented separately.
* The same people are responsible for the same parcels of vineyard year after year to ensure consistency of management.
* wine is vinified in temperature-controlled wooden vats and aged in 100% new French oak barrels.

The Rothschild Family Legacy

In 1853 Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild bought a chateau called ‘Brane-Mouton’ at auction, ostensibly with the motivation of being able to serve his many distinguished guests with his own wine. Upon purchase, the estate became Château Mouton Rothschild. But it was in 1922 that Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Nathaniel’s great-grandson, took over.

Philippe was to oversee the estate for 60 years and make many innovations, including pioneering the bottling of their wine on-site in 1926. In order for this to happen, they needed more space, so Philippe had architect Charles Siclis design an impressive 100-metre-long Great Barrel Hall.

In 1988 Philippe’s daughter, the well-known actress Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, inherited the estate along with her three children. In 1993 Philippine is credited with creating a second wine, Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild. Following Philippine’s death in 2014, her children, Camille, Philippe and Julien, own and oversee the Mouton Rothschild legacy. Philipe Dhalluin is the estate’s managing director.

“Premier je suis, second je fus, Mouton ne change”
This was the quote that adorned every bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild in 1973. Roughly translated, it means “First I am, second I was, I, Mouton, do not change.” Despite being classified as a Second Growth in 1855, in 1973 it had finally been reclassified as a First Growth Bordeaux—something Baron Philippe Rothschild had been pushing for years.

In 1976, just a few years after its reclassification, the 1970 vintage won second place in the now legendary Judgment of Paris wine competition.

Some Very Unique Bottles

Over the years, the labels of Chateau Mouton Rothschild have been designed by a variety of extremely famous artists. This began tentatively when Baron Philippe Rothschild commissioned popular poster artist Jean Carlu to design the 1924 label.

In 1945, however, the Baron launched the initiative with full force. Artist Philippe Jullian was asked to create a celebratory label marking the end of the Second World War, using a V for victory.

Over the years since then, an astonishing number of celebrated artists have designed a variety of labels for the wine. The star-studded list includes Picasso, Chagall, Braque, Bacon, Dali and Koons. Amazingly, even Prince Charles produced a watercolour painting for display on the 2004 Chateau Mouton Rothschild vintage.

A Marriage of Wine and Art

Mouton Rothschild’s artist-designed labels don’t represent the only link between the chateau and the art world. There’s also a Museum of Wine in Art, the only one of its kind in the world, actually on the estate. Medieval tapestries, Asian porcelains, old oil paintings and rare 17th-century gold and silverware goblets all jostle for space in one of the estate’s former barrel halls.

Tasting Notes

With flavours of exotic Asian spices and a rich texture, Chateau Mouton Rothschild’s grand vin has earned a reputation for being the most exuberant of the Bordeaux First Growths. Like Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild is best enjoyed relatively cool (about 15.5°c) and pairs well with most meats, as well as Asian flavours and some rich fish dishes. It will ideally be left to age for about 15 years in the bottle and should reach peak maturity somewhere between 18—60 years after its vintage.


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