A Glimpse Into The Exclusive Chateau Mouton Rothschild

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in: Drinking

Mouton Rothschild’s new vinification cellar is reflected in a giant mirror. Credit: Carla Capalbo

It was a party in high style, held at the legendary Château Mouton Rothschild. To attend it, over 600 guests — including 350 international wine journalists — descended on the usually sleepy village of Pauillac, in the heart of the Médoc wine region, north of Bordeaux. They were dressed to the nines.

The opening press dinner of Vinexpo, the biennial international wine fair in Bordeaux, is hosted by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux at a different First Growth château each time. It’s a grand affair. This year’s was a double celebration: In addition to marking the start of the trade fair, at which wines from all over the world are sampled and sold, the historic winery was also launching its new vinification cellar, or cuvier. Designed by architect Bernard Mazières and designer Richard Peduzzi, with the help of the château’s dynamic director, Philippe Dhalluin, the cellar was years in the making.

Everyone was curious to see the building unveiled. As they entered the winery’s courtyard, the guests were met with a spectacular trompe l’oeil: The new building first appeared as a reflection, on a vast mirror erected along one side of the courtyard. Its classical façade and soft golden stone fit well with the other buildings in the château’s complex.

“It’s breathtaking! Anything Château Mouton Rothschild does sets a standard for the global wine world,” one Asian wine writer exclaimed admiringly as he took photos of the virtual cellar on his iPad. Inside, the real cellar revealed a restrained design of wood and stainless steel in which the precious grapes can now be transformed more efficiently into wine. It incorporates the most up-to-date vinification tanks and temperature-controlled technologies. Mouton Rothschild is one of the world’s most sought-after wines, with bottles of the iconic red wine going for very high prices: A bottle of the 2010 costs upward of 1,100 euros. Currently, between 200,000 and 300,000 bottles of the top wine and 40,000 bottles of the second wine, Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild, are produced from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes grown in the estate’s perfectly manicured vineyards.

The Mouton Rothschild legacy

Mouton Rothschild has long been a bastion both of winemaking and culture. Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, who hosted the party, is a modern-day arts patron, as was her late father, Baron Philippe. In 1945, he began commissioning a different modern artist each year to design a label for the château’s top wine, Château Mouton Rothschild. The tradition continues to this day, with an extraordinary range of artists who have produced the graphics for the top part of the label that has included Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Jeff Koons and Keith Haring. The labels are so beautiful they have become collectibles in their own right.

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The barrique, or barrel cellar. Credit: Carla Capalbo

The new cellar provides a permanent space for a fascinating exhibition on the history of these labels, with a framed panel dedicated to each work that includes letters and sketches from the artists. This will be an extension to the château’s existing art collection, the Museum of Wine in Art. Here, sculptures, tapestries and paintings from many eras celebrate the importance of wine in each culture. Visits are possible to the château and its exhibitions, by appointment.

The sit-down dinner included a delicious cheese soufflé — quite a catering feat for 600 guests! — and some remarkable wines from the Union’s châteaux. The most spectacular was the 1975 Mouton Rothschild, with its colourful Andy Warhol label, which was served from magnificent Imperial-sized bottles (holding 6 liters each, or the equivalent of 8 standard bottles). The bottles were carried into the dining room to a trumpet fanfare. The wine’s complexity, elegance and freshness are characteristics of the best wines of Bordeaux. It was a fitting way to launch the fair and confirm to the guests who had arrived from all over the world that Bordeaux is still actively at the heart of great wine and of great culture.

Top photo: Mouton Rothschild’s new vinification cellar is reflected in a giant mirror. Credit: Carla Capalbo


Zester Daily contributor Carla Capalbo is an award-winning food, wine and travel writer who has been based in Italy for more than 20 years. Her book "Collio: Fine Wines and Foods From Italy's Northeast" recently won the André Simon prize for best wine book, and her website is carlacapalbo.com.

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Comments

Paul Levy
on: 7/17/13
Great piece, Carla. When I was an annual guest at Mouton in the late 80s and 90s, we were always given the 1975 Mouton. It was not ready for drinking then, and I thought to myself that it was so tough and tannic that it would probably never come around. I began (ungraciously) to suspect that it was always served because it was a vintage when there was a large yield of poor quality wine, and that Mouton preferred to use it up rather than sell it! But maybe I'm wrong...
Carla Capalbo
on: 7/17/13
Hi Paul, glad you like the piece. Interesting what you say about the 1975: I can quite imagine it must have been tough in its youth. But age has helped it along: while it may not be the greatest vintage ever, the wine that was served at our table -- and don't forget it was in large bottles, which no doubt helped it mature -- was eminently drinkable.
Raphael
on: 7/22/13
These wines are offer the ultimate conundrum, don't they? One can truly appreciate the thrill of such majestic wines only when obtaining them is prohibitively expensive - but then, if you keep them, you don't enjoy them. If you consume and enjoy them, you don't have them. If you're so wealthy that the price is no object, it's just a great taste but hardly a thrill. A great joke of life.
Carla Capalbo
on: 7/22/13
There's no doubt that these wines (and those of another dozen or so of the most prestigious chateaux) are now priced completely beyond the reach of the average drinker (myself included). They've become status symbols and collector's items. It's now very hard even for wine writers to taste these wines in their maturity. On one hand, that's a shame. On the other, it encourages us to explore wines from less well known estates to discover exciting wines to drink at prices we can afford. There are lots of those in Bordeaux.
Sue Style
on: 7/22/13
What a fabulous experience, Carla, and thanks for sharing! Still trying to get my head around cheese soufflé for 600...did it hold up?!
Carla Capalbo
on: 7/22/13
Yes, Sue, it was a fairy tale experience. And yes, incredibly enough, the soufflés were just as they should be: soft and moelleux in the center as well as airy and browned on the top. They were cooked in quite large dishes, with soufflé for about 8 people in each dish. Délicieux!
David West (Mushroom Man)
on: 7/23/13
First Off I would like to say to Carla that your first book is the single most dog eared travel book we own and I believe we have been to nearly every single producer in it. It lead to a love affair with small, family run artisanal food producers that has shaped my life for over 15 years. We have built on the book over the years and have a wonderful group of lovely people we visit in Italy. From wine maker -olive oil producers in Montalcino to butchers in Pitigliano and many more. Some with shops the size of a closet. First growth wines are now quoted (price) on Bloomberg Wire and traded as a commodity. I will reserve judgment on that fact and simply pass it along. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-07-17/mouton-rothschild-06-bordeaux-drops-to-5-875-three-month-low.html
Carla Capalbo
on: 7/23/13
Thanks David (I'm intrigued about the mushroom connection)...I'm delighted that my Tuscan Food and Wine Lover's Companion was so useful to you. (It was the first of my regional Italian guide books, but not my first book). Thanks too for the link to Bloomberg. Did you see the interesting article in the New York Times about the thousands of bottles of premium wines that were being stored in a cellar in lower Manhattan for many rich clients who had invested in these sorts of wines and that was sadly flooded during the hurricane? It appears a lot of the labels came off under the water. Yet the contents of the bottles are still intact. Quite an interesting dilemma.
David West (Mushroom Man)
on: 7/26/13
Carla, I am "the mushroom man" at the Hollywood and Santa Monica Farmers Markets and have been since the mid 1990's. We are dropping Hollywood this year but will stay on in SM so if you are ever in the area stop by. Another Zester author (C. Brown) is a longtime customer. As to the NYT story there is more to it. There had been questions surrounding that place before Sandy hit. I believe lawsuits were already pending prior to Sandy. David

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