A Visit to Mouton Rothschild

"Château Mouton Rothschild x" by Benjamin Zingg, Switzerland - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ch%C3%A2teau_Mouton_Rothschild_x.jpg#/media/File:Ch%C3%A2teau_Mouton_Rothschild_x.jpg

It’s time for En Primeur, so it only seems right that we spotlight a few of our favorite Bordeaux producers, starting with Château Mouton Rothschild.  One of Bordeaux’s first-growth jewels, this estate is located in the village of Pauillac, 30 miles northwest of Bordeaux Centre, with 203 acres of vineyards on the slopes of the Gironde in the Medoc.

The Family

The Rothschild family has a rich history in finance, with family members working in main European financial centers all over the continent since the mid-18th century: Frankfurt, Vienna, London, Naples, and Paris.  One of two French branches of the Rothschild family was founded by Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild, a London-born aristocrat who moved to Paris with the intent of working with his uncle.  In 1853 – wanting to produce wine to serve to his friends – the Baron bought Château Brane-Mouton at auction, which he renamed to Château Mouton Rothschild.  Nearly 70 years later, in 1922, the Baron Philippe de Rothschild (great-grandson of Baron Nathaniel) took over the estate.  His daughter, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, inherited the estate upon Baron Philippe’s death in 1988, and took to becoming a global ambassador for the estate and for Bordeaux as a whole.  The Baroness passed away in 2014, and the estate is now run by her eldest son, Philippe Sereys de Rothschild.

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Pauillac and the Estate

Getting to the Medoc from Bordeaux Centre takes approximately one very scenic hour – lots of lush scenery interspersed between  little towns that you must cut through.  You will also pass a few famous names on the way – Margaux, Pichon-Longueville, Leoville-Poyferre, Beychevelle (if you take D2), the road map looking more like a well-curated wine menu at a Michelin-starred restaurant!  As you go through the vineyards of Pauillac, you may recognize some iconic landmarks – like the tower from Château Latour pictured above.  In a stark contrast to Napa Valley’s Highway 29 or Silverado Trail, the roads are quiet and the estates are more spread out – no buses full of tipsy bachelorettes in sundresses here, as many of the tastings are by appointment only and much more low-key.

Château Mouton Rothschild charges 45€ per person for the tour and to taste wine.  (This tour takes approximately two hours, maybe even a little longer, so plan any other appointments accordingly!)  It begins with an informative film on the family and the estate, and from there, you will tour the grounds – from the vineyards, to the vinification area, to the library and museum.

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The New Vat Room

In 2012, Mouton-Rothschild did an overhaul of their gravity-fed vat room, hiring a set designer and architect to design every inch – from the walkways to the halls – making the entire aesthetic pretty dramatic, and almost theatrical.  When we arrived, they had just cleaned all the equipment in preparation for harvest.  We went down to the vinification vats – 64 in total, (44 oak and 20 stainless), an artistic display of wood, concrete, and steel.  Much of the harvested grapes at Mouton go through an optical sorting machine, but Philippe Dhalluin, managing director of the estate, also likes manual sorting because it “allows more integrity in the grapes” – an indication of the level of detail paid by the winemaker.  They strive for precision at Mouton, even going so far as to vinify certain parcels separately and combining them later for a more careful and thoughtful blend.

 

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 The Great Barrel Hall

The Grand Chai, or Great Barrel Hall, is a result of the Baron Philippe’s decision to bottle wines at the château – the first estate to do such a thing.  Simply, the château needed more space to store the wine, so in 1926, this 100-metre-long room was built, designed by architect Charles Siclis.  It’s quite an impressive room that feels sort of like an old church when you’re standing at the back, gazing over the rows of barrels.  At the front of the room, the family’s crest.

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Gilded silver ram cup, c1590

The Museum of Wine in Art

In 1962, the Minister of Cultural Affairs inaugurated the Museum of Wine in Art, the estate’s private collection of precious wine-related objects.  This wing of the estate is quite interesting – artifacts from all over the world, and of all ages, are displayed in a carefully curated exhibit.  From tapestries to goblets, ivory carvings, glassware – if you love art and artifacts, you could stay in this section for a very long time.  I felt like this was one of the best parts of the tour, and especially loved this silver ram cup, above.  Another section of the museum displays the labels that Mouton commissioned over the years – great artists like Chagall, Jeff Koons, Picasso, Salvador Dali, and Keith Haring have designs that have appeared on various vintages of Château Mouton Rothschild since 1945.  

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The Wine

At the end of the tour, you will get to sample the vintage that is not yet bottled (barrel samples), or most recent release.   Sadly, you are not able to taste a selection of different vintages, but it is still a wonderful end to a tour that is rich in historical insight and beautiful displays.  Definitely a must visit for fans of Bordeaux wines and anyone who is interested in wine-related art!  Tours are available in several languages as well.

To visit:

Château Mouton Rothschild
33250 Pauillac
tel. +33 (0)5 56 73 21 29

By appointment only.

Some great Château Mouton Rothschild vintages available through Vinfolio:

1986 Mouton-Rothschild  (1.5L)     Buy Now  $2495.00

1988 Mouton-Rothschild  (750ml)  Buy Now  $395.00

2003 Mouton-Rothschild  (750ml)  Buy Now  $485.00

2005 Mouton-Rothschild  (750ml)  Buy Now  $669.95

2009 Mouton-Rothschild  (750ml)   Buy Now  $799.95

Wine 101: How to Decode a French Wine Label

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Most domestic wine labels are pretty straightforward – you can see clearly when you’re purchasing a Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, or Merlot.  But venturing into foreign wines can be a little intimidating for the uninitiated – a French wine label often omits varietal, and has a bunch of notations (in French, bien sur) that don’t immediately make sense upon first read.  Even the most seasoned wine professional can get stumped by a wine label now and then – the regulations for labeling wine vary by country, and each component may not be in the same place each time.  For new wine aficionados, reading wine labels can be overwhelming, so we’ll break down a French wine label here for you.

Producer

The company (or the wine’s trademarked name) must be on the label.

Vintage

The year the grapes were harvested for the wine.  This is not always present on the main label – some producers will use a neck label to denote vintage instead.

Appellation title or sub-region

An appellation is an officially formed wine region within a country.  For example, “Pauillac” is a specific appellation within Bordeaux, a wine-producing region in France.  Each appellation must abide by a set of regulations that dictate the quality and contents of the wine from that region, in order to be considered a true wine of that appellation.  “Appellation Origine Controlée” or, AOC, will be on the label if the wine is produced according to these guidelines.

Varietal

Unlike many New World wines, French wines often don’t include the varietal on the wine label.  This is because each appellation has a specific type of grape(s) they are permitted to grow and include in their wine, in order to qualify for an AOC labeling.  For example, all wines with a Bordeaux AOC denomination are limited to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec for red wines, and Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle, and a handful of other white varietals for white wines, grown in very small quantities in the area.

Estate Bottling Information

The words “Mise en bouteille au Château” mean that the wine has been produced with grapes grown and harvested in the winery’s own vineyards.  If the winery uses grapes grown by someone else (a negociant), the label may say “Mise en bouteille à la propriété” (bottled on property).

Other words to know on a French wine label:

Cru – “growth”, like “Grand Cru”

1er – French shorthand for “premier”, the French word for “first” (i.e. 1er Cru = “Premier Cru”)

Vielles Vignes – old vines

Blanc – white

Rouge – red

Millésime or Récolte – vintage/harvest date

Cuvée – house blend

Clos – translates as “an enclosure,” usually an enclosed vineyard (i.e. Clos du Caillou)

Crémant – sparkling wine not from the Champagne region (i.e. Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne)

Have we left anything out?  Please feel free to ask our wine experts questions in the comments below.  Santé!

California’s Drought & Wine Country

A close-up of damaged grape vines in Michael Vandborg’s drought stricken vineyard in the Lamont farming community in southeastern Joaquin Valley in Kern County, CA on Feb. 26, 2014. USDA photo by David Kosling.

It’s the middle of March, and Californians from San Francisco to San Diego are enjoying glorious amounts of weather worthy of a coastline cruise in a convertible.  Rosé weather during Thanksgiving weekend?  Yes!  Beach day in December?  That’s right.  Our warm weather induces eye-rolls from our friends out East, who have been literally buried under record-breaking amounts of snow until recently. But the sunshine comes with a price – California is entering our 4th year of drought, the worst we’ve had in over a century, causing havoc and economic hardship in the agriculture sector.

The drought has given winemakers all over California some cause for concern, due to the potential damage that the lack of water can cause to the vines, should the vines dry up completely.  Last year, vineyard owners had to prune and harvest sooner than usual, as the grapes ripened faster due to the copious amount of sun they were receiving.  Many vintners have turned to dry-farming, in the face of a growing water shortage, but some say this changes the character and taste of the grape dramatically.  And, less water used can mean less yield from the vines, in turn decreasing overall wine production.  Wine shortage, people.  It could happen.

The silver lining in all of this?  The 2014 vintage could turn out to be a spectacular one.  Grapes are fairly drought resistant, and the stress of getting less water means smaller berries with more concentrated sugar & flavors.  This may mean higher quality wine with greater aging possibility.  Vintages during drought years, such as 2012 and 2013, garnered better rankings in publications such as Wine Advocate, than rainier years like 2011.  What do you predict for the 2014 vintage, and 2015 harvest?  Share your thoughts in our comments section.

Here are a few Vinfolio selections from drought years 2012 & 2013:

2013 Aubert – Chardonnay Eastside Vineyard  (98-100 pts, Wine Advocate)

2012 Schrader – Cabernet Sauvignon (LPB) Las Piedras Vineyard (96-98 pts, Wine Advocate)

2012 Orin Swift – Papillon (93 points, Wine Advocate)

2012 Arietta – H Block Hudson Vineyard (92-94 pts, International Wine Cellar)

How Much Light Is Bad Light When Storing Wine?

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So we’ve told you why vibrations are bad for storing wine, so today we’ll give you some tips on proper lighting and the important ways it can effect a fine wine. 

Do not expose your wine to excessive light. Sunlight or other forms of bright light age the wine too soon, leaving you with poor quality tastings. Ideally, wine should be stored in a dark, cool environment. Continue reading How Much Light Is Bad Light When Storing Wine?

Why You Should Eliminate Vibration When Storing Wine

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There are numerous important factors to consider when storing wine, whether it be long or short term. The ideal temperature is 55 degrees with a humid environment. Do not let light into the storage space and keep the bottles on their side when in storage. For now, we want to emphasize is the effect of vibration and how to minimize or just completely eliminate it. 

Bad Vibrations

Keep the bottles still! Do not place your fine wines in a storage fridge that is going to constantly moving! You may not even know there are vibrations in the storage space, but be careful of it! For short term storage, this is not as big of a deal, but if you’re storing a wine for ten years, this can have a huge effect on the quality, flavors, aromas, and texture.

Continue reading Why You Should Eliminate Vibration When Storing Wine

A Glass For Your Wine

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Wine glasses and flutes make the wine and champagne look pretty and presentable. But their shape, size, and fragility all have an effect on the drink. It can change the wine taste and intensify or lessen aromas. Lettie Teague of WSJ and Jancis Robinson each discuss how they have learned to appreciate a fine glass almost as much as a fine wine.

“Once more, there were stark differences—the bulbous Spiegelau Burgundy glass made the Meursault seem fatter and flatter while in the Zalto Universal glass, it was more minerally, showing a higher level of acidity. In short, it just seemed more precise. I tried them both over and over. The Spiegelau shows the fruit and the Zalto shows the minerality, said Mr. Sohm.”

Wall Street Journal has the rest…

“Once you have experienced a decent-sized wine glass, one that’s at the very least as tall as a paperback with a suitably shaped simple bowl, there really is no going back.”

And check out what Jancis Robinson to say in her recent post.