Mouton & Me
It was a chilly, wet morning (like so many in Bordeaux this year) in the city of Bordeaux as I followed Annick, our perky blonde guide to the black Mercedes sedan waiting by the edge of the city’s bustling pedestrian-only shopping zone. 45 minutes later, the construction sites and bustling sounds of a city were far behind as we wove between ancient hovels quaint concrete buildings in the Médoc commune of Pauillac.
Nestled inside this tiny village was our destination: the famed Château Mouton-Rothschild. The only Bordeaux estate to ever be upgraded from a 2nd to 1st Growth, I was thrilled to visit, but had few expectations since these wines are rarely found in your average wine store, let alone in the bargain bins where the majority of my wine purchases are made.
A great label, from a great year.
The estate has been making wine for centuries, literally, and is now one of Bordeaux’s five 1st Growth estates. “1st Growth” is the highest ranking of any Bordeaux wine, and the practice of rating by “growths” or “crus” stems from the 1855 classification of Bordeaux. In essence, Napoleon III ordered the wines of Bordeaux, which were already famous at the time, to be classified by price before being put on display at the World’s Fair in Paris. Mouton was ranked in the 2nd level of growths (or crus) after four other estates.
After a few decades of fighting in the 1900s, Mouton-Rothschild got themselves bumped up, and the price of their Cabernet Sauvignon-based juice certainly matches that of other Médoc and Haut-Médoc estates.
On our tour, Alice the Extraordinary (our guide, AE for short) took us through the Mouton process from grape (which I tasted–yum) to glass (which I gulped–duh).
Yup, that’s how big the door is.
Mass and Scale were words that came to mind again and again as we wandered through the estate’s expansive, newly-opened tank room; down an unlit, ancient stone hallway to the 1000-barrel aging hall, and then through the Rothschild family’s private museum of drinking paraphernalia (yes, drinking game paraphernalia included.)
Beyond the scale and downright beauty of this place (it really is a Châteaux in the grandest sense) AE treated us to glimpses of the little things that make Mouton-Rothschild special, and the care that goes into making any “great” wine great.
And it starts with attention to detail. At Mouton, lasers are programmed to analyze each grape on the sorting table, and make sure only the best get into the gigantic steal tanks where grapes are gently vinified (Extreme, but so Star Trek what’s not to like?). Temperatures are monitored like the blood pressure of infants in NICU–which is to say with extreme diligence. The list goes on, essentially repeating that these guys really put the effort into the juice.