One of the very greatest estates of Bordeaux, Château Mouton Rothschild is in the commune of Pauillac in the Haut-Medoc, 50km north-west of the city of Bordeaux. Its Château wine or ‘grand vin’ is among the world’s most highly-rated and expensive. Excluded from the highest rank (Premier Cru or First Growth) of the famous Bordeaux Classification of 1855, Mouton was finally promoted in 1973 after decades of lobbying by Baron Philippe de Rothschild, who ran the estate from 1922 until his death in 1988. Mouton was first in the region to bottle at the estate, rather than shipping its wine to merchants for bottling elsewhere.
Since 1924 artists including Braque, Dali, Picasso, Henry Moore, Miro, Chagall, Kandinsky, Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Lucian Freud have been commissioned to produce artworks for the Mouton label. Mouton, uniquely among the First Growths, remains in the hands of the same family as it was at the time of the 1855 Classification. The vineyards are on slopes with gravel-based soils leading down to the Gironde estuary and total 75ha – 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. The Château wine is (unusually) fermented in large oak vats and then matured in new oak barrels for between 19 and 22 months. Total production of the ‘grand vin’ is 20,000 dozen or less. There is a ‘second wine’, Le Petit Mouton, established in 1993. The ‘grand vin’ is noted for its flamboyance – exotic, powerful aromas of cassis, minerals, tobacco leaf and graphite, an opulent palate and impressive length of flavour.
Wonderful, concentrated and still astonishingly young, this has brushes of violet aromatics rising above the tight cassis fruits and rich black truffle, and the classic menthol edging of a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Pauillac. We drank this over lunch and it was breathtaking, but were told that 24 hours later it had blossomed even further, so make sure you give this a serious amount of time in carafe to open up -- something that gives you just a small clue as to how structured, layered and complex the wine we are dealing with here is. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. 100 points, Decanter (10/2017).
The 1986 Mouton-Rothschild is a behemoth that almost has a California-like richness and sweetness of fruit. Offering incredible yet classic Cabernet Sauvignon notes of crème de cassis, tobacco leaf, lead pencil shavings, and wood smoke, this beauty starts out reticent and backward (which is mind blowing for a wine that’s 32 years old) yet opens up gorgeously with time in the glass. Full-bodied, deep, rich and unctuous, yet still incredibly pure and lively, it’s a sensational, benchmark Bordeaux that probably has another 2+ decades of longevity. 100 points, JebDunnuck.com (2/2018).
This was the greatest bottle of the 1986 Mouton I have ever drunk. I have been lucky enough to drink it many times, but on occasions it has come across as very tight and reserved, even hard. Yet on this special night last Friday in Bangkok it was perfect – the perfect wine that it was purported to be for a very long time... The bottle we drank showed amazing aromas of mushrooms, mint, minerals and dark berries. It boasted a full body of ultra richness and extraordinary length and beauty. It had an almost chiseled precision to the quality with fabulous length. It lasts for minutes on the palate. My Thai friend decanted it four hours before serving. 100 points, jamessuckling.com (6/2016).
The 1986 Mouton-Rothschild is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot that was picked from 2 October until 16 October. Winemaker Philippe Dhalluin, who was not working at the property back then, told me that the pH was fairly low at 3.54 when it is usually around 3.75, due to the natural tartaric acid in the vines. It has a powerful and intense bouquet as always: exemplary graphite and cedar scents, a touch of black pepper and incense. It seems to unfurl in the glass, like a motor revving its engine. The palate is beautifully balanced with its trademark firm tannic structure, a Mouton-Rothschild with backbone and masculinity. Layers of black fruit intermingling with mint and graphite, a hint of licorice emanating from the Merlot, gently fanning out and my God, it is incredibly long. It is not like the 1985 Mouton-Rothschild that is so fleshy and generous. This is serious, aristocratic Mouton, a true vin de garde and yes, I do think drinkers will have to wait until it reaches its true peak. Sometimes that's just the way it is. Drink 2021-2050. 100 points, Wine Advocate (10/2016).
Philippe Dhalluin served the 1986 Mouton Rothschild to wrap up our vertical. The 1986 remains one of my favourite Moutons. A dark, powerful wine, the 1986 is endowed with a vertical sense of structure that is a marvel to behold. Dark stone fruit, smoke, graphite, mocha, soy and licorice are fused together in a marvelously intense, deep Mouton that promises to drink well for another few decades... absolutely stunning. 99 points, Vinous (5/2016).
Ageless, yet balanced. Black color. Mint, mineral, berry and cherry. Full-bodied, chewy and tight. Long, long finish. A great, great wine. 99 points, James Suckling (6/2001).
Very deep, saturated ruby with only a hint of garnet at the rim. Ripe red and black fruits, mint, vanilla, minerals and delicate black pepper on the captivating nose. Very rich, big and deep, with a luscious texture and ripe flavours similar to the aromas. Finishes smoothly tannic and very long, with building sweetness. This gorgeous Mouton, though massively built, also reflects the long hang time of the berries, which led to a perfect polymerization of its tannins and a fleshy structure. Still very much an infant: I wouldn't touch a bottle for at least another 10 years. I also like the fact that, although it's very sweet and creamy, strong acidity (note the lower-than-usual pH) is keeping it vibrant. This vintage is the first in which Mouton vinified its young vines separately and only used those vats judged to be of grand cru quality. Following a slowdown in physiological ripening during August, the late harvest (October 2-16) permitted a longer growing curve. Tourbier noted that 'petit verdot needs its head in the sun and its feet in the water, and as it had been initially planted on one of the highest, coolest sites at Mouton, a mistake on our part, it rarely ripened enough to be included in the grand vin, and this explains why we hardly used it in the older vintages. 98+ points, Ian d'Agata, International Wine Cellar (8/2011).
This was always an exceptional wine, but an exceptionally slow-maturing one. It was served blind and seemed immediately like Mouton with its sweet, light mintiness and spice. This opulent monument of a wine has at least cast off enough tannin to provide majestic drinking now. What a treat to encounter this wine again at this exciting stage of its life. 19/20 points, jancisrobinson.com (7/2016).
Pauillac is Bordeaux’s most acclaimed appellation, the only one with three Premier Cru properties: Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Latour. These and other Pauillac chateaux produce robust, full-flavored and long-lived red wines made from Cabernet-based blends. Though winemaking techniques and microclimates vary throughout Pauillac, producing some variations in style, classic Pauillac wines have juicy flavours of blackcurrant and cedar, often with coffee, chocolate and graphite notes. Pauillac, part of the Médoc region on Bordeaux’s Left Bank, has gravelly and well-drained soils that force vines to grow long and strong roots. Struggling a bit for water, the vines produce grapes with high tannins and concentrated juices. Nearby rivers and the Atlantic Ocean modulate temperatures, preventing the grapes from ripening too quickly. Such grapes make powerful wines that may age and improve for decades. However, in Pauillac, as in other old-world wine regions, some winemakers are working to develop softer red wines that maintain the local wines’ traditional substance and flavours, but are more approachable immediately upon release.