A Feeling for Art and People at Château Mouton-Rothschild

The Bordeaux first-growth’s spirit shines in a vertical tasting covering four decades

A Feeling for Art and People at Château Mouton-Rothschild
On hand to discuss the character of Château Mouton-Rothschild’s wines at the 2022 Wine Experience were (from left) estate manager Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy and co-owner Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, with Wine Spectator senior editor James Molesworth. (Rick Wenner)
Oct 28, 2022

Château Mouton-Rothschild is revered for its powerful expressions of Pauillac’s terroir, its art labels, its compelling history and its people. All were on fine display during a vertical tasting at the 2022 New York Wine Experience, where co-owner Philippe Sereys de Rothschild and estate manager Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy shared four vintages of the Bordeaux first-growth’s grand vin, each a decade apart.

The wines testified to Philippe’s belief that “wine is about stories, about the mixture of cultures, about understanding people or not understanding people—and that’s the joy of the activity that I’m in.”

Danjoy started at Napa’s Opus One (founded as a partnership between the Rothschild and Mondavi families) before coming to Bordeaux, where he also oversees operations at fifth-growth châteaus Clerc Milon and d’Armailhac. He humbly pointed out the importance of “teamwork [and] attention to people, to details” in his winemaking approach.

 Guest taking a photo while a server pours a bottle of 2016 Château Mouton-Rothschild at the 2022 New York Wine Experience
Guests took extra time to examine, and snap photos of, the artist labels on each bottle of Mouton-Rothschild; the 2016 vintage artwork comes from South Africa’s Willam Kentridge. (Daphne Youree)

As at the 2015 Wine Experience, Philippe paid tribute to his mother, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, who died in 2014. Molesworth fondly recalled tasting the Mouton 1986 at the 2011 Wine Experience, where the Baroness kissed him on the cheek. Despite Philippe’s jovial threats to bestow another kiss, this year’s vertical remained smooch-free.

In the Château Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac 2016 (98 points, $652), Molesworth praised the purity of fruit and observed that, unlike many Left Bank estates, Mouton has kept the percentage of Merlot in the blend relatively constant. Danjoy recognized the wine’s “huge personality” and admitted that “we didn’t know what we had in our hands” until halfway through harvest.

 Server pouring a bottle of Château Mouton-Rothschild 2006, with an artist label from Lucien Freud, for a guest at the 2022 New York Wine Experience
The 2006 label art was created by British painter Lucien Freud. (Daphne Youree)

Philippe called attention to the William Kentridge label, which depicts a Bacchanal and “symbolizes what wine has to be … sharing, enjoyment, dancing, amusement and emotions.” About Mouton’s art label tradition, started by his grandfather Baron Philippe, he observed: “Wine is worldwide, art is worldwide … perceptions, affections, memories, all these things are worldwide.”

Molesworth described the 2006 (95, $820) as a “battleship,” typical of Mouton’s firm tannic structure. In the 1996 (96, $188), he singled out the relatively high percentage of Cabernet Franc, which lent the wine classic tobacco notes and silky tannins.

Last and, judging by the crowd’s enthusiastic approval, greatest was the 1986 (99, $95), Molesworth’s description of which elicited Philippine’s peck in 2011. Philippe called attention to the resemblance of the label, by Haitian-American painter Bernard Séjourné, to the masks used in ancient theatre, one of his actress mother’s many passions.

 Server holds up a bottle of Château Mouton-Rothschild 1996, with an artist label from Gu Gan, at the 2022 New York Wine Experience
Chinese painter and calligrapher Gu Gan created the artwork for the 1996 bottling of Mouton-Rothschild. (Daphne Youree)

When Molesworth asked if he had a favorite among the four vintages, Philippe responded with a gentle sigh. “The painters you liked when you were 15 are not the same as the painters you liked when you were 25 … your emotions, your perceptions, your affection for things change, and that’s why we are human beings. So the day I [am] able to answer your question is the day my emotions [and] perceptions will stop. It will be the saddest day of my life.”

 Server holds up two bottle of Château Mouton-Rothschild 1986, with an artist label from Bernard Séjourné, at the 2022 New York Wine Experience
The 1986 Mouton-Rothschild label features Bernard Séjourné's work. (Daphne Youree)

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