“We are in a perfect continuity, the family persists and, if I may, Mouton does not change,” said Philippe Dhalluin to applause from a full crowd at the crowning seminar of the 35th-anniversary Wine Spectator New York Wine Experience. Dhalluin is the general director of Bordeaux first-growth Château Mouton-Rothschild, the 280-acre Pauillac estate that has for centuries been recognized as one of the world’s most storied vineyards.
The story of the famed land on the Left Bank of the Gironde River was forged in a different geological age, but at the vertical tasting of six Mouton vintages, it was clear that the château’s most compelling stories are of its people. People do change, and such change can be bittersweet.
The change that most profoundly loomed over the tasting regarded the woman to whom château co-owner Philippe Sereys de Rothschild dedicated the seminar: his mother, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, who died in 2014 after overseeing a golden age at the estate. Her father, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, “had a great vision, and she really put it to music for 25 years. Where we are today is greatly because of her charisma, her energy, her intelligence and her will.”
Philippine’s final major achievement was the completion of a new winery, with 44 vats instead of 28, to allow for vinification of more individual vineyard parcels. A transparent pane extending vertically up each vat allows Dhalluin to see what’s going on inside: the ratio of grape skins to juice, whether a pump-over is needed. The facility is modern and polished, but no-frills, though a gallery displays Mouton’s famous artist labels. “We are here to make wine, not buildings,” said de Rothschild. “But Mouton is also art.”
The 2012 vintage (95 points, $395) of the Cabernet Sauvignon–dominated wine was first in the lineup and the first to be finished at the new facility. It had “the typical signature of Mouton, which is slightly smoky,” noted Dhalluin.
Because of technological advances and stricter selection in the vineyard (only 50 percent of Mouton’s grapes now go into the grand vin), “2012 is a great wine in a vintage that you may have overlooked” in years past, noted senior editor James Molesworth.
But of the 2010 (98, $1,200) and 2009 (98, $1,000), Dhalluin said that, in his 35 years of winemaking, he’d “never seen such exceptional conditions altogether” as in those two vintages. Molesworth felt that the 2010 might resemble the next wine, the 2005 (95, $680), after it has had the 10 years of graceful evolution the '05 exhibited.
As guests tasted back in time, it became clear why, as de Rothschild said, you have to make wine with a crystal-ball mentality: “The difficult thing about the blend is to get it right [for drinking] in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years.” The 1995 (94, $120 on release, $376 current auction price) and 1989 (96, $110 on release, $349 current auction price) exemplified such wines made under Philippine’s stewardship.
De Rothschild noted that, in some years, the label art is a commemoration. The 2014 selection will be an homage to his mother. But Mouton moves on. “Wine is the soil, it’s the climate, it’s the varietal, but it’s also the people,” said de Rothschild. “Mouton, to put it simply, has been my world.” For letting Wine Experience attendees into that world, an emotional de Rothschild received a standing ovation.
Learn more about Château Mouton-Rothschild and Baroness Philippine de Rothschild:
• Lioness in Winter: The long and fruitful reign of Baroness Philippine de Rothschild (March 31, 2014, issue cover story)
• Video: In Memoriam … Mouton’s Baroness
• Video: Bordeaux First-Growths—Introducing Mouton
• Video: Bordeaux First-Growths—Focus on Mouton
• The New Man at Mouton: Winemaker Phillipe Dhalluin
• The Mistress of Mouton: Philippine de Rothschild
• The 1995 Distinguished Service Award Winners
• A Love Affair of Art and Life