In Bordeaux, what’s the difference between Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Lafite Rothschild?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

In Bordeaux, what’s the difference between Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Lafite Rothschild?

—Rijan, Nepal

Dear Rijan,

The Rothschild family and their wine endeavors have been the subject of many articles over the years, including Wine Spectator’s Dec. 15, 2000, issue cover story. Châteaus Lafite Rothschild and Mouton-Rothschild are both first-growth estates in the Pauillac appellation of Bordeaux’s Left Bank, and both make exceptional, long-lived (and very expensive) wines. (Check out our helpful video for more on the ABCs of Bordeaux.) The two estates are run by different branches of the same family tree.

Château Mouton-Rothschild (previously known as Brane-Mouton) was purchased (and had its name amended) by Nathaniel de Rothschild in 1853. Mouton-Rothschild (along with a portfolio of other successful wineries around the world) is today run by Nathaniel’s great-great-great-grandchildren Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, Camille Sereys de Rothschild and Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild (the children of the late Baroness Philippine de Rothschild).

Château Lafite Rothschild (formerly just Château Lafite) was purchased (and had its name amended) in 1868 by Nathaniel’s uncle (and father-in-law) Baron James Mayer de Rothschild. His great-great-grandson Baron Eric de Rothschild and Eric’s daughter Saskia de Rothschild now run Lafite Rothschild (also along with a portfolio of other successful wineries around the world).

Still with me?

I asked Wine Spectator's lead taster for the wines of Bordeaux, senior editor James Molesworth, to provide some notes on how the the wines of the estates differ stylistically. “Mouton’s main vineyard is a large swath of south-facing vines on fine gravelly soils, with a mix of clay and limestone underneath,” he reports. “It is located closer to the Gironde estuary, which serves as a moderating influence, climatically. The vineyard is planted to just 15 percent Merlot, along with drops of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, with Cabernet Sauvignon accounting for the rest. This combination of factors helps give the wine its signature beam of pure cassis fruit. The wine is often very expressive in its youth, though it merits considerable cellaring to reach its full potential.”

”Much of Lafite’s vineyards are on similar soils, with fine gravel, but with more sand and limestone,” Molesworth continues. “They are also slightly hillier in topography and tilt north. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates here as well, but there is also a healthy Merlot component in the vineyards (25 percent) along with small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. This combination results in a different profile, with more distinct savory and bay aromatics amid a more obviously grippy texture. Lafite is often quite backward when young, and only reveals its full panoply of aromas and flavors with cellaring.”

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny Red Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux Bordeaux's Left Bank France

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