Mouton and more

Tony Forsyth, founder of Te Whau winery on Waiheke, is a lover of Bordeaux with a particular fetish for the wines of Château Mouton Rothschild. He generously selected 10 vintages from his cellar and invited a few friends to taste them at the appropriately atmospheric premises of Auckland’s premier French wine merchant and retailer, Maison Vauron.

The vintages were 1997, 1996, 1995, 1990, 1989, 1988, 1986, 1985 & 1982. Tony also contributed a bottle of 1988 Château d’Yquem to accompany foie gras at the post-tasting meal. He also contributed magnums of Te Whau 2000, 2007 and 2010 to liven up the duck confit. It promised to be a great evening.

But wait, there’s more…

One of the guests, Geoff Ricketts, contributed a long-treasured and carefully cellared bottle of 1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild – a highly acclaimed wartime vintage which Wine-Searcher values at NZD $23,159 (plus tax). Another guest, Gavin Cormack, contributed a bottle of 1990 Chateau d’Yquem in case the 1988 felt lonely. The average value of the wines in the tasting totalled NZD $35,287.

The wines were all successfully uncorked using a clever device that I’d not previously encountered but plan to purchase. It has the two prongs featured on an Ah-So corkscrew, plus a regular corkscrew spiral. The prongs are worked down the sides of the cork before carefully winding the corkscrew through the centre. Brilliant!

One wine, the 1988, was very slightly corked, although it still revealed classic Mouton character and power. It is possible to remove low levels of cork taint by wrapping a little Glad Wrap around a teaspoon and stirring the wine with it for 10-15 seconds, but I didn’t bother on this occasion.

Let’s start with the best first. The fill-level of the 1945 Mouton was mid-shoulder, appropriate for a wine of this age. The wine was amber and light in colour. It was a seamless, beautiful wine – delicate, ethereal and fragrant with an ever-changing palette of indescribable floral, fruit and savoury flavours. To quote ex-Christies wine auctioneer, Michael Broadbent MW, “It’s not claret, it’s Mouton ‘45.” Everyone in the room was stunned by this remarkable wine.

My favourite wines (excluding the ’45) were 1996, 1986 and 1982. If I had to choose between the three vintages I’d pick 1982 as a marginal winner. A very concentrated wine with lively primary fruit flavours and delicious savoury bottle development. “How could that be any better?” someone wisely asked. Would it resemble the ’45 in another 37 years’ time? Sadly, I will never know.

Perhaps the most extraordinary feature of the tasting was the high overall standard and distinctive Mouton signature of restrained power and refinement. Ignoring the cork taint casualty none of the wines were any less than exciting. It was a truly great wine tasting.

When the Medoc Classification of 1855 was created only four wineries were given First Growth status. Mouton (as it was known then) was classified as a Second Growth producer, perhaps because the property had recently been purchased by an Englishman. In 1973, Château Mouton Rothschild was upgraded to First Growth status. The upgrade prompted a change of motto. Previously, the motto of the wine was “Premier ne puis, second ne daigne, Mouton suis.” (Translation: First, I cannot be. Second, I do not deign to be. Mouton I am.), and it was changed to “Premier je suis, Second je fus, Mouton ne change.” (Translation: First, I am. Second, I used to be. Mouton does not change.)

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