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Spotlight on… Mouton Rothschild

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Owner: Philippine de Rothschild
Classification: First Growth
Vineyard area: 75 hectares
Average annual production: 300,000 bottles p/a
Colour: Red
Standard blend: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc
Second Wine: Petit Mouton











Mouton’s parentage and early history are somewhat vague, though the estate is known to have been presented to the Duke of Gloucester as a gift in the early 15th century, before returning to French hands following the end of the Hundred Years War. It was not until the 18th century, however, that viticulture gained importance at Mouton. The estate was bought by Joseph de Brane in 1720 and was subsequently named Brane-Mouton. His efforts were key to Mouton’s success, and by the end of the 18th century the burgeoning estate’s wines were widely respected. In the 19th century progress was temporarily impeded when Joseph’s grandson, Hector, sold the winery to a Parisian banker. The absentee landlord’s neglect resulted in a marked deterioration in quality. And though Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild bought the property in 1853 and quickly set about restoring its lustre, Mouton Rothschild, as it had become known, was classified as a Second Growth rather than a First Growth in 1855 – partly, it seems, because it was no longer French owned.

In 1922 the management of the estate became the responsibility of Philippe Rothschild. He brought about a period of revolutionary change at Mouton – including the introduction of domaine bottling (a practice that was previously unheard of in Bordeaux).  And whilst the start of the Second World War saw Philippe flee France and the estate become a military headquarters for German troops, bottling continued uninterrupted – under the supervision of Hermann Goering. Following the end of the conflict, Philippe returned to Mouton and commissioned an artist to design a label to celebrate the Allies victory. Since then, a new artist has been commissioned every year, and the list of contributing artists now includes Freud, Picasso, Dali, Francis Bacon and even the Prince of Wales.

In 1973 Mouton Rothschild made history, becoming the first – and perhaps the last – estate to transcend its original ranking in the seemingly intransigent 1855 classification. Philippe’s determination and lobbying saw Mouton repositioned alongside the Premier Crus, thus righting what he called “the monstrous injustice”.

In 1988, after a remarkable 65-year tenure, Philippe passed away. Today, Mouton is run by his only daughter – Baroness Philippine de Rothschild.

The 2009 vintage

The 2009 vintage is composed of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Merlot. Its alcohol is listed at a moderate 13.1%.

Whilst the 2009 vintage is by all accounts a success story, Parker did not score the wine as highly as its fellow Firsts, calling it “the most backward and unevolved of all the Left Bank (Medoc) first-growths” – 96-98+.  Jancis Robinson also rated it a touch below Lafite, Latour and Margaux at 18.5+, though James Suckling calls it the “Best Mouton since 1982 or 1986” and accords it 97-100 points.

Since its release, Mouton has been one of the poorest-performing 2009s – an indication, perhaps, that Parker scores are still influential in setting pricing.

Market trends

Despite months of speculation, Mouton’s official announcement at the end of November that the 2008 vintage would feature the work of a Chinese artist sparked fierce trading on the exchange, pushing prices up more than 15% overnight to £8,000 per case. Dramatic 2008 price increases also boosted trade in back vintages, with cheaper vintages seeing particularly strong demand. As a result, Mouton vintages 2000-2007 have risen in value by an average of 16% since November, whilst the 2004, which was changing hands at under £2,500 per case at the start of November, last traded on the exchange at £3,150 – reflecting a change of 26%.

Because of these rapid price increases, the average price of Mouton vintages this side of the millennium is now over £5,100 per case. It is little wonder then that buyers are turning their attention to older vintages – many of which offer strong value for money.

The 94-point 1996 vintage has seen particularly keen interest this month and has traded numerous times today at between £4,200 and £4,400 per case. The wine is currently bid on the exchange at £4,415 per case.

Source: Lix-ex
13th Jan 2011

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