The Tasting Worth a Trip Around the World

By Martyn Zemavicius

1945 Mouton Rothschild, 1996 Montrachet Leflaive & More

Invitations to taste a wine as legendary as the 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild come perhaps once in a lifetime, if at all. So I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time, to be invited to a vertical tasting of Mouton Rothschild that included the 1945.

To try this wine alone, a mad-about-fine-wine person like me would travel around the world. But when the host announced a couple of days before the tasting that — to make the tasting “more fun” — he would be including two of the greatest Le Montrachet producers, Leflaive and Lafon, side by side, it’s fair to say that I would have travelled to the moon.

Here are a few of the highlights from that amazing line-up.

1945 Mouton Montrachet Leflaive

NV Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve (2008 base), Magnum
The tasting started with my beloved Charles Heidsieck. In this case the NV Brut Reserve, but the first I have tasted from magnum with the long-awaited 2008 base. It’s certainly great now, but it will live for 20+ years. 95 pts.
One-third each of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, with approximately 40% reserve wines.

2009 Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion Blanc
Larrivet Haut-Brion is situated next to Haut Bailly. The domain has gone by a few names in the past couple of centuries.  It was originally named Chateau La Rivette, then Chateau Brion Larive (‘brion’ being the word for ‘gravel’ in the local dialect), then Haut-Brion Larive. After a 1949 lawsuit from Haut Brion, the property was forced to change its name. It produces delicious and well priced white wines, and the great 2009 vintage was no exception. 93 pts.
60% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Semillon. No malo.

2006 ‘Y’ Chateau d’Yquem
‘Y’, which is nowadays a dry white, comes from the incomparable sweet wine producer Chateau d’Yquem. It has been made off and on in small quantities ever since 1959. Only in the 1990s did it change to a crisp, dry style, and since 2004 it has been produced every year.  I rarely try this wine because of the relatively low production (less than 1,000 cases produced annually), but I like it very much because its flavour profile is so rare – like great Pessac with touch of Sauternes added to blend. 96 pts.
80% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Semillon.

2002 Meursault-Perrieres Lafon
Many consider Dominique Lafon to be the best white wine producer in the world, and I can see why. He is based in Meursault, and his mastery of the appellation showed in the bottle. This wine was magical and my favorite white wine of the tasting to drink now, because both Montrachets need more time. 95 pts.
Biodynamic production.  Around 70-80% new oak.

Les Montrachets

2008 Montrachet Lafon
1996 Montrachet Leflaive
Next came the moment to taste the greatest white wine appellation in the world, as interpreted by two of its greatest producers.

Both Montrachets were out of this world, just still too young. I slightly preferred the Leflaive, which was made Anne-Claude Leflaive herself (before she tragically passed away in 2015). The Lafon (97 pts) had more subtle elegance, while being extremely complex and long. But the Leflaive (98 pts) was nigh on perfect in every way. I fell in love with this magical wine. 2008 Montrachet Lafon – Biodynamic production. 100% new oak.
1996 Montrachet Leflaive – Biodynamic production. 100% new oak for 12 months, then 6 months in used oak.

The 1945 Mouton Rothschild

Next came the moment to meditate, utter a prayer, and prepare one’s body and soul to experience a wine worthy of Bacchus himself.

Whether or not you agree that 1945 was the greatest vintage for Bordeaux in the 20th century (and there are still wine lovers who argue for the 1961), it was certainly one of the smallest and most concentrated crops ever produced. A severe frost in May meant very low yields. Drought and high heat later in the growing season brought ripeness and concentration, as well as an early harvest, starting on the 13th of September.  Baron Philippe was back from the war in time for this harvest, and to celebrate the allied victory the wine was labelled with ‘V’ for l’Annee de la Victoire.

The particular bottle of 1945 Mouton that we tasted was special. It was purchased from one of the oldest and most respected Bordeaux merchants, who asked Mouton Rothschild to recondition the bottle in the early 1990s. The bottle was opened, tasted, recorked and a new capsule added at the chateau. This is ultra rare.

As always with super-hyped wines, the expectation before tasting is sky-high. And quite often the reality can be disappointing, falling short of your magical expectations. But even with my sky-high expectations, the 1945 still blew me away.

It was without doubt one of the most incredible wines I have tasted. Full of life and energy that belied its age. For me, it seemed like it had just reached its peak. But my friend Rytis, who tastes so much great wine, said it would still improve.

Complex and layered, ever changing and with endless length. And yes, as you can see from my tasting note, it was certainly 100 points with a big fat plus!

1945 Mouton Rothschild
Brick red core with a clear red rim.
Power, power, power! Dried cherry & cranberry, cocoa, cedar, cassis. Mind-blowing nose, tobacco, mint, mutton stew, smoked bacon. So complex you could write endless notes. Oh my god, tears are coming.
Fruit bomb on the palate, with power and elegance at the same time. Flavours of mushroom, cedar, tobacco, cocoa, rose petals, red berries. Concentration and length, so elegant and powerful at the same time.  100+ pts.

The Mouton Vertical

The remaining six wines in the Mouton vertical consisted of the following vintages – 1990, 1985, 1983, 1981, 1980 and 1970.

Although the 1980 was possibly a bit over the hill, and the 1981 was just a touch austere on the palate, the others ranged in quality from excellent to outstanding.

The 1990 displayed perfect typicity of vintage, with an elegant nose of crushed berries and liquorice, as well as mature tones of chocolate with gentle smokiness. It still had plenty of youthful intensity, with the ripe tannins just starting to melt. It will keep well for at least another two decades. 95+ pts.
Cabernet Sauvignon 81%, Cabernet Franc 10%, Merlot 9%.

The 1985 was also particularly seductive, with its incredible length and balance of rich fruits, integrated acidity and spice notes. Those of you lucky enough to have this in magnum would be richly rewarded if you decided to open one soon. 95 pts.
Cabernet Sauvignon 75%, Merlot 12%, Cabernet Franc 10%, Petit Verdot 3%.

And the 1970 was outstanding. Amazingly intense, concentrated and still youthful for a 46-year-old wine, it had power and elegance in equal measure. Full of lovely cedar notes, crushed forest berries and spice, with a beautiful mineral backbone. It was absolutely delicious on the day, but equally it has a long life ahead. 97+ pts.
Exact percentages of blend not known.

Last but Not Least

1934 Chateau Lamothe, Sauternes
We finished the tasting with an 82-year-old Sauternes from Chateau Lamothe.  It was complex as only a mature Sauternes can be, with notes of beeswax, violets and herbs on the nose, with overripe apricots, dried citrus and spice on the palate.  But there was still plenty of youthful vibrancy, and it was a joy to taste. 95 pts.

A fitting end to an evening that I shall remember for the rest of my days.

I’d like to conclude by offering a huge thank you to the wonderful couple who hosted the tasting of these delicious treasures from their personal wine collection. Your generosity is unsurpassed!

 

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