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Mouton Rothschild: 1983, ’86, ’87, ’95 & ’99

February 8, 2011

Looking through my diary, I discovered that the ultra-snob wine circle – Bacchus – had met only once in 2010 (see Final Blowout at Iggy’s, Aug 2010), which was all too infrequent. To make amends, we wasted no time organising a dinner that took place on 19 January 2011, paired with a First Growth theme, a vertical of Ch Mouton Rothschild, no less. For some reason, people tend to avoid this l’enfant terrible when pulling out Firsts from their cellars, probably because of its lack of consistency, and so we thought this would be a great theme. The location was Novus, an impressive establishment located right within the National Museum serving modern European cuisine (but none of that molecular crap, thank goodness), helmed by a chef who had previously worked at Fat Duck, London. We arrived to find that we had the entire restaurant to ourselves, the table already laden with glasses, each polished to high gleam and labeled. Truly impressive. We’d all declared what we’re bringing – for sure there’d be a 1983 (courtesy of Vic), 1986 (LF), 1987 (Hiok), 1995 (Kieron) and 1999 – but, nevertheless, the wines were served blind, the order left to the maitre’d to organise. The 1987 and 1999 were double-decanted in advance and aired again in decanter on site, while the rest were decanted only at the restaurant.

As usual, we began with a white, a 1996 Louis Latour Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru (courtesy of Danny). Dull golden. Too cold initially, but its bouquet was most alluring with notes of peaches and tropical fruits which opened up further to reveal dense oily aromas of apricot, almost honeyed, very lovely. However, to my surprise, there was a major de-sync between bouquet and palate, which was lighter in texture but steely and stern, almost bitter, layered with mild grassy overtones that’s a signature of Louis Latour. So, extremely lovely on the nose, but I can’t quite say the same for the palate.

We dived straight into Red#1, dusty dark red with some browning towards the rim. There was a prominent barnyard aroma that blew off to reveal a most lovely bouquet of cassis and dried herbs, rather deep. On the palate, the wine was medium-bodied, very homogenous and seamless with lots of finesse and elegance, with a finish of sweet meats. Clearly a well-aged wine but the fruit is still holding on. Far from being on its last legs. One is struck by its impeccable balance. Judging by its color, I thought this was likely to be the 1983.

Red #2 that followed was darker in color but compared to the first red, this was very muted on the nose, highly reticent, and whatever that came through had a suggestion of dryness, although some sweetness was detectable.  The wine was similarly unsmiling on the palate, medium-bodied and rather stern, almost austere. The fruit was definitely drying out, leaving behind mainly a framework of alcohol and tannin. It managed to put on some weight, but was still lacking in density, eventually beginning to fade as dinner ended. Must be the 1987, surely, a forgotten vintage that has almost disappeared from the face of the earth.

Red #3 seemed to be a younger wine, judging from its deeper, more luxuriant ruby red. Some thought it lost out to the first red on the nose, but as dinner wore on, this wine simply kept developing in character and complexity, so much so that by the end of dinner, this was one of only two wines that merit serious consideration as to the possibility of it being the 1986. I thought it was already quite open from the first pour, still rather primal on the nose, of course, with a high-toned minerality and some early secondary characteristics. Gentle on the entry, revealing excellent depth and concentration, quite opulent and rounded with a lovely fruity glow, taking its time to unfold. Highly cerebral. A wine that’s clearly yet to peak. Can it be the 1986, still so youthful after all these years? Most of us thought so.

Red #4 displayed a very impressive red, obviously still rather young but it was, surprisingly, less open on the nose. Fairly big on the palate, hitting the right cabernet notes of tobacco, smoke, herbs and mushrooms with a touch of spice, fairly long, yet to develop its secondary nuances. But coming after the preceding red, this was clearly less opulent and lacking in charm. Ultimately underwhelming. Put simply, it doesn’t taste like a First Growth. We deduced that this must be the 1999, a watered-down vintage.

Finally, Red #5 which had the deepest red of all. Unassuming at first, like a nondescript bystander, but it went quietly from strength to strength, taking its time to develop, such that it was some time before we realised we were drinking something great. This had power, great stuffing and superb integration in spite of it being seemingly very youthful and backward. It became massive by the end of dinner but one senses there’s still plenty of unrealised potential. Tightly coiled, yet to unfurl its full colors. Could it be the 1986? However, judging by its color, most of us felt it more likely to be the 1995.

Actually…the order drunk was: 1987, 1983, 1999, 1995 and 1986. How did we end up being so screwed up??!! It’s like being privy to a set of leaked exam questions, and yet still writing the wrong answers!  The 1987 and the 1995 defy all expectations, at polar extremes. The same could be said about the 1999, almost rivaling the 1986. Could it be because of double-decanting that the 1987 and the 1999, both dark horses, surpassed all expectations? But we were tuly at a loss to explain the disappointing 1995…an off bottle? Or still shut down? It certainly merits re-consideration. And about the 1986…one of the reasons I had difficulty identifying it was because all the while, I was recalling the tasting experience I had three years back (where there was plenty of layering) but I didn’t seem to find it at this present tasting. By the time it began to develop, I was open to too many doubts and re-doubts about the whole lineup. I guess the lessons learnt are: i) possessing prior knowledge, or being open to the power of suggestion, really tips the bias and affects one’s judgment, for the worse; ii) Mouton is truly inconsistent.

Thanks again to all for this great experience but next time, we need to do a theme that’s friendlier to the wallet, but we’ll be back at Novus, for sure.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 14, 2011 10:49

    Actually, I got the order correct…. If only for the 1st time!

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