Mouton Rothschild: reaching back 40 years

And some talk of “first growth bias”

By Panos Kakaviatos for 

A wonderful evening at the cozy and elegant French restaurant La Chaumière in Georgetown in Washington D.C. It was great to catch up with wine friends most of whom I hadn’t seen since Covid struck. We chose as theme the venerable First Growth in Pauillac, Château Mouton Rothschild, each bringing a bottle. We also brought dry whites, Champagnes and late harvest wines from Sauternes.

French authentic and cosy at La Chaumière

Rather than be seated in the main restaurant area, we enjoyed a private space near the entrance. The service was as excellent as the food, which reminded me of fine bistro fare. And quite authentic. Clients could order for example the ris de veau (sauteed veal sweetbreads), which is not always listed in French restaurants in the US. How about tripes? I am not a fan, but for tripe lovers, they come with carrots braised in Calvados. Other meaty options include the Boudin Blanc – a house chicken and pork sausage in Madeira sauce with caramelized apples. Sounds nice for a cold winter evening. Some of our party opted for the venison medallions which looked good. For my part, thinking of great Pauillac wine, the choice fell between duck breast and steak au poivre, and I opted for the latter, as it was a seared center cut aged New York strip steak in a savory peppercorn sauce.

Hungry? Well, there is so much more, including excellent charcuterie starters, roasted red beets, and the starter I chose: escargots soaked in garlic and parsley. Not ideal for Mouton, I enjoyed them before, over quality Champagnes. Lovers of fish and seafood find plenty of happiness here, as well, with dishes ranging from grilled center cut Atlantic swordfish and sauteed sea scallops to fresh boned rainbow trout. It is more challenging for vegetarians, but try the aforementioned roasted red beets with herbed Vermont goat cheese or an excellent winter salad with arugula, baby red oak, dried cranberries, red onions and pistachio nuts among other appealing ingredients.

Many thanks to Ken Brown for arranging the venue, which I highly recommend again for both service and quality of food.


As to the wines, we had two corked bottles, alas: the Philipponnat Clos de Goisses 1996 and the Mouton Rothschild 1986. Two great wines in great vintages, alas! But no worries, as many shined bright. Let’s start with a somewhat underrated Champagne that brings you more bang for your buck, albeit Champagne prices make our bucks less powerful in most cases anyway.

I once visited Larmandier-Bernier, and the producers are serious about making great wines. The Premier Cru Terre de Vertus 2012 Blanc de Blancs (vinified separately since 1995 from a a parcel named “Les Barillers”, situated mid-slope in Vertus) that we enjoyed is not only certified organic, but it sings with focus and precision, with bright fruit and zing, yet also palate filling. Sometimes an Extra Brut zero dosage Champagne can come across too steely with other producers, but not so here. And not only that but you also get a low sugar quality fizz!

Vintage Dom and escargot works just fine for me

We then tried an excellent Dom Perignon 2008, which has become already a legendary vintage, and with legendary pricing – even if prices have become even more legendary since the 2012 vintage. Who knows how much is produced? Certainly, LVMH won’t reveal the secret, so bottle variation happens. This happened to be a really good bottle, even if some noted a bit of funk in the nose, but the palate was gorgeous with vivid expressions of toast and brioche and lime/lemon freshness delivered in a smooth, almost caressing texture. The bubbles? Very fine!

The Philipponnat Clos de Goisses 2012 was opened too cold (I brought it from a very cold cellar), but once in glass for a while, what sheer opulence and vinosity! Clearly the most “vinous” among the Champagnes we enjoyed, from an exemplary vintage, as owner Charles Philipponnat advised me to buy it rather than the 2011, which I had tasted while visiting his estate. An Extra Brut, albeit with just under 5 grams per liter dosage, the bright acidity balances the opulence, with notes ranging from kirsch to honey, from white flower to lemon and grapefruit. The blend is typically two-thirds Pinot Noir and the rest Chardonnay. Long finish.

Dry Whites

Crisp, cool, clean and precise: tasting youthful for a 2010

We then enjoyed three dry whites, two from Burgundy and the other from the northern Rhone. My overall favorite was the William Fèvre Grand Cru Les Preuses Chablis 2010, which seemed at first rather reductive in aspect, but time in glass yielded stony, flinty charm coupled with green apple and white flower bouquet aromas. The palate was not as sumptuous as the other two wines, but the most precise and frankly the most interesting to me… but of course it comes down to pairing. I immediately thought of quality raw oysters as a classic marriage, but this would also grace lobster. Read More

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Nearly 40 vintages of Château Pichon Longueville Baron

In honor of Jean-René Matignon

By Panos Kakaviatos for 

14 October 2022

I recall the disappointment in Jean-René Matignon’s face as rain started falling towards the end of the 2006 harvest. “This could have been as good as 2005,” he said regretfully. Some 16 years later, tasting the 2006 at Château Pichon Longueville Baron in a vertical of 37 vintages, the wine tasted as one might have expected: not as good as the 2005, but pretty good, proving the point that excellent terroir from an estate like Château Pichon Longueville Baron can shine over time, even in a less than “great” vintage.

On May 24th this year, the estate invited me to join a special Au Revoir tasting and lunch featuring vintages spanning Jean-René’s career with the château. We also enjoyed magnums of 1959 and 1961 over lunch (of course pre-dating Jean-René’s arrival at Pichon Baron).

Despite some off bottles, the global high quality experienced testifies not only to the excellence of the terroir, but also to the talent of Jean-René and his team.

On two occasions earlier this century, Jean-René joined me for “winemaker dinners” that I had organized in German cities and in Washington D.C., where participants appreciated his affability and informative feedback when they posed questions. In my experience as a journalist and wine events organizer, I came to admire Jean-René as both a professional and kind man, who exudes passion and love for wine.

Over his tenure, he and his team blazed a trail to make powerful Pauillac wine with refinement, increasing the amount of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blends, reducing the percentage of the grand vin while increasing the new oak. Of 72 hectares owned by the estate today, the first wine is made primarily from older vines growing on a prized 40-hectare plateau of gravel beds with poor soils that force vines to go deep into the ground. But that was not the case in the 1990s.

Left to right at the estate: Pierre Montégut, who has taken over from Matignon, Christian Seely and Jean-René / ©Château Pichon Baron

“When I arrived, we [along with Jean-René] reached a strategic decision to make considerably less Pichon Baron than before,” explained Christian Seely, managing director at AXA Millésimes, which owns the estate. Read More

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Saint Emilion rankings 2022: Is Grand Cru Classé accurately reflected?

By Panos Kakaviatos for

29 September 2022

Following up on my text on the latest ranking of Saint Emilion wines – as published in Club Oenologique earlier this month – I focus on the total of 71 Grand Cru Classés, which is just shy of record from the 1969 classification of 72 wines so ranked.

Certainly many deserved promotion. For example, I couldn’t be happier to join a Champagne-infused celebration at Vignobles K’s Château Tour Saint Christophe, one of the 16 Grand Cru estates promoted to Grand Cru Classé. The estate is so well situated, with excellent terroir – as you can read here – and the team has worked very hard to raise quality so that the wines are consistently good, vintage in and vintage out.

Director Jean-Christophe Meyrou took aim at classification naysayers: “We hear a lot of bullshit about this classification, and of course it is not perfect, but which one is?” he asked rhetorically. “Which one requires a 10-year revisit?” Meyrou stresses that 80% of the criteria to be promoted to Grand Cru Classé is determined by a blind tasting of the last 10 vintages (50%), terroir quality (20%) and winegrowing and oenology (10%). Read More

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Dry, small and challenging: 2022 Bordeaux should be (far) better than 2021

7 September 2022

By Panos Kakaviatos for

Dear Readers,

Sorry for such a long absence. Because this site is free, I don’t update that often. I get paid to write for Decanter and other publications.

But here some Bordeaux 2022 perspectives, as I arrived the day before yesterday:

First off, the grapes are very small. “Yields will be catastrophic”, says Claude Rougier, of Château Camponac. Much of that is due to dry, hot weather, with little rain. Just walking along vines yesterday in Entre-Deux-Mers reveals compact bunches of small grapes, and among them raisin shriveled grapes. Read More

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Bordeaux 2021 from barrel : the reds

Bordeaux faces stalling futures campaign

By Panos Kakaviatos for

27 May 2022

One of the last red barrel samples I tasted from Bordeaux’s 2021 vintage this year was on location at Château Gruaud Larose, in late May 2022, where CEO Nicolas Sinoquet explained how much hard work was needed to craft the best possible wine from the challenges of the vintage, over which you may have read in my earlier introduction.

Whatever we critics say about 2021, hats off to great efforts by estates committed to excellence, because we can write and assign a number, but that is but a trifle compared to months of stress from a stressful vintage.

As you follow new releases on Liv-ex, as well as comparative pricing analyses, several insiders told me in Bordeaux, that the futures campaign is stalling. With war in Europe, rising inflation and looming recession, who is buying an off vintage at prices (so far) too similar to 2020?

Having spoken to negociants, the sense is that Bordeaux would have done better to have said clearly that “Yes, we admit 2021 is an off vintage, but we propose a great discount, so try it for yourselves!”

Perhaps more buyers would be making orders? Instead, stocks are piling up, and many wines may well be sold only two years later at discount, if this trend continues.

As for the reds, sure, Bordeaux no longer makes bad wines, a common refrain from vintners in challenging vintages, but 2021 has a fair share of boring wines. So out of hundreds tasted from barrel, below my favorites, but even these would be better discounted by at least 20% over 2020, to better catch attention in a difficult market.

For tasting scores, ranges acknowledge sample variation, possible non-final blends, and it makes more sense to use a single score for a final bottled product for store shelves or delivery. I have been guilty of grade inflation in recent years, so ranges help insofar that the higher possible score reflects optimism. As usual, when in bold, I like especially. If red and bold, even more. And when underlined, too, approaching nirvana: Such wines tend to have the potential for 96 out of 100 points. An added asterisk*, up to (the rare) possible 97 🙂.

Right Bank: Côtes de Bordeaux and Fronsac, Pomerol (just below), Saint Emilion

Left Bank: Listrac/Médoc/Haut=Médoc/MoulisMargauxSaint JulienPauillacSaint EstèpheGraves/Pessac-Léognan

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