French premier Jacques Chirac's 50th birthday gift to Tony Blair is a fine present – though even that seems to be the cause of Anglo-French controversy.

The gift – six bottles of 1989 Mouton-Rothschild – came with a note, using the intimate second person singular ‘tu’ form of ‘you’, declaring the gift a sign of Chirac’s ‘personal esteem and loyal friendship’.

But UK broadsheet the Guardian has stirred things up by suggesting the wily Chirac has given his British counterpart a dud vintage.

The paper quotes eminent French wine journal La Revue du Vin de France saying, ‘Since 1986 it [Mouton] has weakened like Samson under Delilah. It continues to seduce some impressionable palates quick to fall under the charm of its prestigious label. But tasted blind it pales in front of its equals.’

La Revue’s Michel Bettane, who wrote that note, told decanter.com, ‘Mouton had an uneven patch 10 or 12 years ago. The 89 was a big, toasty wine, not a classical claret but still Mouton. It is a very nice present – a deluxe wine for rich people.’

Decanter contributor Michael Broadbent, however, gives the wine the top rating of five stars. He describes its ‘wonderful mouth-filling fruit, with fantastic bouquet and flavour’ and says 1989 was ‘unquestionably a great vintage and one which brought the decade to a resounding close’.

Château Mouton director Hervé Berland told decanter.com, ‘The wine was chosen by Jacques Chirac directly, perhaps with his cellarmaster. I don’t know why he chose that particular vintage, but it is very good.’

He added, ‘Of course the 1945 is the legendary wine of Mouton but it is very hard to come by now.’

Berland advised Blair to keep the wine a little longer in order to enjoy it at its best. ‘It is starting to drink well now but it would be a shame to not to keep it until it reaches its peak in 5-10 years,’ he said.

Under governmental rules limiting ministerial gifts to £140, Blair would need to pay an extra £447 for the pleasure of drinking the wine (currently valued at £1174 for a case of 12 bottles).

NB £1.00=€1.40

Written by Josie Butchart7 May 2003