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Wine Legend: Château Mouton Rothschild 1945

Why this wine, harvested to the sound of victory after the Second World War, makes the Decanter hall of fame.

Château Mouton Rothschild 1945, Pauillac, Bordeaux, France

Bottles produced: 74,422, plus 1475 magnums and 24 jeroboams

Composition: No record

Yield (hl/ha): about 10 hl/ha

Alcohol level: No record

Release price: No record

Current price: £15,900 per bottle at Hedonism (UK)  or $23,222.89 at Aabalat in California

Mouton 1945 is a legend because…

All the first growths excelled in 1945, yet it is widely recognised that Mouton, then a ‘lowly’ second growth, was the wine of the vintage.

Moreover, for many years the 1945 fetched higher prices at auction than the first growths. This boosted Baron Philippe€’s campaign for Mouton’s promotion to first growth, which only succeeded in 1973. The 1945 vintage was produced shortly after the end of World War II.

As a Jew, Baron Philippe de Rothschild had fled to Britain after escaping from prison, but once the war was over he returned to supervise the harvest at Mouton.

Despite the fact that he had been unable to manage the estate for some years, it produced something quite extraordinary.

Looking back

Mouton was considerably smaller in 1945, with 51 hectares under vine compared with 82ha today. Although the property had been confiscated by the Germans during the war, it was well run by their appointed weinführer whose job it had been to keep the Bordeaux wine trade functional.

The château became a military headquarters and wine was produced more or less normally.

The people

Baron Philippe was flamboyant and artistically inclined and had taken over the management of the family property in 1923 at the age of 20. In 1945 he began to commission the famous ‘€artist labels’€, one for each vintage, and in the 1960s he opened a Museum of Wine in Art.

The 1945 label, designed by Philippe Jullian, defiantly displayed the words ‘€Année de la Victoire’. The legendary Raoul Blondin, Mouton’€s cellarmaster for over 50 years, supervised the wine’s production.

The Bordeaux 1945 vintage

Heavy frosts on 2 May -€ ‘an unusually late date’€ – severely reduced the crop in the Médoc. Thereafter the climate was superb, with a hot, dry summer that led to an early and uncomplicated harvest. The grapes were super-ripe, with some batches apparently reaching an alcohol level of 15%. Quantities were considerably reduced and this was the smallest vintage since 1915.

The terroir

Most of the grapes used for the grand vin come from the Grand Plateau, a parcel lying west of the winery. Here the soil is classic Pauillac: a layer of gravel up to 8m deep, lying over a subsoil of larger stones, clay and marl. The estate’s other main sector, the Carruades, lies on a plateau shared with its neighbour (and rival) Lafite. This gives a slightly more rugged expression of Cabernet Sauvignon than the more powerful but elegant Grand Plateau.

The wine

Although Mouton had continued to produce wine during the war, the property would have suffered from the absence of Baron Philippe’€™s exacting gaze. The vineyard had not been renovated for some years, although this was probably an advantage, since it increased the proportion of old vines in the 1945. The wine would have been fermented in large wooden vats, but there would have been few, if any, new oak barrels in the cellar.

The reaction

Michael Broadbent, retired Decanter columnist and ex-head of wine at Christie’s, reported on the wine over 20 times between the 1950s and 1990. He notes that it is ‘€simply unmistakable’€.

Moreover it has been exceedingly slow to mature, so that characteristics noted in its youth still seem to apply today. Broadbent notes the very deep colour, and an extraordinary bouquet: ‘€˜The power and spiciness surge out of the glass like a sudden eruption of Mount Etna: cinnamon, eucalyptus, ginger… Impossible to describe but inimitable, incomparable… Its fragrance is reflected on the palate. Still lovely, still vivacious.’€

The French critic Michel Dovaz also commented on the nose: ‘€˜Baroque, spicy, luxuriant, almost uncontrolled’.’

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