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Jacques Chirac, the beer lover who upgraded Mouton

As France marks the death of Jacques Chirac, the ex-president will be at least partially remembered in Bordeaux as the man who officially upgraded Mouton Rothschild to first growth status.

Jacques Chirac was France’s relatively young agriculture minister when the document that would elevate Château Mouton Rothschild to first growth status landed on his desk.

He signed it in 1973, ensuring a role in the final chapter of a decades-long pursuit by Baron Philippe de Rothschild and his team in Pauillac to put Mouton on the same rung as Lafite, Margaux, Haut-Brion and Latour in the Bordeaux 1855 classification.

Both Chirac and Mouton would enjoy separate, upward trajectories in the decades that followed.

Despite some deeply controversial moments for Chirac, and not least an eventual conviction over corruption relating to his time as mayor of Paris, many French politicians paid strong tributes to their former president this week.

France’s Le Monde newspaper described Chirac’s political career as one of the most remarkable in the country’s fifth Republic, which began after the Second World War.

As president, Chirac was known as a beer drinker rather than a wine lover, in stark contrast to his predecessor, the socialist Francois Mitterand.

A British diplomatic source once told Decanter.com that Chirac would enjoy a Beck’s lager at official functions, although he has also been linked to enjoyment of Corona.

Some drew a distinction between Chirac’s personal and public personas.

Journalist Steven Erlanger wrote in the New York Times in 2013 that Chirac ‘had high tastes in art and wine, and a fondness for Dom Pérignon’, despite his preference ‘to be seen in public drinking beer’.

Whichever is closer to the truth, there is evidence to suggest Chirac – or at least those around him – understood the importance of fine wine to France.

It was president Chirac who personally awarded the Légion d’Honneur to a certain Robert Parker Jr at a ceremony in 1999.

Wine diplomacy was also employed. In 2003, Chirac gave UK prime minister Tony Blair a half-case of Mouton Rothschild 1989 as a birthday gift.

‘The wine was chosen by Jacques Chirac directly, perhaps with his cellarmaster,’ the then-director of Mouton, Hervé Berland, told Decanter.com at the time.

Chirac was also reported to have significantly expanded the Paris town hall wine cellar during his period as mayor of the French capital, from 1977 to 1995.

Thousands of bottles from what the media dubbed the ‘Chirac cellar’ were auctioned for nearly €1m in 2006. Wines in the Paris town hall sale included vintages of Petrus, Lafite, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Krug, among others.

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