How much is too much?

Sebastian Payne, MW

Earlier this year we invited Mouton-Rothschild to Merchant Taylor's Hall in London to give a remarkable and memorable tasting. Baroness Philippine de Rothschild clearly decided to raise the already high standard of her family properties one more notch a few years back. Vintages since 2004, when she put Philippe Dhalluin in charge of winemaking at Mouton-Rothschild, Clerc-Milon and d'Armailhac, have certainly been exceptionally good.

Many factors go to make great wine, the quality of the vineyard and the fruit it produces being paramount. Reconstruction of the cellar vats at Clerc-Milon to match precisely the different parcels of vineyard has also played a part as it did for their distinguished neighbour Duhart- Milon in the Lafite stable. Another major decision for the wine producers is how much of the total wine produced by a vineyard is included in the first wine. Since the price of a bottle of first-growth Claret is at least double that of its second wine, this has serious financial implications. In recent years at Mouton only 55% of the volume goes into the first wine, 20% becomes the second wine Petit Mouton and the rest is generic Pauillac. In the fine vintage of 1989, the château would have made twice the quantity of Mouton-Rothschild that it does today.

Such rigorous selection goes some way to explain both high prices and high quality of recent vintages. Low yields for their own sake are not always a good thing. 1991 was a tiny crop because of April frost, but of average quality. 1961, small for the same reason, was superb. Everyone who has an apple tree in their garden knows that some years you have a large crop of excellent quality and in others it is both small and miserable.

As this News goes to press, Sebastian Payne and Jo Locke will be in Bordeaux tasting the 2009 vintage and making their selections for the en primeur offer to be published in June. They are already enthusiastic about the quality and charm in some of The Society's favourite, modestly priced wines from the 'Côtes' and regional appellations.

Sebastian Payne MW
Chief Wine Buyer

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