Château Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac, France

View across the vines

View across the vines

We were looking forward to visiting at least one Premier Cru in the infamous Médoc region, which is about an hour northwest of the city of Bordeaux. Since two of the three first-growth châteaux were closed (Lafite was closed until October and Latour was closed for renovations), Mouton-Rothschild it was.

Row of vats

Row of vats

Visiting a top château in one of the world’s greatest wine communes was one of those “I can’t believe it!” experiences. It was thrilling to be there, in the very spot where such exquisite (sorry, there’s no other word) wine is produced.

Everything ages in new oak barrels

Everything ages in new oak barrels

I’m a huge fan of this area since, of all varietals, I love cabernet sauvignon the most. Pauillac, a town in the northern Médoc, is full of cabernet grapes, which thrive in the gravely soil. The grapes also get a helping hand toward reaching near-perfection because of Pauillac’s ideal location on gentle slopes between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gironde estuary. The climate is mild and sunny, with just the right amount of breeze.

As with almost all Bordeaux wineries, it’s necessary to book a tour. Here, there is no such concept as wandering into a tasting room and sampling a few vintages. You must see the grounds and hear about the operations, the history and technique. At first I thought this would get tedious, but it was actually interesting to see the differences between the châteaux and learn about their approaches.

At Mouton, we checked in for the two-and-a-half hour wine tour (I had emailed two weeks in advance to reserve), which included six other people. We learned about the grounds and the vines, then toured the facilities, ending up in Mouton’s two museums.

Each bottle is a piece of art

Each bottle is a piece of art

Mouton’s most distinctive aesthetic feature is its labels. Every year since 1945, a contemporary artist has designed the labels. Artists such as Dali, Chagall, Picasso, Warhol, Haring, Koons and Steinberg have created unique, eye-catching works of art. An on-site museum showcases decades of doodles and sketches alongside the final products.

Mouton's emblem

Mouton’s emblem

Many of the labels feature rams, which is the château’s emblem.

From the 2012 barrels

From the 2012 barrels

After the tour, we gathered in a tasting room to sample the 2012 vintage, straight from the barrels. Each day, the vintners fill a few bottles for tasting.

Upstairs, above the steel vats

Upstairs, above the steel vats

A unique feature: plexiglass windows allow vinters to see into the vats

A unique feature: plexiglass windows allow vinters to see into the vats

Cap for the gravity-fed vat

Cap for the gravity-fed vat

Even in its premature state, the wine was impressive. It’s hard to believe it won’t reach its peak for 10 to 20 years! That’s a good reason to buy an older vintage if you can afford it. Recent best years start at thousands of euros and older vintages go up to tens and hundreds of thousands. We left empty-handed, but full of impressions.

The 2.5-hour visit costs €40/person. I emailed in advance to reserve.

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