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Parker 98 points : This is the highest score I have ever given this wine, which I have found to be distressingly variable in quality, much like the consistently inconsistent 1970. This bottle was just about everything one could desire in a great Mouton. Huge, cedary, cassis, lead pencil, menthol-like aromas soared from the glass. The black/purple color revealed no signs of lightening or amber at the edge. Full-bodied, rich, and super-intense, this was an a profound bottle of 1961 Mouton that would have stood up against the compelling 1959. It was so young I thought it might have been the 1982!
Glorious, sweet, perfumed bouquet - this could only be a First when, officially, it was not at this time! So much for the rulebook. The most classic Mouton nose that has huge affinity with the 1945. Total seduction on the palate. Terrific sweet/meaty taste and lovely lingering length of enormous elegance showing that this landmark wine has now fined down from its monumental beginnings. Such an incredible sweet finish. Sheer perfection. My last bottle in 2015 was just so irony and tremendously structured, incredibly tannic with such mineral intensity. A wonder of the wine world and a riveting stylistic contrast with the luscious 1959. It goes on for ever and is a bit "mysterious", like all great wines. Serena Sutcliffe, MW
Château Mouton Rothschild A Premier Cru Classé in 1973, Château Mouton Rothschild, owned by Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, consists of 205 acres of vines near Pauillac, in the Médoc, North West of the city of Bordeaux. This Premier Cru benefits from exceptionally good natural conditions, both in the quality of the soil, the position of its vines and their exposure to the sun. It is regarded today as one of the world's greatest wine.
The name Mouton is said to be derived from the word „Motte“ meaning mound or elevation of the ground. It was bought in 1853 by Philippe de Rothschilds great-grand father it was in a fairly bad shape and when the classification of 1855 was set up it was not deemed to be good enough to be qualified as a first growth but put in first place amongst the second growths. An injustice it took Philippe de Rothschild until 1973 to rectify. 1920s Philippe de Rothschild called together the owners of Haut Brion, Latour, Lafite, Margaux and Yquem to talk about the idea of bottling and marketing their wines on their own.
The first vintage to be bottled exclusivly at the château was the 1924 vintage. To commemorate this, the cubistic painter Carlu was asked to design the label, yet another revolutionary idea in this most conservative of surroundings. The idea of an artist designing the labels was dropped until 1945 when Philippe Jullian was asked to design a label commemorating the victory over nazi Germany. Since then works of such famous artists as Picasso, Miró, Dali, Chagall and personalities like John Huston and Prince Charles have been used for the labels.
In 1988, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, who had already been associated with her father's work for some time, succeeded her father. She has in turn become the guarantor of the quality of an illustrious wine whose motto proudly proclaims : "Premier je suis, second je fus, Mouton ne change". First I am, second I was, I Mouton do not change
Vineyard soil: very deep gravel on a limestone base Production area: 82.5 ha Grape varieties: 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot Average age of vines: 48 years Harvest method: hand picked. The grapes from the younger vines are harvested first and vinified separately.
Winemaking: Before destemming, the grapes are hand-sorted then selected one by one. Vinification depends on each vintage and the characteristics of each vat. All the relevant parameters, such as temperature, pumping over, aeration, vatting time and running off, are monitored by the technical manager, the cellar-master and the laboratory.
Ageing: 19 to 22 months in oak barrels (almost all new, the percentage varying according to the vintage)
1961 – Georges Mathieu / Dynamic Lines and Red Dot
Georges Mathieu is a representative of the Art Informel movement of French art. He was born in 1921 in Boulogne-sur-Mer (Pas-de-Calais). First, Matthieu studied philosophy and law; at the age of 21 he turned to painting and created realistic landscapes and portraits. Soon, his imagery became inspired by more abstract forms. He abhorred geometric abstraction, however. Beginning in 1944, Mathieu created non-representational-abstract paintings that were developed in a very intuitive creative act, guided by emotions.
Mathieu called himself the founder of lyrical abstraction and described painting in many interviews as “a ferocious battle with the canvas”. He often demonstrated his inimitable technique in front of an audience. Then he created big abstract paintings at great speed, which turned into magnificent spectacles of colour, their composition approaching an explosion.
Georges Mathieu often completed his paintings in only a few minutes, being convinced that it was the only way to express his innermost feelings without distortion. The speed of the painting process was supposed to make room for coincidences. In the early 1960s, he also created sculptural works and designs for furniture and murals. The dynamic and energy of Mathieu‘s artistic work is also reflected in his design for the Mouton label. His decorative, linear composition is reminiscent of Japanese calligraphy.
Frost and rain in the spring devastated almost the entire blossom. Hot summer months and a warm, pleasant September allowed the grapes that did not perish to thrive and provided an abundance of nutrients. With the best weather conditions and bright sunshine, Mouton harvested a good vintage in the end, albeit in low quantities.
1961 - the greatest Bordeaux vintage ever?
I’m writing this during the en primeur campaign and notice that the Bordelais château-owners and négociants have been unusually quiet this year. I have followed this part of the market from a distance for close to 30 years now and have been told about a large number of “vintages of the century”. After the wines have been bottled and sold or the other way round, as the case is in Bordeaux, these claims tend to be modified.
Who are the serious contenders for the title “The Greatest Vintage Ever”?
During the 19th century there were a number of vintages with a great reputation made from pre-phylloxera vines. These include the legendary “Comet vintage” 1811, 1864, 1865, 1870, 1893, 1895 and 1899. Most are too old for anyone now alive to have tasted them at their peak.
During the 20th century claims have been raised for the vintages 1900, 1921, 1929, 1945, 1947, 1949 (by me), 1959, 1961, 1982, 1989 and 1990.In the present century already three out the eight vintages produced – 2000, 2003 and 2005 – have been mentioned by an overly excited wine press as candidates for the title, as well as the superb duo - 2009 and 2010.
In the book “The 1,000 Finest Wines Ever Made” 1961 is the Bordeaux vintage mentioned most often, with 22 châteaux. 1945 is mentioned 19 times, 1947 16 times, 1982 14 times and 1959 13 times.
What is the definition of a great wine?
It is a wine that has an extra dimension giving you an unforgettable drinking experience – in other words, a “Wow!” effect. It is a wine that has a long drinking span. It has to be good to drink young, but it must also be able to age for a long time without losing its attractiveness.A good vintage produces wines fulfilling these requirements.
A great vintage, however, is equally good in all major regions of Bordeaux, both on the left and right bank. It is also a vintage where something special was produced in all the different appellations, from the lowest Cru Bourgeois to the mightiest Premier Cru.
1961 fulfils these requirements better than any other vintage.
It was the vintage where the most incompetent winemaker just couldn’t make a poor wine and the wines drank very well at an early stage; in most cases they still do so to this very day.
Some extremely impressive wines were produced in 1945, but these were mainly from the left bank and a large number of the wines had excessively high tannin levels, which made them increasingly dry as they aged.
1947 produced the most stunning wines on the right bank but many wines on the left bank had problems with volatile acidity.
1959 produced a number of wines that are at the same level and sometimes even a bit higher than the corresponding '61s, and some experienced wine critics like Michel Bettane prefer 1959 to 1961. But 1959 doesn't have the same consistent quality at all levels.
1982 undoubtedly produced many very impressive wines but I feel that the wines from the right bank lack structure and have not aged very well and only very few wines from Margaux and Médoc were a great success.The twin vintages of 1989 and 1990, or 2009 and 2010 may come closest in overall quality, but it is too early to judge their ageing abilities yet.
What made 1961 so special?
It was a very small crop, the smallest since the Second World War. This was partly due to coulure (cold weather at the time of flowering) and in some parts because of frost on the night between 30th and 31st of May, together reducing the yield per vine to about a third of the usual size at that time (which, compared to today’s harvests, seems miniscule). This concentrated the minerals and potency of the vine amongst the few remaining grapes and was the reason for the success of minor châteaux, which would normally produce much higher yields than would be good for their wines.
August and September were both hot and extremely dry. This drought caused the ripening to take longer than the usually mandated 100 days. The harvest was delayed until 22 September, but enjoyed perfect conditions. Because of better cellaring techniques the wine-makers avoided the hard tannins of 1945 and the volatility of the 1947s. The wines have a very deep colour, a seductive nose and full-bodied, concentrated mature fruitiness, with enough tannins and acidity to give the wines structure and freshness.
I arranged a major tasting of more than sixty 1961s in 1989 and all the wines were very good, even from minor châteaux or from more famous properties that had not produced anything worthwhile for a very long time and some that have not done it to this day.
I also arranged a tasting, together with Dr. Peter Baumann, of fifty wines in November 2001. I had expected a large number of these to now be over their zenith but was amazed to see that many had not seemed to age at all during these intervening 12 years. With very few exceptions they were still very much alive.
Margaux and Médoc
This is usually the most variable and disappointing group at any horizontal tasting with a large number of underperforming châteaux.
The star of this group and a serious candidate for the wine of the vintage is Château Palmer.
It first reached fame in 1978 as it won the famous Dr. Taam tasting in Holland. It is a precocious wine that was drinkable before most premier crus had softened and many tasters have underestimated its longevity. I remember arranging a tasting for Château Palmer in 1995 where I decanted the wine just before the tasting, believing it to be past its best. It did not show very well so Peter Sichel, the co-owner of Château Palmer, suggested that we decant the bottles planned for dinner five hours before serving them. It had then fully opened up showing all its softness and warmth coupled with power and strength for a long life. One of the best wines after Palmer and Château Margaux, which will be covered in the group of the premier crus, is Malescot St. Exupéry. Brane Cantenac, Giscours, Cantemerle and La Lagune are all still good but need to be drank soon.
La Mission Haut Brion is a fantastic wine, more powerful and concentrated than the soft and charming Haut Brion. Other very good ones include La Tour Haut Brion, Domaine de Chevalier, Haut Bailly and Pape Clément.
Cos d'Estournel is very good, Montrose is now shedding its tannins, whereas Calon Ségur needs drinking, having given much joy over the years.
1961 is one vintage where I prefer Figeac to Cheval Blanc; both are very good but Figeac shows more complexity and elegance. I prefer Cheval Blanc's '64 to its '61. Ausone and Canon are both lovely elegant wines but they do not have the concentration of a top '61. Two very underrated wines are L'Arrosée and La Gaffelière – both are very impressive and still bargains if you are lucky enough to find them.
The two rarest and most expensive wines from '61 both come from Pomerol. Pétrus and Latour-á-Pomerol. Both are tremendously impressive – Latour-á-Pomerol with great sweetness, richness and concentration. Pétrus with similar richness but with even more power and structure. I have never had the pleasure of drinking these two giants next to one another but expect Pétrus to have the longer life expectancy. Vieux Château Certan is a wonderful mature wine, as is Lafleur. A wine I have also found very good over the years is Château Gazin. It did then include grapes from a parcel of the best part of Pomerol, now belonging to Château Pétrus. I don't have any tasting notes on Trotanoy or L'Evangile, but both have a great reputation.
My personal favourite here is Ducru Beaucaillou, possibly the most elegant of all wines. I have drunk it twice this year, and it was not showing any signs of ageing at all. It is closely followed by Gruaud Larose and Léoville Las Cases, both very impressive. Léoville and Langoa Barton did not have a very good period then and are, like Léoville Poyferré, disappointing for the vintage. Talbot and Branair Ducru are good but need drinking soon.
Both Pichons are good but I prefer Pichon Baron as it has more structure and concentration than the slightly overripe Pichon Lalande. Lynch Bages is still very good just like Pontet Canet. Pontet Canet was bottled by several négociants, and the one to drink is the Cruse-bottling which was the unofficial château bottling at the time.
The Premier Crus
The star here is Château Latour. It is the most majestic of wines and the wine that will become the new collectors’ item for millionaires as Mouton '45 and Cheval Blanc '47 start to fade away.
It has great concentration of cabernet fruit with a firm tannic structure. Truly an iron fist in a silk glove, only now opening up to reveal its true greatness. It is also the wine that was ranked in first place in “The 1,000 Finest Wines Ever Made”.
Château Margaux made its finest wine since the legendary 1900 and it is still wonderful to drink. Mouton is a luscious wine on a par with its wonderful '59.
Haut Brion is soft and lovely but not as great as its '59. Lafite shows big bottle variation as it was still bottled from cask to cask at the time and over a long period. At its best it is very fine and delicate with little power but great elegance, at its worst it is a tired wine with no body or fruit left.
Unfortunately great quality coupled with small quantity always leads to high prices, and this is particularly the case with the 1961 Bordeaux. However, all true winelovers should have at least once in their lifetime have drunk a good '61 to know what a perfect claret can taste like.
Recommended glass shape
Average Bottle Price
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