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Produced from an exceptional terroir, Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild is the second wine of Château Mouton Rothschild.
Made with grapes from selected younger vines in the illustrious First Growth vineyard, it is harvested, vinified and bottled with the same scrupulous attention to detail. Harvested in small, open baskets, fermented in the Mouton oak vats, matured in oak barrels in the traditional way, all the conditions are met for the wine to express the elegance and richness of a great Pauillac.
In order to link the second wine more closely with its famous elder, illustrated by great artists since 1945, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild has chosen a label for Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild inspired by a drawing by the famous poster artist Jean Carlu.
A variation on the theme of the vine, the powerfully coloured drawing combines sensual shape with the clean geometries of the Art Deco style. It was made in 1927, following the artist’s design in the same period for the label for Château Mouton Rothschild 1924.
The first vintage, 1993, was called Le Second Vin de Mouton Rothschild, but it has borne its definitive name (which has a family connotation, Petit Mouton being the name of Baroness Philippine’s residence in the heart of the estate) since the following year, 1994.
2013 will be remembered for its changeable and capricious weather.
A cold and damp winter followed by a cool and wet spring held back the vegetation cycle and affected flowering.
In striking contrast, July and August were particularly hot and sunny, with considerably less rainfall than the average. Peak temperatures of 38° C caused violent storms in late July. The water shortage continued in September, encouraging the grapes to ripen evenly. The Cabernets were promising and overall the grapes achieved satisfactory sugar levels with good potential acidity.
The harvest at Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild was completed in record time between 30 September and 9 October with exceptional help from Baron Philippe de Rothschild employees, who were invited to come and swell the ranks of the regular pickers. Over 130 staff members responded to the appeal and on 9 October, 695 meals were served in the harvesters’ refectory, an all-time record!
Sorted with painstaking care, the grapes were transported from the picking baskets to the gravity-fed vats in the magnificent Mouton Rothschild vat room. In a major innovation, transparent staves in the vats enabled technical staff to observe the vinification process in minute detail.
Although yields were among the lowest of the last 40 years, draconian selection ensured high quality. The 2013 vintage has been tended, fashioned and fine-tuned so as to get the very best out of the grapes.
2013 BORDEAUX VINTAGE REPORT
The 2013 vintage in Bordeaux was one of the most challenging since 1965 and 1968. Thomas Duroux of Chateau Palmer describes it as “the most complicated vintage in 20 years”. It rained almost continuously during spring. Flowering was uneven resulting in poor set, millerandage and coulure. The threat of mildew was mollified by the arrival of hot dry weather during summer. For a while vignerons were hopeful that plentiful sunshine and benign weather would allow the vines to catch up. Violent storms, wind and intermittent heavy rainfall in July and August hampered vine growth and created difficulties with fruiting. High humidity and cool temperatures prior to harvest led to a slowdown in ripening and the perfect environment for botrytis (grey rot) infection. Merlot did not perform well on the left bank. Chateau Margaux certainly was vulnerable to these conditions, but others, in their efforts to talk up the vintage, have shown superb Gallic denial. You would be forgiven for believing this might be an exceptional vintage; such is the brilliance of the best professional liars in the world.
In years gone by, the weather conditions, uneven ripening and disease pressure would have resulted in disastrous wines. Chateau Margaux avoided the worst rains by bringing in a picking team of 300 people to harvest the crop at lightning speed. Chateau Lafite also raced against the elements and won. Most Chateaux do not have this type of luxury. Sorting tables, were “derigeur” during the harvest, allowing the best berries to be selected. I can’t remember seeing any red wine with noticeable botrytis characters. The fruit, however, did not generally ripen to optimum levels. Many producers found it necessary to chaptalize their vinifications to allow the wine to reach a more attractive level of alcohol. Some Chateaux, including Cos d’Estournel at 12.7% alc, made their wines apparently without the addition of sugar. Most estates, however, found it difficult to achieve phenolic ripeness. Tannins are the framework of all red wines. They don’t have to be perfectly ripe; an “al-dente” texture can give a compelling freshness and appealing structure. But it was easy to over extract in 2013. The very best wines were those that were “unpushed” and intuitive to vintage conditions. The use of saignée (juice run off), reverse osmosis and other methods to concentrate wine, is never talked about by winemakers, but there were a few wines with soupy textures and unnatural mouthfeel.
Many of the 2013 primeurs wines have only been in barrel for a few weeks. This creates challenges because the oak characters can detract from the inherent quality of the young wines. Many Chateaux will no doubt adjust their oak maturation philosophies to match the character of the vintage. Others will use oak as a cosmetic or builders bog to fill the structural inadequacies of their wine. Acidity is also strongly present in the wines this year. This element is essential for the freshness, tension and life expectancy of any vintage. In riper years, acidity tends to play second fiddle, yet in 2013, it is a principal violin. Fruit character, perhaps the most important feature of any wine, inevitably varies according to sub region and vineyard. The very best wines of this vintage have the aromatic quality, persistence and depth of good vintages. Ultimately the most triumphant red wines are proportionate to the commitment and the financial resources of the wine producer.
Although Merlot struggled in the Medoc, it performed well on the right bank. Pomerol was comparatively resplendent with generous fruit and riper tannin backbones than elsewhere. St Emilion was also capable of making some lovely wine, but as usual the results were mixed. Pessac Leognan reds were muscular and on the rustic side, whereas the whites were minerally and fresh with strong acidities. Many feel that the dry whites are excellent. For most Australians, these wines don’t really offer value. There were some good Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant red wines made in the Medoc. However, no single sub region prevailed. If anything I preferred Pauillac, especially Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste and Chateau Batailley.
The humidity that hampered the 2013 harvest in the Medoc and elsewhere worked in favour of Sauternes and Barsac producers. There was a ‘widespread proliferation” of botrytis cinerea (noble rot) during Bordeaux’s wet autumn. The wines range from magnificent to standard in quality. The very best have a beautiful honey, barley water complexity, understated richness and viscosity and fresh acidity. Chateau d’Yquem is remarkably good. The biodynamic Chateau Climens is a beautiful expressive wine. Every year, I taste it in barrel and in parts. I can imagine the final blend and it will not disappoint.
The 20% drop in exchange rates between the Australian Dollar and the Euro over the last year will make the 2013 more expensive that the better 2012 and 2011 vintages. Unfortunately this will have a significant impact on market opportunities in Australia. It is unlikely the Chateau owners will drop their prices significantly enough to make this campaign worthwhile. The drop in demand from China and the “pipeline” full in other markets will result in sluggish sales across the world. Although this year’s primeur campaign will test the resilience of the traditional Bordeaux wine trade, there is still an impressive level of optimism. I think everyone is looking forward to moving on from the 2013 vintage. On the other hand this is the type of vintage, with a touch of bottle age, that could reappear in a more favourable light in a few years time.
by ANDREW CAILLARD MW