On November 13th 2016 we had the opportunity to celebrate my wife’s recent birthday and some of the family gathered for dinner, we were 7 adults. I had taken it upon myself to prepare the dinner and select the wines. I had elected to go with lamb, marinated for 48 hours in a creamy herb marinade of my own creation, and cooked with a honey garlic sauce. I decided that Bordeaux red was the wine of choice, but I wanted to taste the 1970 Chateau Mouton Rothschild which I had in the half bottle size, so I also needed to have a full bottle of something else as we were 7 people. I wanted to serve the Mouton last, so I went with a younger and fruitier Bordeaux to go with the lamb as the main wine, and the Mouton, being last, could be consumed on its own after the main plate was done.
As a plan this was both logical and sound. I had no recent tasting experience with the 1970 Mouton, and my half bottle had a medium shoulder fill only. I remembered that half bottles age faster than full bottles, and given the evaporation in the bottle there was a good chance that the wine was well past its prime and in full decline. Tasting the Mouton last would therefore be less disruptive to the dinner, and less offensive to the palate if the wine was dried out, because it would not be competing with the sweetness of the honey garlic sauce in which the lamb was to be cooked. I had also done some homework looking at tasting notes of the 1970 Mouton on line, and noticed that some tasters had variable tasting experiences, running into bottle variation and tough tannic bottles of wine.
Some other tasting notes online also indicated the 1970 Mouton was lighter and drier, so I had decided not to decant the wine before pouring it. My thinking was that if the wine was in decline, and if evaporation in the bottle had oxidized the wine, aging it further, then decanting it for an hour or two before serving it might just push it right over the edge, making it sour and lifeless to consume. After all, I thought, the wine is 46 years old and not from an outstanding vintage, even though the 1970 Mouton is arguably the top Bordeaux red of the vintage.
The lamb preparation was perfect, the sauce was just right, and the combined taste was bursting with flavor, not sweet, just the right touch of garlic, which enhanced the flavors of the lamb. Now it would be up to the pairing with the 1995 Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste to see if one would complement the other, or if they would clash and engage in open warfare on our palates. I had opened the wine an hour ahead of time allowing it to breathe.
The wine was a rich dark red in color in the glass, showing nice glycerin content as the tears of wine seemed to hang there forever on the side of the glass. On the nose, there was lots of full ripe red fruit, strawberry and raspberry, followed by spices, tobacco, mushrooms and mild earthy tones before the cedar emerged. This was just loaded with young expressive aromas. On the palate the fruit was fuller and more intense, again mixed with spices, cedar and tobacco. There was a fresh acidity, medium tannins, and a full bodied fleshy texture to the fruit flavors as they rolled off the tongue. There was great balance and a long smooth aftertaste to the wine as it left you with a lingering cedar taste in the mouth.
A fabulous wine, still young and vibrant, and at only 21 years of age, this wine is easily good for another 20 years and probably will need another 5 years at least to reach full maturity.
This Grand-Puy-Lacoste seemed to pair perfectly with the lamb, the honey garlic sauce was slightly sweet, and the richness of the fruit in the wine only served to enhance the combined taste on the palate. There is no doubt that a drier, less fruity Bordeaux red, like the 1970 Mouton Rothschild to follow, would have been completely overwhelmed by the honey garlic sauce. So the decision on which wine to serve with the lamb appears to have been correct. Our tasting panel certainly agreed, and before long both the wine and the lamb were all gone.
Moving on to the Mouton Rothschild, I was well aware that the 1970 vintage was not rated that highly in Bordeaux, that the vintage was generally soft, light in fruit, and most properties did not produce great wine. On the other hand the Mouton Rothschild has consistently performed very well in tastings, continuing to be viewed as the best Bordeaux of the vintage. The Mouton Rothschild is the only Bordeaux that I ever bought from the 1970 vintage, and so I was anxious to try it. As I said earlier we were trying a half bottle with only a mid shoulder fill, so I had a legitimate concern that the wine might be oxidized and spoiled, or just tired and ready to turn quickly in the glass, which is why I did not decant the wine.
The critics have generally rated the wine quite highly, Parker gave it 93 points, but that was in 1996. The Wine Spectator gave it 96 points in 1993, and more recently Stephen Tanzer gave it 94 points in 2011. So I was hopeful that this bottle would perform the same way, in spite of the mid shoulder fill of a half bottle.
In the glass the color was significantly lighter, an orange red, but no signs of any browning around the rim of the glass. On the nose the aromas were subtle, light but well knit together. You initially smelled plums, black currant, oak, cocoa and flowers. None of this was full, fat, or forward, instead it was delicate and tightly packed together, but all still there. Was this wine waxing or waning, that was yet to be determined.
On the palate cedar and citrus joined the ensemble, together with mint, minerals, spice, dried herbs and leather. The wine was medium bodied, light and perfectly balanced. There was nothing to indicate this wine was past its peak and in decline.
The wine had a silky smooth texture to it, leading to a long soft and delicate aftertaste. My palate picked up flint, a little saline, and more soft tannins on the aftertaste. Nothing harsh, nothing dried out, just light delicate and tightly woven aromas and flavors – classic Mouton!
As we relished the wine and hung on every sip, the wine improved in the glass over the next 30 minutes, showing more coffee on the palate. The aromas and flavors opened up and became more pronounced. It was immediately apparent that this wine was still in great condition and in need of decanting and aeration for at least an hour before consuming.
There is no doubt that even with a mid shoulder fill in a half bottle size, this wine is still no older than middle aged, and should be a great drink for at least 10 more years. I think the wine is fully mature, but not showing any signs of moving into decline. Color and appearance in the glass, presence of fruit on both the nose and palate, balance and structure, are all still there.
This wine was made in a classic older style Bordeaux manner with more subdued and delicate fruit, not your typical modern style fruit bomb aimed at competing with thick chocolaty California Cabs. And at the time, in 1970, Mouton was in the forefront and perfecting that style. So this is in fact history in a bottle, an excellent example of what Bordeaux used to be. I would score this wine 92 points, to drink now and over the next 10 years.
In my opinion, critics complaining about bottle variation and uneven performance with this wine are probably experiencing one of the following two problems:
- The wine needs decanting for at least an hour to fully open up and show at its best, and
- This wine will show best on its own, not within a flight of full, fat, fruity, and younger style Bordeaux wines at a large tasting, where so many of these wines are tasted and judged.
I did the right thing by not serving this wine with the lamb dish because the honey garlic sauce would have destroyed this wine. If I were to pair this wine with food, I would suggest a veal with light herbs seasoning, or something similar of light delicate texture on the palate, in order to allow the wine to demonstrate its full array of aromas and flavors.
I was very pleased with how both wines performed, and I was also just as pleased with the decisions I made on pairing with food. Had I served these wines in the opposite order they both would have been less effective and less enjoyable. A little bit of thought and preparation clearly goes a long way in enhancing the experience.
Cheers, I can’t wait to do it again soon!