We almost suffered a tragic calamity on a Tuesday night. I guess that it was just due to the good fortune that I have been constantly in the wine cellar, as I moved, shifted and inventoried the main wall of wines. To try to keep the racks neat, I went and removed the tissue paper wrappers on most of the bottles that were so covered from Day 1 at the winery. A few of the bottles have actually been with me, since I was a student living with my family in Detroit. The wine has been moved twice in houses and rearranged a couple of times here in the current location, until I built my wine cellar.
The great wines of Bordeaux come from an area called the Medoc, and the great wines of the Medoc were listed by ranking in the 1855 Classification, which has held up quite well for all of this time. Some of the greatest wines from this classification come from a small commune in the Medoc named Pauillac. Chateau Brane-Mouton was one of the leading wineries in the 18th and early 19th centuries, but suffered for a time period in both quality and price. The estate was bought in 1853 by the Rothschild family and eventually renamed Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, a different part of the Rothschild family that owned Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. There was hard work and diligence by the family to return the glory of the estate back to it former position, but not soon enough for the 1855 Classification. Four winery estates were name as Premier Cru Class Classé (First Growth); Lafite, Latour, Margaux and Haut-Brion. Mouton was recognized as the first of the Second Growth wines, and the winery felt slighted and dishonored and never even mentioned the 1855 Classification on their wine labels, whereas all the other listed wineries did. In 1922, there was a tremor in the force, as Baron Philippe de Rothschild took control and immediately began some new changes, including Chateau bottling, which is de regueur today and he had to construct what is now considered the iconic barrel hall. At the end of World War II, he also started commissioning artists to create a distinct label each year, and the labels have become collectibles in their own right. After much Byzantine machinations and wine-political maneuvering, the Baron achieved what he felt was truly the right of the estate and in 1973 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild was elevated to a First Growth.
By now, most of you must think that I have lost what ever gray-matter I may have owned with this short narrative of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. It happens that while I was a college student, one of my customers offered me the option of buying three bottles of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1973 as a future, with the astronomical price of nineteen dollars a bottle in 1970. I had to scrape up the money, which was a King’s ransom back then for a student, and who knew what would have foreseen what occurred in 1973 for the winery, and who knew that the label would feature part of Pablo Picasso’s Bacchanale from the Musée de Mouton and the wording “Premier Cru Classé en 1973. All of this leads up to the fact that I have been constantly in and out of the wine cellar and I happened to notice a couple of drops of wine on the floor, under the first column of wines, which begins the French collection that I have. As I was checking the bottles, I noticed that one bottle had a cork that had actually pushed out and through the lead capsule covering. I immediately went into the kitchen and got some sealing plastic pushed the cork back into the bottle, recovered and added a very tight rubber band as an additional sealant. My Bride then asked whether we should have salmon or center-cut pork chops and I emphatically told her the pork, because we didn’t have any filets thawed. I attempted to open the bottle with my Durand, but the cork still came out in dark burgundy wet pieces, and the initial whiff of the bottle was rather foxy or gamey. I then used my tried and true coffee filter paper in a funnel to decant the wine, and the nose was opening up and it was a Mouton, a 1973 to be exact, because I had opened one up a couple of years earlier. The wine was still a deep claret in color and still a delightful blend of fruit and tannins thirty-seven years later. The best part is that we will have the balance of the wine tonight with left-overs, and while that may sound inglorious, it was unplanned, we had a stellar bottle of wine and not a bottle of vinegar.
I hadn’t heard of the coffee filter in a funnel trick; what a great idea!
I have been using that method for years, especially for cork breakage, but some times to aerate a wine, if I don’t have a decanter handy and I must improvise. “Be prepared” was the Scout Motto. – John