A complete collection of "premier Grand Cru Classé wines”, those five exclusive vineyards that since 1855 have reigned above the best of Bordeaux, is extremely rare. And it’s not just simply a question of cost. Admittedly there are years with scarce bottles and scary prices, but there’s more to it than that. The discerning wine connoisseur setting out to collect the “royal flush” of Bordeaux’s greats must have nerves of steel. Weakening to the urge to taste the hard-earned prizes creates a dreaded gap that breaks the run. Such a weakness ruins, what Hannes Janssen (Mouton-Rothschild collector and wine journalist) has described what is in truth a passion on a par with “stamp collecting”. Attempting to outwit this psychological flaw while putting together his a Mouton Rothschild 1945 to 2000 collection, Janssen struck a strategy of “two collections”. One "untouchable" and one "drinkable" spare.
Sell and start again?
But what happens when collections are complete? Sell and start again? Janssen chose yet another option: to share his passion with others of his elk. The wine tasting dégustation “The Chateau Mouton-Rothschild Collection of Hannes Janssen” at Wine Art’s Attersee (Austria’s) lake residence, was an extremely rare occasion. And those present were well aware of the historical importance of experiencing the taste of all the years since 1945 of the most prominent of French wines.
The Baron and the Reporter
Janssen met the Baron Rothschild as a young reporter. Sent to interview Philippe Rothschild, the once “enfant terrible” of the Rothschild family, banished to the Bordeaux wine estate to reform his ways, only to astonish his family and the wine world with “the” Chateau success story of the century. The venerable French aristocrat liked the direct questions of the gifted young German and the foundation of a friendship and a Mouton collection was laid. Janssen (now retired) glows when he recalls anecdotes of Philippe and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. “Collect cases of 82!” the Baron had strongly urged and Janssen did.
The Mouton Holy Grail
1946 was harder. A difficult growing season in Bordeaux with reduced numbers of bottles produced. This year has stumped many a fervent collector. “Like WM football stickers” Janssen explained, a collection is worthless if just one year is missing.
We were warned the disproportionately expensive 1946 would be a vinegar-like disappointment. It was not. A sweet but tough “venerable” wine, it was one of the surprises of the tasting. But no surprises with the traditional great years 1945, 1961, 1982 and the experts present agreed even the “smaller” years ‘65, ‘73and ’59 drank very well.
How to collect
A new collection? No says Janssen. And his advice to others with the desire to acquire, is to collect the bottles of favourite years”. A recipe for enjoyment without the stress of searching frantically for wine ofthe “lost year”, that may or may not be to your taste. Looking at the empty bottles with their famous Rothschild labels (there’s an anecdote there too, read the PS) I ask, any regrets? Janssen leaned back, smiled contentedly and purred a “No”.
Baron Philippe Rothschild revolutionised the traditional Bordeaux wine world with his “mise en bouteille au chateau” (bottling on the premises) and he pushed Chateau Mouton-Rothschild into the league of premier cru’s (first growths). But his commissioned labels from artists the likes of Picasso Motherwell and Henry Moore, was a genial PR strike. Artists however famous were never paid for their creations but given six cases of the Mouton of their choice. An offer quickly reversed to six cases of the wine of the label’s year! Now these exquisite graphics works are valuable in their own right and exhibited at Chateau Mouton Rothschild.