As a lover of old wines, I receive many tempting email offers. I succumb much too frequently. In a casino I can restrain myself, but when it comes to wine, my addiction takes control. From a recent offer of rare wines, I bought a bottle of 1945 Mouton Rothschild. This legendary, almost mythical wine asserts a powerful attraction on both connoisseurs and counterfeiters. As soon as the bottle arrived in my wine cellar, I checked it against the others I have on my shelves. When I compared the bottles and examined the capsules, the labels with a « V » for the great victory of that year, the end of WWII, as well as other details, convinced me that what I had bought was indeed a genuine bottle of 1945 Mouton.
During this inspection, I noticed that another of my bottles had a low fill level—low shoulder. Under a lamp I could see that the color was good. It had to be drunk quickly. My son was in Paris and would leave for Miami in three days. Why not open the bottle with him? He was always ready for this kind of dotty adventure!
I asked my wife to buy some lamb. Its tenderness would complement the wine and a side dish of potatoes gratin would assist.
I brought the bottle home the day before the dinner and put it standing in a cool spot. The following day I was tired; I returned from my office at 7 pm, earlier than expected, to take a nap. My wife was well along in preparing dinner when I told her I was not yet ready to open the wine and would decide if I felt up to opening such a legendary bottle after my nap.
The nap did me good; however the bottle still had its cork. Such a wine should have been opened much earlier. My son arrived and I explained to him that I hadn’t been sure I would be ready for such a great wine, which was why I was only then about to open it.
The capsule stuck to the top of the cork and I was not able to separate them. Unfortunately, the capsule tore. The top of the cork was as hard as concrete; in order to prevent the corkscrew from pushing the cork into the bottle, I had to drill a small hole. I pulled the cork; its surface was very black. I put my fingers in the neck and removed a muddy black substance. It did not smell bad; it may have been a combination of lees and bits of cork. This did not augur well! I washed my hands and used my fingers to clean the neck several times. Where was this leading?
The wine’s nose showed some acidity, but I didn’t detect anything terminal. I was only annoyed at myself for having taken a nap and losing the time to allow the wine to reconstitute itself. A few minutes later I realized that the wine was in fact on the rebound and I prayed that it would continue to improve.
My son had given us three jars of caviar as a Christmas present. That would be the entrée. We would begin with champagne, but a champagne that accompanies a 1945 Mouton must be grand! I picked out a 1973 Krug, one of my most cherished. This vintage is magnificent. Removing the wire cage was difficult, creating a lot of dust and shredding the capsule. The love of old wine is not always a bed of roses! While removing the cage I heard the sound of escaping gas. The cork came out very easily, because it was tapered, not mushroomed.
I poured two glasses, one for my son and one for me. (My wife doesn’t drink.) The first sip was bitter and my heart sank. I feared the worst, my adrenaline beginning to flow, but then, salvation. The color of the champagne was lovely, pale gold with a hint of pink. The bubbles were vigorous, the nose discreet but intense, vinous. On the palate, everything was illuminated and most charmingly unified. This champagne was lively, incisive, and as precisely chiseled as a samurai’s sword. Along with a mild tingle, I detected the notes of a rosé champagne.
We had two caviars, an Osetra of Venezuela and a caviar from Aquitaine obtained from Prunier. The Osetra was a lighter gray, quite expressive but with a taste that did not linger. By contrast, the Aquitaine was just right, iodized but not too salty, with exceptional length of taste, and it played beautifully against the Krug, which showed an attractive vinous acidity. Though not the best 1973 Krug that I have had, this was very refined, certainly a great bottle.
The lamb was meltingly tender, having simmered for hours on a low heat. The very delicate gratin of thin potato slices showed a rare precision. The beans were partly whole and partly mashed, with an agreeable texture and discrete flavor that complemented the wine.
The color of the 1945 Château Mouton Rothschild in the glass was a magnificent pale red, which became ever more intense as the bottle was emptied. I was so worried about underperformance that I scrutinized the most minute faults. I especially dreaded acidity. I noticed it from time to time, but never enough to spoil my pleasure. What is most striking about this wine is the velvet carried by its robust, muscular structure. I have always loved the solid serenity of the 1945 Mouton, its rooted, square and indestructible side. We found it in this bottle, even if it was not the best that I have had. There were flashes of perfection but at other times the acidity was bothersome. I was so anxious for it to be a good bottle that I could not completely relax. My son, meanwhile, totally enjoyed the Mouton, telling me that he had never had the opportunity to drink this fabled wine and that he was completely enraptured by it. I should simply have paid attention to his expression; his smiles would have kept me happy!
For dessert we had a tarte au pomme, consumed with the rest of the 1973 Krug. The tart brought out the champagne’s jubilance, combining the vivacity of a brut blanc champagne with the seductiveness of a rosé champagne.
How can I assess this dinner? Drinking these two wines with my son was a pure delight, something that cannot be bought. The two wines, if not perfect, showed excellence (the Krug) and a legendary taste (the Mouton), even if punctuated with some flawed moments. I was not in top form and could not completely appreciate them, but my son was in heaven. So my love of old wine led to a precious moment with him. What a wonderful Christmas present!
(see pictures in the following article)