Are you taking care of your wine?
There are magnificent wines and then there is 1945 Château Mouton Rothschild. For me this is the greatest wine I have and most probably will ever taste. So, when the call came in to assess, value and potentially purchase an incredibly rare collection of old Mouton’s containing 1941, 45, 47 and 49 vintages; I packed my bags, booked my flight and headed 11,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Mexico City.
Extreme? Perhaps. Bonkers, some may say and if truth were known, I can’t really argue. However, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I could not decline. Also, we do have an office in the city therefore, making the expenditure a little easier to justify to my accountant. I conducted the necessary due diligence regarding the wines provenance and condition prior to my departure and discovered that many bottles remained in the same family for half a century or more. In fact, it is a fascinating story to how these great Bordeaux arrived in Mexico, to keep it brief, the then President of Mexico gifted these wonderful wines to the current owner’s grandfather.
The events surrounding the vintages
I vividly recall the long flight to Mexico City; my excitement was palpable as I sat there thinking about the events happening when these bottles came to fruition. In 1941, World War 2 was at its peak, the Enigma code was broken, and the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbour, thus drawing the US into World War 2. Consequently, the US, UK & China officially declare war on the Empire of Japan.1945 saw Benito Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, executed, the Soviet Union announces the fall of Berlin, V-E Day as Nazi Germany surrender, the horrific Atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Winston Churchill resigns as Prime Minister and September saw World War 2 come to an end.
Assessing the bottles
On arriving at the office where the wine could be assessed I was, to my horror, led to a small cupboard where all the bottles lay; this was nothing more than a broom cupboard, no bigger than a large wine rack. There were obvious signs of seepage too – a brown stickiness oozed through some of the wine capsules and the vast majority of labels were neatly stored in a shoebox which posed a further problem regarding identifying the various vintages. Nonetheless, I carefully removed each and every bottle and placed them upright in the air-conditioned office. It was such a shame these historical bottles did not receive the same cooling atmosphere as it was clearly evident that each and every bottle was subjected to hot, dry conditions which had slowly ruined them over the decades.
Prior to my departure I had requested photographs of the bottles – some were sent and these bottles showed fully intact labels with varying degrees of ullage (referring to the space of air between the wine and bottom of the cork), the vast majority that stood in front of me were not of the same quality. I was asked to open a bottle of the ’41 Mouton, which was a surgical task in itself as the cork was extremely fragile. The nose was attractive and sweet at first but faded quickly once in contact with the atmosphere. I was surprised with the wines structure; firm and medium bodied, there was no sign of fruit. Instead, the ’41 was lean, rustic and offered little if any enjoyment. Years of bad cellaring had taken the wines life away and left behind only a shadow of its former self.
The value of the collection
Naturally, the owner was keen for my approval and valuation for his prized collection. Simply put, a collection of this historical rarity and size would easily command over one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. However, in this condition, I would not part with five hundred pounds.
I left empty handed, a little numb, but I found solace in a few good bottles of wine at one of Mexico’s top restaurants, Biko (their equivalent to El Buli – very good by the way).