Inspiration, I have found, comes from many places and in many different forms. Recently, a reader of Griffy on Wine e-mailed me saying, “Griffy, do you have any new $10 gems that you could recommend?”
Well, though quite by accident, yes!
The accident started by reading an article in the Hartford Courant. Now the Hartford Courant is the oldest continuous running newspaper in America, and is about as left wing as you can get. Me, I’m just slightly right of Attila the Hun. For years Josephine and I have had a running battle with me canceling our subscription in protest and her renewing it for the coupons.
However, in this edition the Flavor section had a story about Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Rothschild is an icon in the wine industry. He was the first of the great houses of Bordeaux to bring bottling in-house. This eliminated the possibility of the bottlers counterfeiting his pricey wine. Knockoffs have been a problem since Thomas Jefferson was buying wine. Shortly after the Second World War, Rothschild started having famous artists design the Mouton Rothschild label for each vintage. Picasso, Chagall, Miro, Warhol and Dali have all done labels for Rothschild, their payment coming in the form of a case of wine. Until then wine bottles resembled tombstones or legal documents, Rothschild was the precursor to the hip bottle labels of today. He was one of the first French winemakers to recognize that places other than France had good wine and winemakers, and in 1979 partnered with Robert Mondavi in California to create Opus One. In 1997 Rothschild teamed up with Conchay Y Toro of Chile and Almaviva was born.
But the Baron’s biggest accomplishment for us budget-conscience wine drinkers was the marketing a second label, lower quality (but good) wines under another brand name. The idea, originally, was to use up the 1930 vintage which was not considered to be good enough for the Mouton name. Instead, it became one of the most recognized wines in the world: Mouton Cadet.
For $18 I got two bottles of Mouton Cadet–one white and one red–and tried both at a dinner with some friends. The white was a good blend of 65% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Semillon and 5% Muscadelle. I’m not a white wine guy but this was as good as any white I’ve tasted and better than most. It went very well with the shrimp and scallop casserole for the first course. A very light taste of apple and pears highlighted the flavor of the shrimp and the scallops didn’t hide it.
The red was a little light for me, a typical Bordeaux red. The wine had only a hint of a nose, taste of light red fruit, and not much of a finish. For the price it was an okay wine, and to be honest I wasn’t disappointed, but not blown away either. I paired with pasta with tomato sauce, grilled vegetables and shrimp. The sauce won the taste contest. The blend was 65% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. For my own tastes, if I was the winemaker I would have reversed the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon mix, which would have produced more taste horsepower. Then again, that isn’t was Bordeaux is all about.
On the label of the Mouton Cadet is printed” le vin, il nait puis il vit mais point ne meurt en l’homme il survit.” After working hard with an online translator I discovered that it roughly translates to, “Wine is born, it lives, but it does not die. It survives in man.” I think this is a fitting tribute to a man who gave so much to the wine world, Baron Philippe de Rothschild passed away in 1988 at the age of 85, but he lives on in his wines.