David Hockney celebrates his 80th birthday this year and is marking it with exhibitions at Tate Britain and Centre Pompidou. He is also designing a label for the 2014 vintage of Mouton Rothschild, the first cases of which have recently been shipped from the château.
Unveiled on Friday February 3 by Baron Jacob Rothschild at a private party at London’s Spencer House, it is the latest in nearly a century of artist collaborations with the producer. Beginning with an early experiment in 1924 with a Cubist-influenced label from designer Jean Carlu, the tradition began in earnest in 1945 when Baron Philippe commissioned the relatively unknown Philippe Jullian to design a label to celebrate the end of the second world war. Based on Churchill’s famous “V for Victory” gesture, the image and sentiments are especially appropriate given that the 1945 Mouton Rothschild is regarded by many as the greatest Bordeaux – and possibly even the greatest wine – ever made.
The roster of artists whose work has adorned subsequent vintages includes Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and, more recently, Anish Kapoor and Jeff Koons whose works respectively embellish bottles from the finest modern vintages, 2009 and 2010. Hockney is only the fifth British artist to grace a Mouton label, after Lucian Freud in 2006, Prince Charles in 2004, Francis Bacon in 1990 and Henry Moore in 1964. He was a close friend of Baroness Philippine de Rothschild – he even appeared with her on stage at the Guggenheim in New York in 1984 in a play by Picasso – and his label commemorates her passing in 2014, featuring the words “In tribute to Philippine”.
“Getting David to agree was a mountain to climb,” said the Baroness’s son Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild at the launch, “but we succeeded in scaling Mount Hockney.” That historic mountain between artists and producers may perhaps have been partly built by Julien’s grandfather, who, according to the Baroness’s elder son Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, occasionally scuppered potential past collaborations with interfering artistic appraisals. “He would make comments such as, ‘Good… but could we have a little more green,’” revealed Philippe. “Julien understands the need to build the relationship at the artist’s pace. That process takes more time than the actual artwork.”
Behind the label, the wine itself has “mature tannins that are refined with a sweetness in the attack and good balance between vibrancy and maturity”, says the château’s head winemaker Philippe Dhalluin. “During en primeur tastings there may have been a perception that it was a bit straight, classic, almost austere, but barrel-ageing has revealed freshness without aggressive acidity. The wine will continue to evolve and improve but it is already approachable. It would be our best vintage since 2006 were it not for the primacy of 2009 and 2010.”
Most of the château’s vineyards lie between two plateaux – the north shared with neighbours Lafite, and the south with Carruades – providing a natural suntrap that encourages “very ripe grapes with a creamy and smoky, roasted berry character”, Dhalluin adds. Despite this ripeness, Mouton’s alcohol levels remain moderate, rarely heading far above 13 per cent, mainly because of its very old vines. “We have five hectares that have not been replanted since 1900, and these have sufficiently deep roots to avoid hydric stress during hot years,” said Dalhuin. Meanwhile, the soil, with a high concentration of gravel and sand, allows Cabernet to express the whole spectrum of flavours.
Mouton Rothschild 2014 tasting note
Recognisable Mouton aromas – lead pencil shavings and a solid hit of cassis, with roasted and toasted notes and the whiff of a recently smoked Cohiba. Typically refined and aristocratic, the palate is cool, vigorous, supple and refreshing if not generous, with blackberries and ripe Merlot fruit alongside touches of spice and cocoa. A refreshing rapier of a wine.
Tom Harrow is a fine wine commentator, consultant and presenter. His Grand Crew Classé is the ultimate invitation-only club for fine wine enthusiasts, with exclusive access to rare bottles and events around the world. twitter.com/winechapuk. To read more of his columns, click here.