Mention the word “Grand Cru” to wine lovers and instantly see their faces light up! Such is the aura of this classification of wines made in 1855 under the directions of King Napoleon III, that any serious wine lover strives to memorize the list to be truly called a connoisseur. The classification has a total of 62 estates across 5 subclassifications stretching across Premier (first) to Cinquième (fifth) growths mainly in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France.
The Premiers Crus are considered top of the ladder and fetch highest prices in the global wine market. These five wines are- Châteaux Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Latour and Haut Brion. Out of these, Château Mouton Rothschild made it to the club in 1973- being elevated from the second to first growth.
Now what if a good friend offers to bring you one of these first growths neither in standard, nor in magnum but in double magnum size- that too, from a vintage very close to your heart? I bet you can sense the aromas and flavours of the excitement to follow.
So when Gajendra (Gajju) Sareen, my buddy from the Military Academy informed me that he had procured two double magnums (3 litre bottles) of Château Mouton Rothschild 1987 specially to celebrate our course anniversary (we graduated from the Indian Military Academy in 1987), my anticipation knew no bounds. It was a true “Guns to Gewurztraminer” moment realizing that two former army mates who were more used to gun powder aromas in the past would now collectively revel at the complex aromas of none less than a Premier Grand Cru Classé! That Gajju is now a global business tycoon and a frequent buyer of fine wines was surely a facilitating factor for this proposition.
Time flew fast before I received a message from Gajju, seeking to fix the itinerary of the tasting on his impending brief visit to Delhi. We were to meet at his permanent suite in one of Delhi’s finest star properties to sample the wine before carrying the bottle to a larger gathering of our course reunion.
I arrived at Gajju’s suite with Smita, my lady who is also my Chef de Cuisine for wine pairings. With great enthusiasm he whipped out the wooden case containing the wine from a large bag. The box had several stickers on it, apparently tracing the wine’s journey before it had reached us. On my enquiring Gajju told me that he bought the wine at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong and parked it in Crown Wine Cellars in the same city. Being a member of Le Club FICOFI (a prestigious club for buyers of fine wines ) he requisitioned them to fetch the wine to his Singapore cellar and voilà! There it was with us!
The box was handed over to his designated butler for opening. Seeing him struggle with the box, I realized that three of its sides were nicely nail-hammered while the top panel was stapled. The butler accepted my suggestion to crowbar the top panel out, and a screwdriver did the job just well.
The magnificent bottle emerged and we took some pictures. We were now ready for the grande oeuverture. Though I have been served wine from much larger bottles during my stay in Bordeaux, this was my maiden experience of opening a double magnum, and I believe many wine lovers would be in the same boat. Therefore, I am sharing the micro level details:
Château Mouton Rothschild is known to engage eminent artists to design the labels for each of its vintages. The 1987 label was created by Swiss painter Hans Erni and it bears the face of its ancestor -the iconic Baron Philippe de Rothschild, as a homage to his last bottled vintage. A dedicating note by his daughter Baroness Philippe de Rothschild completes the homage and sums it up by a phrase “Mouton ne Change” implying the continuing legacy of the Baron.
The Oeuverture (opening)
A thicker capsule required two well pressed turns of the knife to cut through. As I leveraged the fulcrum end of the waiter’s friend on the bottle lip, I realized that the lip was much thicker for the fulcrum to afford a snug grip. Endeavouring to pull out the cork carefully, I further realized to my horror that the cork started crumbling on the top and I paused. Gajju told me not to hesitate as he had seen it happening often with bigger bottles. He lent me a helping hand and the day was saved. I suppose an “Ah-So” cork remover (that pulls out a cork by sliding two prongs on its either side) may be a good choice if things indeed go awry. Any experiences?
Contrary to my long standing conviction that a vintage wine of high pedigree need always be decanted before you could meaningfully appreciate it, Gajju insisted that we pour a glass right away since time was at premium. I readily complied since I had already noticed intense aromas wafting out from the bottle. We did well by summoning the largest bowled stemware with the hotel rather than the routine ones in the suite. The first glasses were poured followed by a generous pour in a decanter for our second glass. As we swirled and sniffed, the Grand Cru pedigree started emerging:
Colour: Medium ruby with a fading rim
Nose: Vastly expressive aromas of red berries and pungent spice.
Palate: Dry, medium bodied with very soft tannins. A delicious palate of abundant berries and a distinctively spicy lingering finish.
Tasting after decanting for 1 hour
Nose: Aromas of cedar wood, jasmine and forest floor emerged apart from ripe red berries becoming more evident.
Palate: A juicier palate of red berries with mineral hints, followed by a warm spicy finish going deep into the throat. Pigmented tannins could be noticed in the decanter and that explained the mellow character of the wine.
An assortment of cheeses placed in the suite offered us an ample playing ground before the Burrah Kababs (char grilled, lightly spiced, tender lamb kababs) that I had recommended for the pairing arrived. Given the wine’s ample acidity, creamy cheeses like Brie and Smoked Gouda paired very well with it. And as expected, the Burrah Kababs were delightful, matching the savoury and spicy attributes of the wine, step by step.
We could continue for longer but a bigger gathering awaited. As we concluded the surreal rendezvous, getting the bottle ready for the next stop, Gajju promised me to get some more gems like these on his next trips.
Not something I would complain-of for sure!