If France is the most famous wine-producing country and Bordeaux the most famous wine-producing district of France, then Pauillac is surely the most famous wine-producing area in Bordeaux and by extension, in the world.
This tiny (only 3,000 acres of vineyards) area, on the west bank of the Gironde in Western France, boasts of three out of five Premier Grand Cru estates under the 1855 classification of Bordeaux wines: Chateaux Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, and Latour, as well as noted names like Pontet-Canet, Lynch-Bages, and Batailley. In all, absolutely the highest concentration of fine-wine producers on the planet.
Somewhat confusingly Chateau Lafite belongs to the Domaines Baron de Rothschild, while the house of Baron Philippe de Rothschild owns Mouton Rothschild both are branches of the famous Rothschild banking family (reputed in the early 1800s to have had the largest private fortune in the world!), with both estates and wineries located adjacent to each other. But make no mistake the wines are distinctly different (if equally expensive): as described by the World Atlas of Wine, Lafite is a perfumed, polished, and quintessentially elegant wine, while Mouton Rothschild is strong, dark, full of the savour of ripe blackcurrants, and quite exotic.
All wineries have a story, and the older and more famous the winery, the more interesting its story (well, sometimes). Few stories, however, can quite match that of Baron Philippe de Rothschild a real-life bon vivant par excellence (1902-1988) who, as described by Wikipedia, was ... a Grand Prix race-car driver, a screenwriter and playwright, a theatrical producer, a film producer, a poet, and one of the most successful wine growers in the world.
The Baron successfully lobbied for 20 years to have the second growth Bordeaux Mouton Rothschild to First Growth (Premier Cru) status (in 1973) the only winery to ever have achieved this since the original classifications were done in 1855. He also partnered with Robert Mondavi to set up the iconic winery Opus One in California (1979). In 1946, he pioneered the practice of commissioning famous artists to paint his labels (emulated many years later by our own Grover Vineyards in their Art Series of wine labels) the Mouton Rothschild 2009 label has been created by Indian artist Anish Kapoor.
In comparison, the Lafite story is almost staid, but the wine is more highly acclaimed: most famously, a bottle of the 1787 vintage once belonging to American founding father and president, Thomas Jefferson (who was a lifelong customer of Lafite), was sold by Christies at an auction for $160,000 (nearly Rs 1 crore at todays exchange rates), a record that still stands. More recently, Lafite had been getting record prices in auctions in Hong Kong where wealthy Chinese buyers could not pay enough: prices range from 1,500 to 7,000 per bottle.
Vinexpo 2013, the Bordeaux Wine Fair, is taking place from June 16 to 20, and both these Premier Cru properties exhibit their lesser marquees as well as host extravagant wine-paired dinners at their estates an experience of a lifetime.
Sant and all that.
Alok Chandra is a Bangalore-based wine consultant