TN - 1990 Mouton-Rothschild - the happiest possible ending to one of my longest journeys in wine

Tonight ends one of my first journeys in wine- just a few weeks shy of when it began 25 years ago. My interest in wine generally began in the fall of 1995 when, after two weeks of reading the 3rd edition of Robert Parker’s Wine Buying Guide, I went home to visit my parents and Dad opened a 1976 Lafite-Rothschild for dinner. While it rested in decanter, he took me to visit his favored wine store- a place I knew well growing up- and I made 3 purchases. First, two bottles of 1990 Leoville Barton (at $29 each) since it seemed a really good QPR based on my reading of Parker’s book. Then there was a 1982 Dom Perignon Rose because it looked so amazing in that wood box. And finally- for $84.95- a single bottle of 1990 Mouton-Rothschild because I found the Parker review so fascinating and wondered- in my naivete- how a first growth I had known about all my life could make such a quizzical wine in a great vintage.

That first tasting was pretty much in line with Parker’s note- and I also agree with his assessment of the label, one of Mouton’s finest. But with the passage of time my curiosity to see how this wine would evolve got the better of me, and as a result I probably have more TNs for 1990 Mouton than any other single wine in a single vintage. It has improved over time- indeed I think to the best possible outcome. And tonight the journey ended. The wine will endure- but I believe it has fully matured, and alas the last wood case is now empty.

Moderately deep plum color with bricking throughout, at first the nose was quite mute with notes of spicy oak and aged cassis, on the palate a bit distant and detached at first, with a lovely sedate plum and cherry fruit but none of the fruitcake or exotic spice that is the hallmark of a great Mouton, after about an hour in decanter a lovely spicy cherry note on the nose, on the palate the wine is fully mature- the tannins are fully resolved and the acid is still in proper place but clearly poised to begin to become more prominent in a few years, the oak has subsided admirably but remains a notable element throughout- and amazingly it is quite smooth and relaxed without the raw whisky-like bitterness that plagued the wine in its youth, some mint notes with time, fine elegant finish, overall a very pretty and sedate Mouton- relaxing and serene in its way. This will never be remembered as one of the greats, but given where it started the outcome has been the best possible, and it is a genuinely good Mouton worthy of its chapter in a storied history. This is fully ready to go- it will hold, but I do not think it will develop further.

****, Drink now to 2030.

As long-time fans know- the 1990 came in the middle of a time of much experimentation at Mouton. For my part- I think of the late 80s as the era of heavy oak and the early 90s as the era where fruit extraction overtook the character of the vintage. With the 93 this has been a good thing, if not true to the vintage, because at a time when many 93s were starting to really get hard and begin to dry out, Mouton was still a very jammy and tasty drink. For me, the 1990 seems to have a bit of both things going on. There is certainly the oak, but also a certain intensity of fruit that helped it eventually achieve equilibrium- though at the expense of the subtleties that can make Mouton great. A fascinating journey indeed- 1990 Mouton- and well worth the trip.

Great back story, and tasting notes! I’ve never had a first growth, but it’s on the list. I appreciate your note.

Great story Tom. Those moments are worth all the journey.

Great story! What made you decide today was the day?

Love the story and the note. To have that wine relationship with your Dad is magical.

I agree an unfairly maligned wine. I have had a similar experience; every wine is better than the last one, it just creeps up on you, and whispers in your ear…because it is Mouton and 1990 the presumption has been that it should be more shouty…i thought it showed well in a Mouton vertical here in Blighty last November, but was among the also rans because it was competing against extroverts like the 1961…I have one left…this wine will not make old bones, and like Pichon Lalande in that vintage, a similarly elegantly-styled wine, it is a treasure.

76 Lafite was not bad either. Had it once. Nice story.

Nice story, thanks for sharing. I purchased a mixed case of 85 / 90 Mouton at auction earlier this year, and am looking forward to trying the 90. The first bottle of the 85 was amazing, and still seems to be at peak maturity…exactly what I said the last time I tasted in 2010!

Thanks for sharing. We’ve enjoyed the pairing of 89 and 90 Mouton on several occasions. I find both to be wines of finesse, balance, and elegance in powerful vintages. It is an eye opening to contrast and compare to the sheer brute power of the 89 and 90 Haut Brion for example.

Nice note Tom, thanks. I’ve only had this once, and it was outshined by its louder peers that night. I have one more, seems best to enjoy on its own to better plumb its depths.

Well, good story, thanks.
I agree it´s fully mature.
However the Mouton 1990 has always been a disapointment for me, not because it is a bad wine (it isn´t), but because it is (by far) not good enough for a First Growth in a great vintage, and therefore overpriced.
All other FGs made better wine in 1990, incl. Haut-Brion and Cheval-Blanc (maybe except Ausone), and many other Chateaux were more successful (not only Montrose and Pichon-Baron).

Tasting it blind I would pay 60-70 for it, 150 in a restaurant, but not 500 retail.
I much prefer Rauzan-Segla 1990 for 120.

Thanks everyone for your kind words.

Mike- honestly I have to blame it on COVID-19. I am used to working from home- in fact I prefer it- but I always balanced out working from home with getting in lots of social time on the tennis courts or at lunches and dinners with friends. When I moved back to Austin at the end of March, I left most of my cellar in Dallas but brought home with me 6 mixed cases of first growths, German Riesling, Vega Sicilia, Soldera, Figeac and Magdelaine that were fully mature (1970-2008 for the most part) on the expectation that COVID would pass quickly and I would be opening a lot of nice bottles over lunch and dinner at all the great BYOs around here- as well as making a few fun trips to NYC- before needing to restock in a year.

Well, it is all just sitting there and while I have enjoyed my many tastings at home of new vintages- I just had to open something good. And I decided to open something that I really wanted to try but that I knew a lot of other people might not be too keen on.

And I will keep doing it I think. Just once a month a very nice bottle with a very nice dinner. And then pour off sample 100ml bottles of the leftovers in airtight flasks to share with friends. I will go nuts otherwise.

I have an irrational passion for the 1985s. They are the perfect sexy midweights- good with luncheon or dinner- and like you say, they seem ageless. My last experience with 1985 Mouton was about 3 years ago- and paired off with a spectacular 1985 Margaux (which can unfortunately be quite variable.) I thought much the same as you- it seemed to have remained the same as 20 years ago when I last tried it. I gave a slight edge to the Margaux at that particular lunch, but I think the Mouton will be the more enduring in the long run.

I was inspired by your story to open a '90 Mouton for my birthday dinner yesterday; exceeded my rather high expectations. The fill was top shoulder and the cork was soaked through but sound. Opened an hour before dinner, no decant. Medium garnet turning to blood red at the rim. An expressive and complex boquet, with notes of dried plums, cedary cassis, violets, roasted fennel, forest floor, and hints of tobacco leaf. Medium bodied, velvety texture, excellent delineation, impeccable balance, great depth, and a long, fresh and savory finish. Not a blockbuster or particularly powerful wine, this was regal and refined.

My first experience with the '90 Mouton, and I disagree strongly with Parker et al who have pilloried this wine over the years. For my taste, this bottle was on par with the '85 Mouton, and superior to the '88 and '94, all tasted within the last six months. The '90 seems to be at peak maturity, where I’m optimistic it will remain for another 10 years.

What a lovely post, Tom. Thank you for sharing it with us.