The uninitiated, turning up to taste the latest vintage at one of the left bank’s first growth estates, might perhaps expect something a little special, a slightly different experience to that you might have had at one of the other ‘lesser’ estates, those that languish on the lower rungs of the 1855 ladder. Indeed, for any acolyte of the wines of Bordeaux, such visits are special; a chance to see the vines and cellars for yourself, and hopefully to meet the winemaking team. And the wines should – especially when one considers the prices now asked for these bottles – also deliver just that little bit more.
Even so, to expect extravagances is perhaps to court disappointment; nevertheless, it is certainly true to say that any first growth visit is unique. Gaining entry to Château Latour, even with an appointment, can be an ordeal akin to breaking into a high-security jail. Waiting to taste Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion, at the latter of these two estates, feels like sitting in the queue for the confessional, such is the ecclesiastical nature of this domaine. In contrast the style at Château Margaux has always been open and welcoming, there being something more homely about the approach taken by Corrine Mentzelopoulos and her team, whereas at Château Lafite-Rothschild the tasting always feels rather perfunctory, even more so on the one occasion the venue was moved down the road to the warehouse at Château Duhart-Milon.
But if you want extravagance, it is to Château Mouton-Rothschild that you must come, as I discovered many years ago when I visited the château for the first time. Fine art adorns the walls in the waiting room, looking down upon ancient statuary. Fully prepared to make the short walk along the brushed-gravel drive to the tasting room in the light drizzle of springtime in Bordeaux I found such independence was frowned upon; I acquiesced, and let the staff ferry me there in one of their electric all-weather golf buggies (pictured above), about which I wrote in the introduction to my Bordeaux 2009 Top Ten selection (with more than a modicum of poetic license, admittedly).