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Mouton-Rothschild Popsicles (June 15, 2000)

This past week I had one of the saddest wine experiences of my life. (If you care about claret, stop reading now!) I was called in by the Food & Beverage director of CP Hotels' flagship property in Toronto, The Royal York, to assess the condition of a complete vertical 'library' of Château Mouton-Rothschild.

Since 1945 Mouton-Rothschild has commissioned an artist of international repute to design the top two inches of their label. Such legends as Picasso, Chagall and Andy Warhol among others have decorated this space.

Four years ago the hotel had purchased at auction a complete set of these bottles dating from 1945 to 1994 (including the twin 1993 labels by the Canadian artist Riopelle - the late Baron Guy de Rothschild liked both and used the two, and the notorious 1993 pencil sketch of a young naked girl. A censored version with a blank label was sent to the United States). They paid $40,000 for the set that they displayed in a glass-fronted wooden cabinet in their various properties across Canada.

In the winter of 1998, the wines were on display in Chateau Whistler, a famous ski resort in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia. Their next destination was Mont Tremblant, another ski resort in Quebec, on the other side of the country. The hotel had made an inventory of the precious bottles with a description of the fill level and the condition of the label for each. As the collection left each property notes were made if there had been any deterioration. Each inventory sheet was signed and witnessed by the hotel and the shipping company.

On January 8, the wines left Whistler in their polystyrene packing cases, a dozen wines in each container, standing upright, set in wooden cases.

They were transported in an unheated truck for three days of Canadian winter.

When they arrived in Quebec all the wines had frozen. Their corks had been forced out and most of the bottles had leaked. In some cases the corks were floating on the wine; in others, the corks had erupted through the lead capsules. Many fill levels were dramatically down and even those bottles that had no evidence of leakage showed that the hermetic seal between the cork and the bottle neck had been broken. The possibility of oxidation was obvious.

Naturally, the hotel sued the shipping company; the collection was ruined. The insurance company balked at paying $40,000 to replace the fifty-three bottles. They were only prepared to pay for bottles that were obviously ruined.

From my observation the integrity of the entire collection had been compromised. Not one of the wines had gone unaffected by being frozen.

The matter is still in negotiation. Watch this space.

 

 

 

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