No serious debate that the first family of wine is Rothschild, at least from a historical perspective. They are to wine what the Kennedys are to political dynasties, what the House of Medici is to art patronage, what the Simpsons are to adorably dysfunctional people with yellow skin.
Beginning in 1853, the Rothschild wine genealogy reads like Matthew 1 with all those ‘begats’—Nathaniel de Rothschild begat Château Brane-Mouton which begat Château Mouton Rothschild; James Mayer de Rothschild begat Château Lafite which begat Château Lafite Rothschild; various other Rothschildren begat Château Clarke, Château de Malengin, Château Clerc-Milon, Château d’Armailhac, Château Duhart-Milon, Château de Laversine, Château des Laurets, Château L’Évangile, Château Malmaison, Château de Montvillargenne, Château de la Muette, Château Rieussec and Château Rothschild d’Armainvilliers. And that’s just Bordeaux—the family has estates all over the world.
They’re the Kochs, only without the psychological damage.
People who collect wine like to see the Rothschild name on a label—people who know wine care rather less. Among the many bits of information that a wine offers prior to opening, the producer is among the least useful, at least compared to appellation, varietal and vintage. There are names you trust, of course—names you buy because they’ve shored up their reputation over years and generations and, occasionally, centuries. But in the end, familiar names are no more a guarantee of quality than the one on a film marquee. Compare the addictively glorious Goodfellas to the interminably hackneyed Wolf of Wall Street.
But, it can be said that when you see Scorsese listed in the IMDb filmography you are far more willing to toss caution to the wind than if you see, say, Kennen Wayons, and likewise, when I had a chance to try that rarest of birds, a Bordelaise rosé, I took the bait—primarily because the label was Barons de Rothschild ‘Les Lauriers’ from Montagne-Saint-Émilion.
To Begat or Not to Begat—Never a Question
Montagne-Saint-Émilion is a satellite appellation three miles northeast of the great Merlot utopia that has produced Château Angélus, Château Ausone and Château Cheval Blanc. These sub-appellations likewise read like a list of ‘begats’—beside the vineyards of Montagne, Saint-Émilion begat Lussac-Saint-Émilion, Saint-Georges-Saint-Émilion and Puisseguin-Saint-Émilion.
The fact that the wine is rosé is intriguing because every reference I can find to this appellation specifies that the output is red: Infrared, baboon butt red, Red October red, menstrual maroon. Of course, pink Bordeaux is more common in France than it is here, likely because not much of it is made in the first place, and the wine makes a rich alternative to Bordeaux whites which are, for the most part, forgettable.
The problem with rosé is that even the best are somewhat one-dimensional flavor-wise, regardless of varietal. If you disagree, pull some random rosé tasting notes off the web, and send me a dollar for any of them that don’t include the descriptors ‘watermelon’, ‘strawberry’ or ‘rose-petals’ and I assure you, within ten minutes I’ll have the twenty-five bucks required to pick up a bottle of Rothschild ‘Les Lauriers’.
The final begat in this story is Baron James Mayer de Rothschild’s great great grandson Benjamin. He was begatted by Edmond, who purchased two châteaux in Médoc and begat Compagnie Vinicole Baron Edmond de Rothschild. In 2003, after taking over the family business, Benjamin begat Château des Laurets, a property sitting on both Puisseguin-Saint-Émilion and Montagne-Saint-Émilion.
The wine displays a hallmark note of creamy lushness that is evidence of its own begattery: 70% merlot grown in the clay-rich soils; classic Right Bank terroirs of the Gironde Estuary. This signature clay, made from degraded limestone, contains copious quantities of calcium and something known to chemists, geeks and Jeopardy champs as CEC—Cation exchange capacity.
CEC influences a soil’s ability to hold onto essential nutrients and provides a buffer against soil acidification.
This is, arguably, the single most essential element in making Right Bank Merlots the best in the world.
There are flavor fundamentals in the wine that I could certainly describe as watermelon and strawberry, but the overall depth brings out elements of ripe cantaloupe, ripe red pepper and a beguiling black cherry undercurrent that adds weight and complexity.
Speaking of beguiling, all this babble about beguiling begatting begats a brand new pick-up line:
“Beyond the beginning of the beguine, can we begin to begat?”
If she happens to be literate, I’m in like Flynn de Rothschild.