Château de Beaucastel: why the world’s best wines are French
Are the best wines in the world made in France? We could discuss this question until the end of time… While it is true that France is the world leader in terms of tradition, the only way to answer this question is to try wines made by historic French producers. One of these producers is Chateau de Beaucastel, an excellent winery in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region. The Popes planted vineyards in this Southern zone of France during the 14th century, although the first mention of Beaucastel did not occur until 1549. Today, Chateau de Beaucastel has more than 300 acres and almost 250 are reserved for the vineyards, 175 acres belong to the Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC while 75 acres belong to Cotes de Rhone.
Wines that are made with love always resemble their owner. At least that’s what I believe. The austere and classic elegance of the past distinguishes them right away. It is pure style, strength, temperament, depth and balance. This is the portrait that would make Jean-Pierre Perrin, a fifth generation Perrin, the head authority of Chateau de Beaucastel, although the winery remains a family matter. A few of us were privileged to gather at Callao’s Corte Ingles in the Gourmet Experience section, along with Director Germán Alguacil, to listen to this Chateauneuf-du-Pape evangelizer and taste his marvelous wines. An exceptional appointment.
Monsieur Perrin is classic but not conventional. The Beaucastel evangelizer tells us, “I make a request to all those who have engaged extensively in sommelier studies, who have read and learned so much theory about wine: throw away all those books and titles, stay away from the guides and be carried along simply by the pleasure of your own palate.” And no need for words, your wines speak for themselves. They represent the art of blending from13 historic Chateauneuf-du-Pape varieties, vinified separately in order to extract the unique character from each grape variety. “Grenache and Cinsault grapes provide warmth and softness; Syrah, Mourvèdre (monastrell), Muscardin and Vaccarèse grapes will give strength and longevity along with a noticeable taste and color; Picpoul and Counoise grapes provide special aromas and freshness.”
Wines as a cultural product
There are wines that are a true cultural product: they speak of history, celebrities, thoughts, dreams, a philosophy. They are not simply a food product, but set aside for an educated public who reads, documents, and knows how to detect and appreciate those nuances…for those who want to know what lies behind a label. Despite the decreasing global wine consumption, the sensitivity towards quality wine and the demand for a wine culture is on the rise. You have to make wines with this philosophy and for this audience, says Monsieur Perrin. That’s why French wines are the best in the world. Correct wines are produced everywhere, but wines with these traits are very few.
Chateau de Beaucastel wines speak of a terroir shaped by the violence of the Rhone and the famous cailloux roulées, or large stones that accumulated heat during the day and returned it to the vines at night. Little rainfall and plenty of sun, along with the Mistral breeze, make Southern France an ideal environment for wine production. The people of Beaucastel are classics but also pioneers in vineyard care; by 1950 they adopted organic farming and by 1974 they applied biodynamic methods when almost no one knew what it was. Their philosophy is to respect the terrior as soil and surrounding, but also as tradition, searching its singularity and originality.
What is a great wine?
“Puissance, structure, elegance et fraicheur”: power, structure, elegance and freshness. Monsieur Perrin is very clear. To make a great wine is to achieve a body and structure without compromising the elegance and freshness. All at the same time. It is difficult to fuse all these characteristics into one unique wine, especially in warmer wine making regions like Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
The secret of Chateau Beaucastel wines
Aging is not dominant in Chateau de Beaucastel. The reds are fermented in concrete tanks, never stainless steel, and later aged in large 4000 liter casks (foudres), never in barrels. Only 30% of the white wines are fermented and aged in wood for a maximum of 8 months. This is the secret to making fine wines in warm regions. Barrels are useful for wines produced in cold Atlantic climates; in warm winemaking zones, such a strong contribution of wood makes the wines unbalanced. This type of preparation is in line with the food industry’s modern trends: we are moving towards more digestible wines and food as compared to the past. We are looking for more elegant, lighter wines, as well as lighter food with less fat.
We can appreciate the characteristics of various young white wines: Roussanne, white Grenache, Picardan, Bourboulenc and Clairette (all accepted in the Chateauneuf-de-Pape AOC) in addition to the Marsanne and Viognier (within the Cotes du Rhone AOC, where the Coudoulet de Beaucastel is made). They have especially fruity scents (lychee, grapefruit, pitted fruits) and floral aromas (honeysuckle, white flowers) in addition to hints of limestone from the soil. They are solar, fatty, sensual, and aromatic southern wines with a precise acidity. When they are young they pair well with local cuisine that is aromatic, spicy and made with olive oil. On the contrary, high latitude wines (thanks to their high acidity) are more suited for buttery foods.
But wines (not just the ones mentioned above) change with age. After 10 or 15 years, these southern wines transform, becoming oily, complex and enveloping; they acquire tertiary scents that allow them to pair well with any type of international food, even food made with butter. These wines have such a special scent that make it difficult to identify whether they are white or red in a blind taste test.
Similar to white wines, scents of red fruit (strawberries, raspberries, cherries) stand out in young red wines. After a few years they turn to mature black fruit. After five or six years the red wines begin to lose these fruity aromas. Monsieur Perrin explains that with time these wines pass from the plant kingdom to the animal kingdom, with their first tertiary notes and the famous Brettanomyces, characteristic of Chateau de Beaucastel wines. The next evolution, years later, is to return to the ground and exhibit terroir aromas: moist soil, dead leaves, scrub and fungi.
And these are the tasting notes…
We begin the tasting with white wines, which constitute only 10% of the total production at Chateau de Beaucastel. They ferment and grow for 8 months, 30% in foudres and 70% in concrete tanks.
2009 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Blanc, Côtes du Rhône AOC, Vallée du Rhône (30% Marsanne, 30% Viognier, 30% Bourboulenc, 10% Clairette)
We are in the Côtes du Rhône AOC: this wine represents the fusion of white grape varieties representative of Châteauneauf-du-Pape in its youth and on a vintage terrain.
Sight: straw, golden highlights
Scent: limestone and mineral in the foreground with intense aromas of honey, citrus, pitted fruit, quince, butter, and white flowers.
Taste: Good acidity, ample, full-bodied. Aftertaste predominantly butter with hints of bitter orange marmalade, lightly toasted.
2011 Château de Beaucastel Blanc, Châteauneauf-du-Pape (80% Roussanne, 15% White Grenache, 5% Piardan+Clairette+Bourboulenc)
With this wine we arrive at the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC. The Roussanne grape is the predominant grape at 80%, complemented by the white Grenache from vineyards that are between 10 and 40 years old, without malolactic fermentation. 2011 was a year of contrasts, a warm and dry spring, rains in July, and a long summer later.
Sight: Straw, golden highlights
Scent: Exuberant aromas with a lot fruit: lychees, grapefruit, tangerine, and pitted fruit. There also appears to be scents of toasted bread and yeast, a touch of wax and a hint of limestone.
Taste: Mineral attack, limestone, ample and fatty. Fruity and toasted bread aftertaste, very persistent.
2006 Château de Beaucastel Blanc, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (80% Roussanne, 15% White Grenache, 5% Piardan+Clairette+Bourboulenc)
The magnificent year of 2006 was characterized by a very hot July followed by a very cool August and an initially hot September, with some rain in the summer. A mild October without rain led to a good mature harvest. Here we have a white that is already seven years old (although it still appears young), but it’s gaining complexity and tastes creamy, enveloping, and fatty.
Sight: Straw, golden highlights
Scent: Initial hints of gunpowder that disappears and leaves balsamic aromas, honey, apricot, honeysuckle, orange marmalade…
Taste: Very ample and fatty, with a persistent bitter finish.
2005 Château de Beaucastel Blanc, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes (100% Roussanne from very old vines)
This wine is considered to be one of the best white wines in France, produced on the oldest Roussanne vineyards: they made only 6000 bottles in 2005, a year characterized by drought. The old fashioned style of uprooting old vines in order to increase output has led them to maintain a few vineyards in this way.
This demonstrates the Roussanne’s ability to gain complexity and become seductive and deep. A friend, Juancho Asenjo, also at the tasting, comments that it’s a wine he can always recognize blindly. Infinitively complex and greasy, it is a concentrated mix of grape and ground: we clearly see how the wine has exceeded its vegetative state, gained animal aromas, and is returning to the land with its scents of feuilles mortes, truffles, undergrowth, damp soil. It is a wine to accompany big dishes; Monsieur Perrin suggests a poularde a la truffe… pas mal!
Sight: Brilliant gold.
Scent: Light touches of gunpowder, limestone, butter, toasted bread, honey, candied fruit, truffles, feuilles mortes… changing and complex scent.
Taste: Full-bodied, very ample and greasy, sweet but with a good bitter finish. Yellow fruit (peach, apricot) and lightly toasted aftertaste. Very long, exceptional.
2002 Château de Beaucastel Blanc, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (80% Roussanne, 15% White Grenache, 5% Piardan+Clairette+Bourboulenc)
This was one of the few wines prepared in Château de Beaucastel during the terrible year of 2002, so terrible that no one could even make red wine. It does not look like a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, without that warmth, but is cooler and mineral. Yet it is an extraordinary wine.
Sight: Brilliant gold.
Scent: Hints of dairy, lightly toasted, honey, butter, dried apricots, wax.
Taste: Fresh attack, wide and greasy, with much minerality. Very persistent.
The Château de Beaucastel reds are the epitome of the 13 grape varieties that have made Châteauneuf-du-Pape such a great name (5% Cinsault, 10% Counoise, 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, 10% Syrah, 15% Vaccarès, Terret Noir, Muscardin, Clairette, Picpoul, Picardan, Bourboulenc, Roussanne). Its vineyards have been cultivated organically since the 60s in an extraordinary terroir at the northern tip of the region, very close to the Mistral, which promotes healthy grapes and clay soil recovered by the famous stones.
The preparation is done separately for each variety, in conical barrels for those that have a reduction tendency (Syrah, Mourvèdre) and in traditional concrete tanks coated in tiles for oxidation (Grenache). After assembly, the wine ages for one year in foudres and is then bottled.
2010 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Rouge, Côtes du Rhône AOC, Vallée du Rhône (30% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, 20% Syrah, 20% Cinsault)
Sight: Cherry red, middle layer.
Scent: Fresh red fruit, some minerality, licorice.
Taste: Fresh attack, intense fruity character with good persistence.
2007 Château de Beaucastel Rouge, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
A perfect year with warm days and cool nights. Mr. Perrin says that this is the best wine ever made: with perfect balance between power and finesse, it provides great potential for aging. This says it all.
Sight: Cherry red, claret rim, middle layer.
Scent: Intense aromas of chocolate and ripe red fruit, hints of black ink, truffle, spices and a touch of gunpowder.
Taste: Sweet attack, ample and velvety, mature tannins. Very fine with good persistence. Chocolate and hints of spice remain as an aftertaste.
2005 Château de Beaucastel Rouge, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
With respect to the 2007, one observes a major evolution and the animal tones are much more noticeable. The wine is going from a fruity character to the animal kingdom.
Sight: Cherry red, claret rim, medium layer.
Scent: Animal hints, leather, game, balsamic, ripe red fruit.
Taste: Sweet attack, balanced, with good fruit.
2001 Château de Beaucastel Rouge, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
The wine’s evolution has brought it back to the soil: the tertiary aromas already appear to be associated with the terroir. A great wine.
Sight: claret, tanned rim, middle layer.
Scent: Hints of truffle and moist soil, scrub, hummus. Chocolate and spices.
Taste: Fresh attack, round and balanced. Spicy aftertaste, chocolate, and those touches of damp soil.
1998 Château de Beaucastel Rouge, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Our bottle was not in perfect form, too evolved.
1998 Hommage Perrin
A tribute to Jean-Pierre Perrin’s father. Prepared only in the best years (1998 was another exceptional year in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with a warm summer until the end of the harvest) and only with grapes from the oldest vineyards: they have produced only 3000 bottles. By far the best wine we try at the tasting, and until now I would say it is one of the best that I have tried in my life…
Sight: Claret, mahogany rim, middle layer.
Scent: Intense and complex with tones of truffle and damp soil, game, leather, scents of fruit compote and spices.
Taste: Fresh attack, very fine, ample and meaty. Spicy aftertaste and a great persistence. Wonderful!
As a surprise, we taste two other wines. They are produced in the regions of Gigondas and Vinsobres (slightly north of Châteauneuf-du-Pape) with grapes from very old vines, which were saved through the style of uprooting and which the Perrin family discovered and had the opportunity to buy a few years ago. They are young wines with a spectacular fruit, but also very complex and elegant.
2010 L’Argnée Vieilles Vignes, Famille Perrin, Gigondas AOC (100% Grenache)
There are only 1500 bottles of this wine made from scratch using pre-phylloxera Grenache grapes from a vineyard of less than 2.5 acres.
Sight: Cherry red, violet rim, upper middle layer.
Scent: A lot of red and black fruit, floral touches, asphalt and minerality.
Taste: Fresh attack and very fruity. Good persistence.
2009 “Les Hauts Julien” Perrin Family Selection, Vinsobres AOC, Vallée du Rhône
Grenache and Syrah from old vines almost 90 years old. 15% of the wine is raised in barrels for one year and is not filtered.
Sight: Cherry red, violet rim, upper middle layer.
Scent: Sweet with intense balsamic and aniseed aromas, scrub and lots of fresh red fruit.
Taste: Fresh and mineral with a lot of red fruit. Ample and meaty, balanced with much persistence.