It was a beautiful day in October when Julian, Mark and I took the red eye flight to London for the newest releases from the famous Château de Beaucastel estate in Châteauneuf du Pape. They also have a négociant house called Famille Perrin where they have a mixture of offerings from the vineyards they own all around the Rhône valley like Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Rasteau, Cairanne and Vinsobres.
The tasting was being held at the venerable Berry Brothers and Rudd which has been on St James's Street, central London since 1698. It is London’s oldest wine merchant. Previous clientele down through the years have included Napoleon, whom they have named one of their cellars after. We are in the Pickering Cellar today, previously used to bottle wines that were shipped over in barrel, hidden beneath Pickering Place. Among the attendees was Stephen Spurrier of ‘The Judgement Of Paris’ fame, such is the interest in all things Beaucastel.
The Rot Sets In
I have to admit I needed to be reminded that 2018 was not a great year for estates that farmed organically in the Rhône as mildew was a problem, they are unable to deal with the issue by using chemicals. Grenache dominant wines will be affected the most. Their compact, tight grape clusters promote the onset of downy mildew and grey rot, but they have good resistance to wind.
With the aid of the Mistral wind keeping the spread at bay, de-leafing was carried out, saving the Syrah and Mourvèdre crop. This resulted in lower than average yields (halved) and as César Perrin noted in November last year “we cannot comment on the quality yet as we need to taste the wines.” The last time this happened in the southern Rhône it was 1947. The yields have especially affected the white wines with no Coudoulet Blanc or Vacqueyras Blanc and very little Châteauneuf du Pape (CDP) Blanc being made.
A First Taste
Fast forward to October 2019 and the first wine I get to taste is the ‘Les Hauts de Julien-Vinsobres’, now in a green labelled bottle, unusual for a red and possibly confusing for restaurateurs. Upon tasting my initial reaction was ‘wow’. Dark purple with a blue rim, pronounced intensity on the nose, gorgeous notes of dominant dark fruits and some red fruits, liquorice, some pepper, generous use of oak but not overly done, just right, lots of length, an outstanding wine.
What is all the fuss about this mildew I hear you ask?! Not playing down the numerous outstanding wines that were unveiled and the obvious issue of yields which we have already discussed, there were a couple of wines which pointed in the direction of an imperfect vintage. Gigondas La Gille, which in a good vintage as our loyal Bubble Brothers customers will know is a good value alternative to its CDP brother. This is a grenache dominant wine. Gigondas shares 'Les Dentelles de Montmirail' with Vacqueyras and Beaumes De Venise, a small chain of mountains in the Vaucluse département of Provence, southern France.
On the slopes, the vineyards are shielded by the Dentelles de Montmirail from the full effects of the Mistral wind, thus the protection afforded to the vines from the Mistral worked against it. Gigondas La Gille is 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah, the evident first aroma was nail polish remover, a fault in wine that can sometimes occur called volatile acidity.
Volatile acidity (or VA) is, as the name suggests, composed of those acids within a wine that can be smelled, as opposed that can be detected on the palate. The major culprits are acetic acid (which smells of vinegar) and its associated ester, ethyl acetate (an odour reminiscent of nail polish); the balance of these compounds is individual to each batch of affected wine. Like brettanomyces, the bacteria that cause volatile acidity thrive in high-sugar, low-acid environments.
I will quote Jancis Robinson's vintage guide for this next bit. “Downy mildew was the biggest problem of 2018, reducing yields across the region, although not as severely as in 2017. However, the crop then enjoyed a perfect September, producing excellent ripeness with minimal disease pressure. The result is yet another high quality vintage, although acidity levels often needed boosting.”
Volatility also has its place in the aromatic profile of certain red wines, particularly those that have spent prolonged time in barrel. This may be why VA is often (and increasingly erroneously) associated with Italian reds, particularly traditional styles of Amarone and Barolo.
Gigondas La Gille to one side, Gigondas L’Argnée, another cuvée from a smaller plot of old vines (pre-phylloxeric 140 + years) close by on a flatter plane and not shielded by the Dentelles was outstanding, albeit not within its drinking window (2021-2035). The generosity was evident, all the elements necessary for a top wine to age well, lots of tannin, acidity, flavour and alcohol. Dominated by dark fruits again but this time with more spice, more of everything, including a touch more alcohol.
Famille Perrin Châteauneuf du Pape Les Sinards Blanc- Clairette & Grenache Blanc.
The fruit was more evident on the nose, the profile leans in that direction also, very little in the way of minerality. Pears, peaches, kiwi, lemon, lime, bergamot, white pepper. Structurally really good intensity & length. Possibly a touch too high on alcohol and a touch low on acidity. Good quality.
Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc- Grenache Blanc, Picardan, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Rousanne.
In terms of style this is not unlike the previous wine just more balanced where the acidity and alcohol are concerned with a bit more of everything including some minerality in the form of chalky notes which helps to make this a more complex wine. Lots of honeysuckle, pear, peach, citrus, bergamot, nectarine, some spice, very fresh. Very good-Outstanding.
Château du Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc Vieilles Vignes- 100% Rousanne
More pronounced on the nose and palate and yet also a more elegant wine. A distinct balance between some wonderful fruit flavours and minerality. Lovely notes of tinned pears, honeysuckle, set French honey, lime pith, bergamot and lemon rind. Long finish. One of the best white CDP’s out there for sure. Outstanding.
Château Miraval Coteaux Varois Blanc- Grenache Blanc and Rolle (Vermentino)
Good intensity and varietal definition. Apples ( Pink lady & golden delicious) and pears dominate with some citrus, white peach, nuttiness and capsicum. Decent length with some complexity. Good quality.
Among the wines tasted were also rosés from the partnership between the Perrin family and Brangelina (Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie) from Château Miraval. Château Miraval; Studio de Miraval & Muse de Miraval, the latter two are new additions and this is the first opportunity to taste them. Only 120 magnums of the Muse de Miraval were produced from the best parcels of the vineyard.
Studio de Miraval 2018- Cinsault, Grenache, Rolle, Tibouren.
Notes of grapefruit, peach, strawberry, pepper, lemon and lime. Lacking some intensity & complexity here. Short finish. The pepper/capsicum is the dominant aroma. The alcohol is more noticeable probably because of the lack of everything else. Disappointing.
Château de Miraval 2018- Cinsault, Grenache, Rolle, Syrah.
Fresher, cleaner, more acidity, more of everything except the pepper aroma, this is a more balanced wine with much better length than the previous one. The citrus notes are more dominant here. A mixture of tart and ripe red and white fruit flavours. Out of the three, price point to one side, I would still recommend this as the best of the 3 from this estate. Very good.
Muse de Miraval 2018- Grenache, Cinsault and Rolle
Obvious use of oak, creamier texture, notes of nectarine, white peach, yellow peach, cantaloupe, lemon, lime, some sweet spice, pomegranate, raspberry & cranberry. This wine is enjoyable, especially if you enjoy fruitier rosés with some oak. The intensity and acidity is also very good. But for the price point if it were made available to the public, I believe you could pay a lot less for a wine that you would enjoy just as much. €70 RRP.
Famille Perrin Cairanne ‘Peyre Blanche’ Rouge 2018- Grenache and Syrah
Dark and red fruits with some oak influence. Cassis, blackcurrant, ripe red cherry, black plums and strawberries. Some pomegranate in the mix on the palate. Good acidity and medium plus ripe tannins. Good-Very Good.
Famille Perrin Rasteau ‘L’Andéol’ 2018- Grenache and Syrah
Less oak influence on this wine. Some intensity. More tart than ripe fruits. Some tomato leaf, boysenberry, pomegranate. Good Quality.
Famille Perrin Vacqueyras ‘Les Christins’ Rouge 2018- Grenache and Syrah
Pronounced intensity on the nose and palate. More floral than the Cairanne with violets. Noticeable liquorice. Sweet ripe fruits, more complex and mouth puckering acidity. This was easily very good- outstanding.
Famille Perrin Vinsobres ‘Les Cornuds’ Rouge 2018- Grenache and Syrah
Again pronounced intensity on the nose but with more tart fruits on the palate. Slightly higher tannins that were on the coarse side. Slight leafiness. Good-Very Good.
Famille Perrin Gigondas ‘La Gille’ 2018- Grenache and Syrah
Out of condition unfortunately, hopefully it was just this one.
Famille Perrin Gigondas ‘L’Argnée’ Rouge 2018- Grenache and Syrah
Pronounced on the nose and palate. Ripe strawberry and raspberry, cassis, bramble, blueberry, boysenberry, black pepper, vanilla, chocolate, cigar box. The tannins for a real Vielle vignes (old vines, 140 + years) were remarkable, medium plus ripe and fine. Lots of length. Keep for another two years before drinking for the next 10-12 years. Outstanding.
Famille Perrin Vinsobres ‘Les Hauts De Julien’ Rouge 2018- Grenache and Syrah
Bright dark purple with stained tears. Pronounced aromas of ripe cassis, blackcurrant, blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, liquorice, capsicum, pepper, blackcurrant leaf, noticeable oak influence which was judged perfectly. Long length. This was amazing, certainly the best out of the non Beaucastel wines and arguably the best wine here full stop. Outstanding.
Famille Perrin Domaine du Clos des Tourelles 2018- Grenache and Syrah
Tannins were more noticeable, grippy and slightly green at times. Plenty of oak influence, floral with dark and red fruits. Liquorice. Not ready yet, needs more time in bottle and barrel but I can easily put this in the Very Good-Outstanding category.
Châteauneuf du Pape
Coudoulet de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2018- Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah & Cinsault
It may seem odd adding what looks like a regular Côtes du Rhône (CDR) here but this is from a lieu dit (named place) which partially lies inside the CDP appellation. But as the entire vineyard does not lie within the boundaries it is classified as CDR. A wine which could easily compete with some of the CDP’s out there but it is not one for long term cellaring, so if you like them on the earlier drinking side with some oak influence (coffee & vanilla) and flavours of black cherry, strawberries, black plum & blackcurrants this wine delivers. Very Good- Out Standing .
Famille Perrin Châteauneuf du Pape ‘Les Sinards’ Rouge 2018- Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah
A real mixed bag of dark and red fruits in the ripe and tart category. Some leafiness. Tannins are a mix of ripe and green. Slight jamminess to some of the fruits. I am getting hints of VA again but in much smaller amounts than its Gigondas sibling. Good quality.
Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape Rouge 2018- Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise, Vaccarèse, Terret Noir, Muscardin, Clairette, Picpoul, Picardan, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Cinsault
Opaque ruby in colour. Damsons, violets, black cherry, blueberries, red plum , strawberries, raspberries, red cherries, vanilla, coffee & nutmeg. Opulent, mouth puckering, cool ripe fruit, medium plus ripe fine tannins, long length. Out Standing. Drink from 2027.
A Flying Visit
It was a flying visit, quickly heading back to the airport, we had time on the Stansted express to evaluate the days tasting. I came away thinking we had tried a lot of very good and outstanding wines but worryingly how much would be available due to the lower yields and would that be reflected in the price. Yet again not as much white wine as I would have liked. Between vintage conditions and only 15% of the Rhône dedicated to white wine varieties, it’s an issue where persistence will bear fruit eventually I am sure.