Grapevine Archive for Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Nothing helps one understand a wine quite like being where it’s made with those who make it.I was lucky enough to do just that recently on a trip to the Rhône Valley. I, along with Marcel Orford-Williams (Society buyer) and Rachel Sharpe (from our Member Services team), was in the company of four members and their guests, on a four-day trip to the Rhône, thanks to a Wine Society competition that the members had won earlier in the year after proposing new members to The Society.
We arrived at Château de Beaucastel in the southern Rhône to be welcomed by a scorching summer’s day and the news that we should consider ourselves lucky to avoid the 40°+ degree temperatures that were forecast for the following week.
I had learnt about the unique terroir of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in my wine studies. It was great to see for myself the large rounded stones (or galets) surrounding the vines and I could really appreciate the job they do in absorbing the heat of the day and radiating it out during the night.
A tour of the cellars revealed row upon row of bottles, neatly stacked floor to ceiling, looking more like pieces of artwork rather than a practical, space-saving way to store bottles.
The oak barrels in which the wines are aged, once they’ve fulfilled their job, are acquired by a creative carpenter, who , it seems can make pretty much anything out of them: chairs, door handles and even light fittings!
The highlight of the visit was a tasting with Pierre Perrin, who looks after technical operations at the château. His enthusiasm and passion were very much in evidence as he treated us to a vertical tasting of Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
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The lucky winners of this unique trip to the Rhône won their place after proposing like-minded wine lovers to The Society. New members are the lifeblood of our Society and ensure its future. Sign up new members online or by filling in the application form in the back of the List. Though a trip to the Rhône cannot be promised, a lifetime of good wine can.
When the autumn arrives, matters inevitably turn to the Rhône. At least they do in my world. And so recently I took the opportunity to join others in the wine trade to meet up with Marc Perrin and eat, drink and talk Château de Beaucastel.
Nowadays considered iconic, this estate has a quite extraordinary history which in some ways is separate to that of Châteauneuf-du-Pape itself: viticulture here is truly ancient, predating the time of the Avignon popes who gave the region its name by a thousand years.
There was a Pierre de Beaucastel who bought a barn with adjoining land nearby and another Pierre de Beaucastel who created the estate in 1687. King Louis XIV had given him the right to collect local taxes as a reward for renouncing Protestantism. The Perrin stewardship began in 1909 and today there is a large, and busy, 5th generation of which Marc is a part, actively in charge of all the different aspects of this extraordinary estate.Beaucastel is 130 hectares of which 100 are planted with vineyard. It is located at the extreme north-eastern end of the appellation where the Mistral is as constant a feature as the ‘pudding stones’ (pictured) that seem to cover so much of the vineyards.
The Perrin family made some quite remarkable decisions in the early part of their tenure. For a start there was a decision to plant two grape varieties in particular. First, there was roussanne, a white variety better known in Hermitage, and then there was the red mourvèdre, much better known as the variety behind the extraordinary wines of Bandol. Beaucastel was among the first to plant these varieties, preferring them in some ways to the more ubiquitous grenache.
The other quite extraordinary development at Beaucastel came in 1950 with decision to adopt organic farming, and again in this they were pioneers in the region. Vineyard holdings have since expanded to other appellations such as Cairanne, Gigondas and Vinsobres, all of which are run and farmed in the same way.
Like The Wine Society, who back in 1981 first bought a wine from Vinsobres, the Perrins saw the potential here, even before the onset of climate change. They have invested heavily here, buying nearly 100 hectares of vineyard and planting a good deal of syrah, which, among other things, is used in their Côtes-du-Rhône blends, including a blend made exclusively for The Society which is released as part of our en primeur offer in January.
We talked about climate change, which is certainly having an impact in Châteauneuf. What has changed? Marc seemed to think that the real change has come with a perception of what constitutes a great vintage. Years ago, he said, great vintages were those when grapes ripened perfectly and, even down in Châteauneuf, that happened not too frequently. So one tends to remember years like 1961 or 1978 when the wines really did stand out. Achieving ripeness today, however, is not so difficult; the minimum alcohol level of 12.5% being easily exceeded. Full tannin ripeness is harder to come by but is usually achievable with patience.
Today, he claimed, a great vintage is based on balance between all the elements in the wine. The decision made a long time ago by the family to plant all 13 grape varieties permitted at the time is seen as crucial in achieving this. I have been lucky in not only visiting Beaucastel, which I do at least one a year, but also of tasting each of the grape varieties separately. Every one of them has its place, though of course each vintage is different and each of the varieties will act a little differently. For the reds, mourvèdre is the key, amounting to about a third of the total. Syrah is important, as is cinsault, though one of my favourites is the counoise, a variety with increasing prominence and undoubted potential at Beaucastel.
The first wine we tasted was not in fact Rhône at all but the fruit of a new venture with Hollywood stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. They bought a fine estate high up in Provence behind the town of Brignoles. The Perrins were called upon to assist – Beaucastel is a Brad Pitt favourite. Marc Perrin went to visit and recalls first seeing it and marvelling at the site, the terroir and the potential. We tasted their Château de Miraval Rosé 2013 which was delicious. None left but we will have a look at 2014 next year.
Then came the Châteauneuf Blanc 2011 from old vines of roussanne. Perfect balance here with flavours of honey, lemon, sweet almond and crushed pear. Still so fresh and pure. Would have been a dream with lobster or ginger crab.
We began a quartet of reds with a fascinating 2008 Châteauneuf Rouge. At the time, so much had been written about this vintage, most of it misinformed and wholly negative: this 2008 from Beaucastel told of a different story. Brightly coloured, youthful with a lovely fruity bouquet, the wine was in perfect balance with no hint of dryness and an abundance of fruit on the palate. It screamed for roast lamb and lots of friends around a generous table.
The next pair showed two very contrasting vintages, both ready to be enjoyed now. 1999 is classic Beaucastel, in as much this is a wine built upon foundations of ripe mourvèdre. Marc said it smelled of lavender and it did! I had never noticed that before. Rounded, full-bodied and concentrated, it smelled of lavender with a touch of spice.
The 1998 served alongside was on the other hand very un-classic. This was a growing season for grenache to shine, and it forms most of the blend in this vintage. Wonderful it is too, and no longer shrouded under sun baked tannins. The colour had a more orange-like tint and the nose and palate were distinctly leathery and spicy with hints of dry figs. What a wonderful contrast from the same estate!
To finish, we had the 2000 Hommage à Jacques Perrin, a very limited cuvée made from mourvèdre and only released in certain vintages. This lovely too but more closed and in need of more time.
And what of 2013, about to be released en primeur?
That’s another story to be told when I get back from my next Rhône travels!
Society Buyer for the Rhône
While other parts of France had a more problematic year in 2012, the Rhône Valley, and by extension, the Languedoc-Roussillon, was spared a similar fate and has produced some stunning wines.
I have visited the region on several occasions this year and am very excited by the quality of the wines. While quantities are down on previous years due to lower yields, the wines are, to quote Daniel Brunier of Vieux Télégraphe, ‘phenomenal’.
Perfect ripeness has been achieved throughout the valley and wines have lovely integrated tannins and elegant structure. While there are excellent wines across the board, 2012 is the year for Châteauneuf-du-Pape, standing alongside 2010 in terms of quality.
Prices are still coming out and we are finalising our selection to feature in our opening offer in January, but while yields are low and quantities therefore down, we will be adding to the list of estates that we buy from this year and taking more cuvées from growers that we follow year on year.
What can we expect?
As well as Châteauneuf, we can expect to see a greater representation of Cairanne and Rasteau this year, plus, from further south, stunning wines from the Languedoc, including a new cuvée from Society favourite Château Sainte Eulalie in Minervois. The north is equally exciting: Crozes-Hermitages are particularly supple and ripe-tasting and Saint-Josephs have wonderful depth of flavour.
And the whites?
Whites still make up a tiny proportion of the Rhône’s output but should not be forgotten, particularly in a vintage like 2012, where they display wonderful fruity elegance and concentration without a trace of heaviness.
Our opening offer of 2012 Rhône & Languedoc-Roussillon wines will be published in late January. The offer will be published on our website and will be posted to those members who have bought from similar offers in the last two years.
STOP PRESS (20th January): The opening offer is now live!
The Town of Aniane is neither remarkable nor indeed especially attractive. For years it was asleep, waking up only to vote in its Communist mayor and to harvest its grapes which were invariably delivered to the town cooperative.
It all changed when a new and independent estate burst suddenly on the scene. At first, Daumas Gassac was built as a retreat for its new owners trying to escape from the rat race. But then a visiting friend and expert geologist from Bordeaux remarked on the exceptional quality of the soils. Another Bordelais, Emile Peynaud, nursed the first wine and in so doing created a legend.
Today the “Terre d’Aniane” is a Mecca for winemakers. Chateau Cissac from the Medoc has a vineyard here, as does Gerard Depardieu. Robert Mondavi nearly came, but then came up against local rivalries and the Communist Mayor.
The Vaille family was local. This was a respected, hard working family who had farmed a few acres for generations. What changed it for them was a son, Laurent (pictured), who had ideas of creating another Grand Vin.
He first came under the wing of Aime Guibert himself who soon sent him to another friend, Eloi Durrbach at Domaine de Trévallon and from there to Chave in Hermitage and Perrin in Châteauneuf. Laurent Vaille returned with cuttings from all these estates, rather like Jack with his beans.
Success was also pretty well immediate, but stardom did not suit this reserved family quite as well. The Vailles remain aloof, reserved and shy of the public gaze. Visiting is tricky and convenient ways of communicating such as email haven’t made their way here. Rather large guard dogs make their presence felt as one approaches the wrought iron gate. Crossing the threshold is a little unnerving. After all the dogs are quite large and Laurent Vaille still hasn’t said anything as we work across the pretty courtyard to the cellars.
At this stage heavy sweaters are put on, even at the height of summer, as these are the coldest cellars for miles around. The wines are tasted, grape variety by grape variety and it is immediately obvious that the wines are like no other; the mourvèdre and counoise for instance speaking as if from the grandest estate in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Meanwhile Laurent still hasn’t said anything, answering my attempts at conversation with at best a smile. The tasting is soon over. Back in daylight and twenty degrees hotter, sweaters come off. The dogs are back to escort me back past the iron gate.
La Grange des Pères makes exceptional wines. The whites, made from roussanne and chardonnay have both weight and finesse and in taste fall somewhere between the Rhone and Meursault. The reds, greatly influenced by mourvedre have spice and Mediterranean warmth. Both are better decanted and both gain in complexity with age.