Chateauneuf du Pape at the Pinnacle: Chateau de Beaucastel
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Chateauneuf du Pape at the Pinnacle: Chateau de Beaucastel

Chateau de Beaucastel

My tastings in Chateauneuf du Pape and the satellite regions of the southern Rhone, including Gigondas (where compelling geological diversity and altitude make for wines as complex and certainly more finessed than the mother `neuf), concluded with one of the leading lights, Chateau de Beaucastel. Marc Perrin provided some background to the estate and the region at large, during what was a wonderful tasting. Some of the more salient points

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The ever patient family

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CNP was the first AC in France, established in 1936.

When the appellation was created, there was little limestone as a topsoil. Originally, CNP was predominantly clay/sand and galets, with limestone subsoils. Topsoils of limestone were introduced with expansion of the appellation.

The mistral is THE most important factor for the appellation and its quality, according to Marc. Since 80’s, northern facing slopes are increasingly important to counteract increasing heat. Other tactics throughout the appealation that provide structural restraint to balance encroaching high alcohols and sweet fruit, include the use of stems (although Beaucastel is 100% destemmed), blending a greater percentage of later ripening grape varieties, including Mourvedre and Counoise; and working the vineyard to get ideal ripeness at balanced levels of alcohol. Beaucastel champions all 13 legal varieties among what is thus, an archetypal and traditional assemblage.

Beaucastel has been organic since ’50’s.

When planting afresh, Beaucastel uses old root systems as a ‘tunnel’ for new rootstock to delve into established sub-strata ecosystem, thereby tapping into mineral/water mesoclimes.

Ploughing and ripping for aeration of soils before replanting therefore, according to this regime, ‘is a mistake!’

Only major southern Rhone large player, as others: Jaboulet, Delas and Chapoutier, are northern based.

Beaucastel practises a type of thermovinification that is unique in that it heats the skins of whole berries, pushed through pump, for 70 degrees for 20 seconds. However, the pulp or must is not heated. Why? Breaks skins, releases colour and aroma, beginning a gentle extraction process while staving off oxidases; particularly important with Grenache which is highly oxidative. This allows for less SO2 later in process. Mostly used just for Grenache.

Concrete is used for fermenting Grenache with gentle remontage, allowing for a thermal consistency rather than sharp temperature changes, as with steel. Slow fermentation is practised, starting at 18 and moving to mid-20’s, with cooling at the ready if necessary. Enamel-lined, for hygienic purposes. Concrete is porous thus, hygienic risks if brute concrete is used.

More reductive varieties in large format oak with pigeage to extract.

All cepages separate until after MLF, rated and graded after tasting.

Aged in foudres. No new small format oak. Lrger wood is less oxygenative than barriques, facilitating slow ageing. High natural tannins in the grapes anyway, therefore do not want oak tannins. Change oak after four years, thus nothing older than 10 years old. 12-18 months of ageing after blending. Turning point in late ’80’s with some controversial wines, although as one learns ‘would’ve evolved anyway’.

New oak for whites.

20,000 bottles put away every year.

200,000 bottle production.

All destemmed due to heating system and domaine’s policy. Although in Gigondas, the stems are used as the grapes ripens much later (because of altitude), ensuring physiological ripeness.

2010 Grenache (drawn from tank): 30% Grenache, 30 combination of 10% Syrah /Mourvedre and 10 Counoise. Violet aroma akin to northern Rhone, which marks the particularly mineral stained better wines of 2010. Tactile. ‘Grenache lacks an end, although it is very sexy’, according to Mark Perrin. Unfinished thus, unscored wine N/A

2010 Syrah: good component in blend but not well suited as a straight expression in the northern Rhone. Too hot. ‘A link between the Grenache and the Mourvedre’. Very lateral in the mouth and clearly needs the filler in Grenache, while Grenache needs the cut of Syrah N/A

2010 Mourvedre: Oozing purple fruit on the nose. In the mouth, corpulent yet architected by tannins and energy. The best tank sample among the single cepage N/A

2010 Counoise: strawberry and wild raspberry on the nose; white peppery finish. A real smashdown! N/A

2009 Beaucastel: olive and dark fruit aromas with quite a lot of surmaturite, indicated by the forceful kirsch and bon bon notes. Yet while there is a hint of dryness here (thick skins), the wine remains very fresh and long, with a long future ahead. Lacks a bit of zest at this point but made for the long haul 90

2008 Beaucastel: a vintage saved by a late Indian summer and the mistral inherent therein. Better wines were made through abstemious selection of fruit in the vineyard, yet the quality is far from the ’02’s, which many commentators are comparing them to! Herbal and liquorice on the nose, with some spiky tannins but lovely freshness and length with controlled alcohol and none of the over-ripe traits of stereotypical ‘neuf! Akin to ’85 according to Marc, which for him, was the finest vintage ever for Beaucastel 92

2005 Beaucastel: very packed and dense, with little emerging from the carapace of tannins and the sheer avalanche of tactile mass. All mouthfeel right now. 88 (lots left in line here and needs to be drunk in a number of years).

2000 Beaucastel: soft, round and plush; with olive and garrigues notes abounding. Lovely wine to drink now, although enough sandy tannins here, expanding in time as the wine sits in the glass, for age. The wine explodes aromatically after ten mins. To ten years! Love wines like this that change so much in the glass! Burgundy for me, is the measuring stick, yet this wine match that thrust and parry. Best ’00 thus far! 94

2010 Beaucastel Blanc: Roussanne is not necessarily high in acid as many think, but saline and tangy by nature, accentuated by reductive handling in small format oak- extensive lees work. Marzipan, apple and scintillating length 90

2010 Roussanne Vielles Vignes:  old vines planted in 1909. Slightly shriveled grapes when harvested thus, almost a VT or, dare I say, botrytic style, with notes of apricot and mango. Long, full and expansive, relying on a saline minerality rather than high acidity. Love this stuff! 93