Sat 1 Nov 2008
The day had been filled with toil and travail, but I was determined not to miss a tasting of Rhone wines from the Perrin brothers, owners of Chateau Beaucastel, one of the best properties in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The estate goes back at least to the middle of the 16th Century, though the Perrin family came into possession after 1909, when Pierre Tramier bought the property and passed it to his son-in-law Pierre Perrin.
I cannot emphasize enough the startling and stunning purity and intensity of these wines, even at the lower end of the scale in the “Perrin Reserve” red and white wines that sell for $14 and under. The wines carry profound influences of clean earth and minerality, and they typically display wild notes of mulberry and roses that make them immediately and mysteriously seductive.
Many people at this tasting event expressed their dislike of the wines, principally, I think, for their deep earthy qualities found in notes of moss and loam, damp leaves, briers and brambles. For me, that character gives the wines unassailable and irresistible authenticity. A friend of mine at the tasting said that just sniffing the reds make him instantly exclaim, “Lamb shanks!” And he was right; these wines deserve the most flavorful of roasted and braised red meat dishes, such as we cook and devour to get through the chilly days ahead.
The Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2006 is a blend of 50 percent grenache blanc, 20 percent bourboulenc and 10 percent each marsanne, roussanne and viognier. Mix it up, shake it up, whatever, but this is a gorgeous wine and an Astonishing Bargain for the price. Winsome aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, yellow fruit, lanolin and dried spice are enlivened by penetrating minerality, a factor that courses through the stone fruit and citrus flavors along with energizing acidity. The texture is a seductive combination of moderate, slightly powdery lushness and nervy crispness that keeps you coming back for more. Drink now through 2010 or ’11. Buy this one by the case. Very good+. About $14, though often discounted to $10 or $11.
The 2006 version of the Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone offers earthy notes of wet moss and roots overlain by crushed violets, rose hips and mulberries woven with wood smoke. Have mercy! It’s very intense in the mouth, quite earthy and minerally and featuring ripe and spicy black and blue fruit flavors buttressed by vibrant acid and robust tannins that lend some austerity to the finish. Amazing Character for the price. The rendition of 2005 is mossy and brambly, deeply earthy and spicy and floral, bursting with cassis, black raspberry and mulberry flavors inextricable from the wine’s minerally, foresty nature. The blend on these wines is 60 percent grenache and 20 percent each syrah and mourvedre. Drink the 2006 from now through 2011 or ’12; same with the 2005. Again, these are wines to buy by the case. Very Good+ for both. About $14 but often seen for $10 or $11.
Cotes du Rhone wines dominate the Southern Rhone Valley in three large vineyard regions, the largest northeast of Chateauneuf-du-Pape on the Rhone’s east bank, the other, smaller, two northwest and southwest of Chateauneuf on the west bank. Cotes du Rhones are also made in a small isolated area where the Drome river runs into the Rhone and further north, in an even smaller area around Cote Rotie. Syrah is the primary grape in the north, grenache in the south. Cotes du Rhone-Villages implies higher quality, in that the grapes come from a number of villages where yields are lower and grape selection theoretically stricter. If the wine derives from a particular village instead of the general appellation, the name of the village may be designated on the label. Over the past few years, several of the villages demonstrated qualities distinctive enough to receive their own appellation status.
So, the seductive and substantial Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone-Villages Rouge 2005 is powered by bright acid, a scintillating mineral element and dense, smoky, spicy wood qualities. Juicy blackberry, black currant and black plum flavors, with a hint of mulberry, are dusted with violets and lavender, new leather, briers and brambles. The finish is earthy, spicy and a bit austere. Drink now through 2010 or ’11. Very good. About $16, but often found for $13 or $14.
The village of Vinsorbes received its own appellation designation in 2005. Perrin’s Vinsorbes “Le Cornuds” 2006 is a half-and-half blend of syrah and grenache. The aromas are overwhelmingly smoky, floral and foresty; I mean, you could swim in this bouquet. The acid is like a bright flashing blade etching the depths of spiced and macerated black and red fruit flavors that are clearly and cleanly drawn, and if we sustain this artistic metaphor, then oak and tannin are like a shadowy wash that flows across the wine and darkens it everywhere. The finish is huge, woodsy, earthy, dry and a little austere. Match this with venison marinated in red wine and juniper, lamb shanks or braised short ribs. Best from 2009 — oops, that’s coming right up! — through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $19 to $24.
From a different vineyard in the appellation, Perrin’s Vinsorbes “Le Hauts de Julien” 2004, Cotes du Rhone-Villages, makes a different effect; it has also had two more years to develop its blend of half syrah, half grenache. It’s earthy and funky all right, but with surprising overtones of mint and eucalyptus that highlight very ripe black currant and plum scents and flavors along with hints of mulberry and red currant. With a full complement of leather and moss, briers and brambles, the wine is very dry and more austere than its younger cousin. Drink through 2011 or ’12. Very Good+. About $19 to $24.
Of these current releases, I found the 100 percent syrah Perrin Rasteau “L’Andeol” 2006 the most daunting, the least ready to drink. It’s a sizable wine, deep and dense and intense, earthy and minerally, bursting with notes of smoke and crushed tobacco, briers and brambles and foresty elements, all coalescing in a dry, austere, rugged finish. I wouldn’t touch this until 2010 and then drink through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+.
Vacqueyras received its liberation from Cotes du Rhone-Village status in 1990. Perrin’s Vacqueyras “Les Christins” 2006 is a blend of 75 percent grenache and 25 percent syrah. It’s a robust and exuberant wine, melding a highly perfumed nose from roses and lavender, spiced and macerated black currants, plums and raspberries; that fruit profile continues in the mouth, where flavors are quite intense and concentrated, deepened and darkened by profound elements of earth and minerals and sturdy tannins. This could use another year and then should drink splendidly, with hearty fare, through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $28-$33.
Coudoulet de Beaucastel Rouge 2005 may be a Cotes du Rhone, but in intention, accomplishment and price, it serves as the cadet version of Chateau Beaucastel’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape. A blend of 30 percent each grenache and mourvedre and 20 percent each syrah and cinsault, the wine ages six months in the large oak casks called foudres. Over earthy elements of ash, damp loam and moss are high notes of that exhilarating mulberry and roses character that seems so distinctive to these wines. This is another large-framed and deeply founded effort, ripe and luscious but dry and resonant and ringing with vibrant acid, while being freighted with dense chewy tannins and profound mineral qualities. Try from 2009 or ’10 through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $30 to $35.
If you can’t afford the “official” Chateau Beaucastel 2005 — don’t worry, nor can I — try the Perrin et Fils Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Les Sinards” 2005. This blend of 70 percent grenache and 15 percent each syrah and mourvedre is made from younger vines at the property plus grapes from a leased seven-acre vineyard nearby. Profound and entrancing at the same time, Les Sinards 2005 is robust and ruggedly constructed but boundlessly fragrant and floral; reams of ripe, spicy and juicy blackberry, black currant and plum flavors are bolstered by a seamless amalgam of vibrant acid, dense and polished oak and tannin and a towering mineral element that feels almost iron-like on the finish. A lovely and serious expression of the genre. Drink now, with full-flavored dishes, through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. Prices range across the scale for this wine, from $35 (and lower) in some parts of the country up to $47 in my neck o’ the woods.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape is traditionally the most blended of wines composed from diverse grapes, yet many producers in the region have lately turned to making their wines mainly from grenache, often from 75 to 95 percent, with the rest syrah and mourvedre.
Chateau Beaucastel, however, remains steadfast to its heritage. Chateau Beaucastel 2005, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, incorporates 30 percent each mourvedre and grenache, 10 percent syrah, five percent each muscardin, vaccarose and cinsault, and 15 percent of the seven other, minor grape varieties allowed in the wine.
The result, in an exceptional year, is a Chateauneuf-du-Pape of exceptional openness and generosity yet one that projects fathomless depths of tannin and minerality. The aromas are heady, dazzling, a delirious wreathing of smoke, ash and moss, spiced and macerated currants and plums, rose hips and brambles; you could dab it behind your ears and motorcycle gangs would follow you anywhere. In the mouth, the wine is truly profound, incredible in scope and dimension without being forbidding, solid and brooding without being truculent. Naturally it gets deeper and earthier as the moments pass, until the finish looms like a
monument of Olympian austerity. Try from 2012 or ’13 through 2020 to ’25. Exceptional. About $85 to $125.