Notes on a vertical tasting dinner of Chateau de Beaucastel

I have always enjoyed these wines, and thought it was time to survey some of the older vintages that should be coming into drinking range now. The traditional blend at Beaucastel has always included a high proportion of Mourvedre, higher than most Chateauneuf du Pape producers. This has resulted in a personal tasting rule for me, following the Perrins’ own view, that these wines are best tasted after a decade of age, during which the pong of the Mourvedre declines as the wine assimilates the various elements into a more complex and interesting end product.

For reference, the normal encepagement is 30% mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% syrah, 10% counoise, 5% cinsault and a dash each of vaccarese and muscardin.

We started off with a magrettine de canard farcie au foie gras, and a terrine de foies de volailles (I like this one – made with Port and allspice). I am not going to keep on typing Beaucastel, so assume that is what I am talking about unless otherwise indicated.

1993 Vielles Vignes Roussanne – while they make a regular white with various grapes, Beaucastel also make small amounts (3-400 cases) of this wine from 100% Roussanne from a 4 hectare plot of old vines. It seems to have much greater aging potential and while interesting when young, gets even more interesting with some age. Unfortunately it is also priced way up there and is hard to find. This one has taken on the colour of old Sherry (but not the oxidative nose of that wine!). The nose was quite intriguing with floral scents and a hint of wax. Nice balance with the fruit no longer in the forefront and complex on palate with lingering finish. I have another case to test the longevity of this wine in the coming years as I really enjoy it.

With Harira – a chickpea, lamb and coriander soup with a good whack of cloves – I find that the exotic spicing works very well with Rhones.

1999 – intense sweet fruit in the nose, together with hints of mushroom and meat. Medium rather than full bodied made it an elegant wine with good acidity and the nose opened nicely with time. Very nice.

1998 – the nose was even sweeter with red fruit and was round in the mouth bigger than the 1999, harmonious and with good length.

With a salad of roast red and yellow peppers and capers marinated in roasted garlic oil:

1995 – wow – this was very much like a Northern Rhone with all the white pepper in the nose. The wine showed excellent levels of fruit, dry tannin, and very good length. This should have a long and interesting life ahead of it. Showing amazingly well considering its youth.

1994 – I have tasted this a couple of times and always found it to be tight and closed, but it has started to open a bit. The first wine with a slightly stinky nose, more earthy than fruity, and with a Burgundian element of ceps. It is still quite tannic but good fruit levels indicate that it should continue to improve.

We served a cassoulet as a main course – fortunately, though lacking a Mistral, the weather outside was sufficiently inclement as to suit such hearty fare.

1990 – most stinky nose so far, but nothing like the examples of this and the 89 that I’d experienced before that were Bretty to a fault. In fact Brett was notable by its absence in this tasting, somewhat to our surprise. We were getting smoke, meat, dark fruit in the nose and while quite tannic, the fruit was sweet. I wouldn’t start drinking this for a few years yet, but it is pleasurable now if you can’t wait.

1989 – quite similar to the 1990 but with the sweetness and smoke turned up a notch, and slightly better though members of our group differed as to which was best and we ended up calling it a draw. I have had substandard bottles of this and there were many leakers, which is a shame as they might show more poorly than otherwise but there was no way for the owner to know that and they just though that was what the wine was supposed to taste like. Fortunately this was a pristine bottle and showed well.

1981 – a step back in time to a mature wine. Slightly stinky nose, some of which blew off, with black pepper, black currant and leather, smooth on palate with good uplifting acidity, the tannins now very soft, and with a nice smooth, long finish.

These wines just keep getting better with age, and this one was clearly at peak

With cheese:

1979 Ch. Rieussec – our expectations were not too high for this wine from a modest Sauternes vintage, but it surprised us, showing only light botrytis in a dark amber wine, and some coconut, but quite good acid and the balance made the difference. Very pleasant end to an interesting tasting.