When it comes to the ageability of wines, there are a couple of tried and true axioms.
First, the vast majority of wines made today are meant to be drunk upon release and don’t benefit from additional time in the bottle. One of the first mistakes that many beginning wine lovers make (and I did it too) is to assume that all wines of a certain type benefit from age. When I first started buying wine nearly 20 years ago, I stocked up on a few cases of simple Bordeaux, thinking three to five years of cellaring would only make them even better. When I opened them down the road, it was a lesson learned. They had dried out and lost their fruit without ever developing the nuances and complexity of great old wines.
Second, those wines that are meant to be cellared often cost more, much more. Top cellar-worthy wines, be they red, white, sparkling or sweet from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Piedmont, Rhône, Germany or elsewhere, typically have well-earned reputations and are sometimes made in small volumes. That means increased costs for production and increased demand for limited supply. Add in the burgeoning markets in Asia and Eastern Europe, and the long-term outlook for these wines is higher prices, despite the current economic gloom.
But there are some wines that do cellar well without their cost breaking your bank. I’m starting a new, semi-regular series of blogs where I’ll focus on such wines: Cellar Treasures Under $40. These are wines that make great starting blocks for someone just beginning to build a cellar, while they also shouldn’t be overlooked by connoisseurs who already have established collections.
Two quick pieces of advice before we get to the first wine, though, and these will hold true for all future blogs on this topic …
When buying wines to lie down, always buy at least six bottles, if not a case. When aging a wine, you want to be able to track its progress by opening bottles over time, to see if the wine has developed the mature flavors for your taste (everyone’s taste for mature wines differs). Then, when the wine is at its peak for you, you’ll still have several bottles to enjoy. Nothing worse than worrying if a single bottle of wine is finally ready, only to find out it isn't. Or worse, it's past its peak.
Second, get your storage situation settled. If you’re buying wines to lie down and you don’t have proper temperature-controlled storage, stop buying wine. And whatever you think you need in terms of bottle capacity, double it. If you already have five cases sitting down in the basement, the 60-bottle wine fridge won’t do. Get the 120-bottle unit, at the least. You’ll thank yourself later.
And now, on to the inaugural wine: Château de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet de Beaucastel. I recently tasted through six vintages of this wine, hitting choice years back to 1985. [Note: Samples were provided directly from the winery. I tasted the wines by myself, without any winery representatives present. The wines were not tasted blind.]
Often overlooked, the Coudoulet de Beaucastel bottling is not, as the name implies, a second wine made from declassified juice from the famed Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate. Instead, the wine is sourced from the Coudoulet parcel, located across the road from the winery, on soils made of the same large, rolled stones found around the estate. However, it is located in the Côtes du Rhône appellation.
Sourced from this 74-acre parcel, the wine is a blend of only four red varieties: 30 percent each of Grenache and Mourvèdre, along with 20 percent each of Syrah and Cinsault (as opposed to the 13 varieties that make up the Châteauneuf-du-Pape). The vinification is very similar. As with the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the varieties are fermented separately in cement vats. Following the malolactic fermentation, the wine is then blended together before receiving six to eight months aging in foudres (large, used oak vessels).
Ultimately the Coudoulet is not as deep or complex as the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but the current vintage of Coudoulet retails for $30 as opposed to $70-plus for the top cuvée. In addition, the Coudoulet can be enjoyed early in its life, unlike the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which needs cellaring to show at its best. However, as the notes below demonstrate, the Coudoulet is a wine that can also age, developing attractive secondary notes of cedar, date and incense along with a pronounced sanguine hint. I particularly liked the 1989 vintage, which perhaps isn’t surprising as Beaucastel’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape bottling in that great vintage earned Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year honor in 1991. It was a ripe vintage that produced wines with powerful fruit, and the Coudoulet offers a baby-Beaucastel experience with its stylish truffle and black tea notes. Both the '98 and '85 (two more very ripe vintages) were also oustanding. More structured years, such as the '05 and '01 weren't as generous, but still had length and complexity that merit more cellar time (if that's to your taste).
The Coudoulet de Beaucastel is a great starter wine for those who want to start building a cellar of ageworthy wines or develop a palate for the flavors of mature wine. It’s accessible when young, develops different flavors and nuances over time and comes in under $400 per case. That’s a winning combination and an appropriate starting point for this new series. I hope you'll follow along.
Château de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2005 (89 points, non-blind; $30 on release) This still has some brawny grip, with dark currant, chestnut and briar notes laced with a streak of hot stone. There's a tarry edge on the finish. Tight still. Needs a little more time. Drink now through 2013. 11,665 cases made.
Château de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2001 (89 points, non-blind) Shows a hint of garnet in addition to its mature cedar, dried red currant and sanguine notes, backed by tobacco and sandalwood on the nicely focused finish. Drink now through 2011.
Château de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet de Beaucastel 1998 (90 points, non-blind; $24 on release) Fully mature, with truffle, cedar and shaved vanilla notes leading the way for dried cherry and currant fruit flavors. A sanguine edge frames the finish. Drink now. 6,665 cases made.
Château de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet de Beaucastel 1995 (88 points, non-blind) This has lacy grip now, with cedar, truffle, blood sausage and incense notes backed by a hint of date on the lightly firm finish. Drink now.
Château de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet de Beaucastel 1989 (91 points, non-blind) Gorgeous mature aromas of truffle, fresh earth and black tea lead the way for the still-supple date, dried black currant and tobacco notes. The stylish finish lets spice and sanguine notes linger. Drink now.
Château de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Cru de Coudoulet 1985 (90 points, non-blind; $12 on release) Still surprisingly together, with a core of mulled plum and fig fruit held in place by cedary yet integrated tannins. The finish lets date, prune and aged tobacco notes linger softly. This is very flattering, as opposed to the slightly more complex, traditional 1989. Drink now.
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Richard Hirth — Michigan — December 8, 2009 2:21pm ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — December 8, 2009 2:44pm ET
Vince Liotta — Elmhurst Illinois — December 8, 2009 3:58pm ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — December 8, 2009 4:07pm ET
Loren Lingenfelter — Danville, CA — December 8, 2009 4:36pm ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — December 8, 2009 4:37pm ET
Brad Kanipe — GA — December 8, 2009 5:37pm ET
Johnny Espinoza Esquivel — Wine World — December 9, 2009 9:24am ET
Anthony Brade — Toronto — December 9, 2009 11:52am ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — December 9, 2009 12:05pm ET
Anthony Brade — Toronto — December 9, 2009 1:33pm ET
Peter Carter — warwick,uk — December 19, 2009 7:58am ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — December 19, 2009 8:43am ET
Anthony Brade — Toronto — January 4, 2010 12:48pm ET
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