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stirring the lees with james molesworth

The First Family of the Southern Rhône

Château de Beaucastel stars in Famille Perrin's 2016 vintage lineup
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jul 18, 2017 4:20pm ET

Synonymous with Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Southern Rhône, the Perrin family needs little introduction. From their flagship Beaucastel estate to their expansion into Vinsobres and Gigondas to the joint venture Miraval rosé project to their unflagging commitment to organic grapegrowing, this is the the first family of the Southern Rhône. Refresh yourself with my most recent blog notes.

As at chez Coulon, the Perrin family realizes the need to adapt to the changing climate, especially when it comes to grapegrowing in an already-warm climate such as the Southern Rhône's.

"It's been Grenache, Grenache, Grenache for a while now," says Marc Perrin of recent plantings and the emphasis of vignerons in the area. "But now people are worried about the alcohol levels with the warming climate. They're running to plant Mourvèdre, and others. The need to balance Grenache was why Châteauneuf had 13 varieties to begin with."

In addition, the Perrins will only consider new vineyards in cooler areas, such as higher-altitude sites in Vinsobres or Gigondas.

At Beaucastel, the 2016 sits in its various parts and, as in the past, I taste through them with Perrin. A vat of Counoise bursts with fragrant garrigue notes and juicy pomegranate fruit, checking in at a modest 12.5 percent alcohol (in the 2016 vintage, the alcohol is generally robust, particularly for Grenache).

"But you see," says Perrin. "Counoise delivers that much fruit and freshness at 12.5. [It] gives us the chance to balance the blend."

A vat of Grenache shows the other side of the spectrum, dense and fleshy with loads of currant and plum paste flavors, a light bay note and a good graphite edge. Though dense, it doesn't lack for energy.

For contrast, Perrin shows a vat of Syrah fermented with stems. It explodes with bay, pepper and lavender notes. It's bouncy, with a load of black fruit in reserve and a smoky finish. The next vat of Syrah was destemmed, showing just a light herb note now, while the emphasis is on juicy bitter plum and dark cherry fruit which seems to burst open on the finish.

The juice drawn from the Cinsault vat is intense, super bright and engaging with red and black cherry flavors, but at 12.8 percent alcohol it's light on its feet and sure to be a delightful component of the final blend. The Muscardin checks in at 11.8, showing a high-pitched blood orange and bitter cherry profile with a very racy finish. Finishing with the Mourvèdre, the juice oozes with Linzer, blackberry paste and ganache flavors carried by deeply buried grip. It's a kaleidoscopic range of elements to work with and the Perrins seem to have another super wine in the making.

The 2015s are blended and sitting in tank, set to be bottled in the coming months. The Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet has a worn leather accent amid a core of dark currant and plum fruit, with ganache and tobacco on the back end. It's a slow developer and will merit some additional time in bottle when released. The Beaucastel Châteauneuf got an extra two months of élevage because of the power of the vintage, with the blend showing a dark, winey profile with loads of warm plum and blackberry paste, fig, ganache, alder, bay and leather notes. It's brooding, but hinting at terrific range. The Mourvèdre-dominated 2015 Hommage à Jacques Perrin throws a tidal wave of blueberry and açaí berry fruit at you, with a gorgeous mouthfeel. The finish drips with warm ganache and Turkish coffee notes, with an alder hint lurking as well. It's a big 'un.

With almost 750 acres either owned or under viticultural contract, the Famille Perrin operation has become a powerhouse of both quality and value. Cellarmaster Victor Hudson has been handling the wines here since 2013, and a newly expanded and renovated cellar has some architectural bling to accompany the wine. Production now totals 75,000 cases annually, with many of these wines in the $20 to $40 range.

"The press wine was as good, and sometimes better than the free-run juice," says Hudson, as an indication of how good the 2016 vintage is. "So we decided to make the blends sooner."

The 2016 Vinsobres Les Cornuds is a co-fermented Syrah and Grenache blend that has a blaze of cassis and boysenberry fruit laced with a graphite note. The 2016 Vinsobres Les Hauts de Julien is more winey in feel, with a plum cake core and another beautiful graphite-edged finish.

The 2016 Gigondas La Gille pumps crushed plum and Linzer flavors out while keeping a long, refined, chalky thread through the finish. The 2016 Châteauneuf Les Sinards has an intense sanguine edge amid waves of cherry and plum paste flavors.

Follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at twitter.com/jmolesworth1, and Instagram, at instagram.com/jmolesworth1.

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