"Champagne for breakfast and Châteauneuf after lunch!" exclaimed senior editor James Molesworth as he welcomed an enthusiastic crowd back to the ballroom for the Friday afternoon seminars, starting with four wines from Château de Beaucastel. "I love it!"
"Château de Beaucastel stands as arguably the finest representation of the Southern Rhône's most prestigious appellation," Molesworth said. The Perrin family, which has owned Beaucastel since 1909, now counts five generations to have worked at this great estate, which dates back to 1549.
In 1991, the Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1989 became the first wine from the Rhône Valley to be named Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year. Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Beaucastel have continued to gain in quality and recognition since.
Co-owner Marc Perrin, who led the seminar on behalf of his family, emphasized three important points about Beaucastel and its wines. "The first thing is that we are absolutely convinced that the only way to grow grapes is organically," he said. "We do everything by hand … that's the only way to have deep roots, and when you have a great terroir, as we do, you want to have deep roots so that they may interact with the soil."
Second, Beaucastel uses all 13 grapes permitted in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region. "We are a Mediterranean climate, which can be a little intense, and the 13 grapes can balance the influence of the climate," Perrin explained.
"And the last thing is that we don't like new oak," he said. "We produce grapes that naturally have a good level of tannins … we want to use the oak to integrate the wines, but we don't want to use the oak to extract more tannins."
Perrin brought four wines to the seminar: the Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape White Vielles Vignes 2010 (95 points, $195), the Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2009 (96, $120) in magnum, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2001 (93, $90) and the Hommage à Jacques Perrin Grande Cuvée 2001 (95, $420).
"When I asked Marc to do this tasting, I secretly hoped he would bring one of the whites," said Molesworth, "because white Châteauneuf is one of the great white wines of the world, and white wine production is only 5 percent of the production in the entire Rhône Valley."
The Vielles Vignes bottling is 100 percent Roussanne, from the first vineyard parcel planted by the Perrin family in 1909. "We believe that Roussanne is the great variety for warm-climate whites," Perrin said. "This wine has a great full-bodied texture—Roussanne has the capacity to extract the minerality from the soil … it gives balance to a wine that would otherwise lack acidity. 2010 was a great, balanced vintage."
Like most Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds, the 2009 contains a much higher percentage of Mourvèdre than most of its Châteauneuf neighbors, in which Grenache reigns. "The blending is an amazing process," Perrin said. "The blend is always better than any of the grapes on their own."
"2009 is a warm, sunny vintage for Châteauneuf-du-Pape," continued Perrin. "The high percentage of Mourvèdre makes Beaucastel a very, very balanced wine with a lot of finesse."
The 2001 vintage was a racy, very fresh, driven vintage, Molesworth said, "and right now it's really hitting its stride."
"2001 was the first of the new generation of vintages … it marked the beginning of the new era," Perrin said, citing longer, warmer Indian summers that have changed the profile of Châteauneuf-du-Pape: "Now, October is like August," Perrin said. "It's a new climate."
"It's a new climate, but you see the DNA of Châteauneuf and the DNA of Beaucastel," Molesworth said.
The Hommage à Jacques Perrin is even more Mourvèdre-heavy than the regular Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and pays tribute to Marc Perrin's grandfather, who is credited with reviving Mourvèdre in the appellation. "It's a different interpretation of Beaucastel, and the terroir," Perrin said.
"In this wine, you see the character of Mourvèdre," Perrin said. "Grenache is like a firework, and Mourvèdre is the opposite, very discreet. … We try to balance the fireworks of Grenache with the discreet character of Mourvèdre, and that's what makes my job so interesting."
Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape White Vielles Vignes 2010 (95 points, $195)