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2010 Ch. de Beaucastel, Roussanne Blanc Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Perrin
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Château de Beaucastel has 200 hectares of vineyards which makes it one of the largest wine estates in the Châteauneuf du Pape region.
Chateau Beaucastel has been run by several generations of the Perrin family, beginning with the late Jacques Perrin (who died in 1978), then the brothers Jean-Pierre and Francois, and now their sons Thomas, Marc, Pierre, and Mathieu. The Perrins own an impressive portfolio of wines, from the extraordinary values, to the top-end world classics, including a sizeable operation under the Perrin et Fils label, as well as the well-priced negociant brand La Vielle Ferme, all of which showcase the complexity and diversity of terroirs in the Rhone region.
Beaucastel was one of the very first domaines to practise organic viticulture - namely no use of herbicides, insecticides or any other chemicals. Unusually, all 13 permitted grape varieties are grown although it is Mourvèdre which is Beaucastel`s signature grape, often making up a third of the final blend.
Beaucastel is renowned for its controversial vinification "á chaud" which involves rapidly heating the incoming grapes, which extracts colour and aroma and kills harmful bacteria. Beaucastel's wines are matured in 500-litre oak casks and, after blending, are bottled with a light fining and without being filtered.
From vines in close proximity to the great Châteauneuf-du-Pape property itself, the Coudoulet de Beaucastel is famous in the Wine Trade for being vastly superior to its Côtes du Rhône appellation tag. Low yields and high quality fruit underwrite the quality, and six months ageing in foudre completes the picture. The Perrins consider this wine to be an integral part of their impressive portfolio.
In the north, the white wines of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St-Joseph, and St-Péray are produced from blends of Marsanne and Roussanne. Generally Marsanne is the dominant partner and it lends colour, body and weight to the blend, as well as richly scented fruit. Roussanne, a notoriously low yielder and pernickety to grow, produces intensely aromatic wines which contribute bouquet, delicacy and finesse to the blend.
Until about 15 years ago there was very little interest in southern Rhône whites as it was widely believed that the combination of dull non aromatic grapes and the baking summer heat meant quality wine production was nigh impossible. Since then the quality has improved markedly through the introduction of cool fermentation techniques and increased plantings of northern Rhône white grapes.
The base of many blends is still Grenache Blanc, a widely planted variety producing fresh wines with apple-like fruits, often with hints of aniseed. Ugni Blanc is still found in many blends, as is Clairette though their general lack of character and definition has led to a reduction in plantings. The future for southern Rhône whites appears to lie with Roussanne, Marsanne, and, increasingly, Viognier.
Classified in 1937, Côtes du Rhône is an enormous appellation encompassing red, white and rosé wines covering an area of 40,300 ha and producing a crop that is 3 times larger than Beaujolais and almost as much as Bordeaux. Although this wine can come from across the Rhône region, more than 90% comes from the south. With the honourable exception of those produced by famous northern names like Jaboulet and Guigal, the finest examples are made in the south.
Red wine dominates, made with a minimum of 40% Grenache (except in the north where Syrah is allowed to be top dog) normally partnered by Syrah and/or Mourvèdre; another 18 varieties are also permitted. Typically light and fruity, the best examples can be rich, spicy and full-bodied. Almost all are best drunk young.
Quality varies from the very ordinary to the exceptional. Much is produced by cooperatives but the best come from the increasing number of individual estates and Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers like Beaucastel who produce premium entry wines here. White and rosé Côtes du Rhônes account for only 2% and 4% respectively, although both can be very good.