January 15, 2010 Château de Beaucastel
Château de Beaucastel Blanc
France (Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape)
roussanne (80%), grenache blanc
Not quite sure where to find Newfoundland (a.k.a. Vinland)? This might help. I’m just 600 km shy of where the Titanic sank.
The arrows are posted atop Signal Hill in St. John’s. That’s the hill and its Cabot Tower below. Fine lookout for spotting whales and icebergs. But most famous as home base, in 1901, of Guglielmo Marconi. Here Marconi received the first wireless message from across the Atlantic — the three dots of the morse code ‘S’, transmitted from Cornwall, England. Several learned men of science had told him it was a useless exercise, that the curvature of the earth would doom his experiment. Marconi knew when to turn a deaf ear to skeptics.
Château de Beaucastel, too, has its detractors. Some wine-purists would have us believe its famous red is inconsistent, that the yeast ‘brettanomyces’ raises its distasteful head too often, that the strategy of heating up the must upon it first entering the winery is an unnecessary intervention for an estate otherwise strictly organic in its approach to vinification.
The brothers Perrin respond with the argument that the temperature hike improves extraction, slows fermentation, halts oxidation (greatly lessening the need for added sulphur later on). In any case, they are doing something right. Château de Beaucastel is among the best estates in the famed Châteauneuf du Pape appellation. Indeed, many think of it as among the best in all of France.
Would you argue with this entourage of confident men? That’s brothers Jean-Pierre and François at the helm, reinforced by the next generation of Perrins.
Château de Beaucastel uses all 13 grape varieties allowed in the appellation, one of the few estates to do so. It uses more mouvèdre than most, up to 70% in its Hommage à Jacques Perrin, the most prestigious of its wines. Coming in at a couple of hundred dollars more per bottle than I am willing to pay, it remains one of the wines resting on my imaginary shelf and likely to stay there. (I have no problem living with that, knowing as I do that there are many great wines to be had at more modest prices.) So I get my mouvèdre elsewhere.
In the meantime it’s not a Château de Beaucastel red that awaits me at the table. Rather, something more surprising.
Château de Beaucastel Blanc 2003
First the delight of holding it up to catch the light. It glows golden. On the nose, pleasing if not as bountiful as I expected. The mouth is its strong suit. Rich. Creamy almost. Fat? Not texture I thought I would like in a white wine. But there it is. It’s a ‘take me for what I have to offer experience, and don’t be wishing for something else because I’m not it.’ Given the viscosity of the wine, I expected sweet. It’s not sweet. The thickness is cut by mineral and pepper. Coats the mouth with intrigue. Oily? Again, a surprise. But there it is. Memorable. Thoroughly memorable. $$$