No. 1. What’s in a name?
Wine estates’ names often come from a current or previous owner. In this case it was the Beaucastel family, who lived in the southern Rhône valley near the village of Courthezon around the mid-16th century. Pierre de Beaucastel purchased a barn and some land at a place known as Coudoulet in 1549, and that acreage is still part of today's much larger estate.
Since then, Château de Beaucastel has changed hands several times, finally being purchased by Pierre Tramier in 1909 before being handed down to his son-in-law, Pierre Perrin. Four generations of Perrins have now been involved in running the estate.
No. 2. Myriad grapes:
One of the founders of the French appellation system was Baron Leroy, owner of another Châteauneuf wine estate called Château Fortia. Right from the start, Châteauneuf-du-Pape was permitted to have 13 different grape varieties (8 red and 5 white) – more than other regions. Château de Beaucastel is the only estate in the appellation to have all 13 of the varieties planted and to make wine from them. A greater or lesser number are blended into the final wine, in varying proportions according to the vintage.
No. 3. The celebrity effect:
The Perrin name sprang to wider fame this year after the release of the first wine they have made for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie – the 2012 Château de Miraval Rosé. The joint-venture winemaking deal came about after Marc Perrin met the celebrity couple through mutual friends. Brad Pitt was already a fan of Beaucastel and told the Perrins he would greatly appreciate leaning on their expertise. Other wines will be produced in time. In particular, the Perrins see the potential at Miraval to produce a top white wine from the rolle grape variety, encouraged by a relatively cool meso-climate.
No. 4. Rolling stones:
For the most part, the Beaucastel vineyards fit the archetypal Châteauneuf-du-Pape terroir, with vines pushing their way through a carpet of stones. These stones, rolled and rounded by the long-term action of glaciers and the Rhône River over millions of years, act as a heat and moisture barrier – reflecting the sun’s rays upwards to the vines whilst preventing the soil’s moisture from evaporating into the air.
No. 5. Why are Beaucastel’s wines so highly regarded?
For François Perrin, "Beaucastel carries with it the civilization of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. By producing a hand-made wine and eschewing modernistic techniques we try to reveal the nature of our terroir and traditions."
This process starts in the vineyards, with a chemical-free approach that dates back many years. In addition, Beaucastel has always matured its wines in its cellars for extended periods, At the top end of the range, the limited-production Hommage à Jacques Perrin, which is only produced in the best years, has been awarded 100 points by Robert Parker for five different vintages, making it a big favorite with collectors.
No. 6. Keeping it in the family:
There are currently no fewer than seven members of the Perrin family involved in the business. In addition to Beaucastel, they own vineyards in Gigondas and Vinsobres, plus a flourishing négociant operation that produces more accessible wines under the Famille Perrin and Vieille Ferme labels.
François Perrin suggests an element of noblesse oblige: "Beaucastel is the cradle of our family and it is our duty to show the very best."
No. 7: Accidents will happen:
With the best will in the world, wine is a living substance and Perrin acknowledges that it can never be totally "under control." He recalls a formal black-tie dinner in Toronto where his host produced a jeroboam of 1990 Hommage à Jacques Perrin, which was worth a small fortune. Unhappily, the bottle was badly corked and thus undrinkable. The evening was saved by the host having several smaller bottles of the wine in his cellar, but François was mortified, even though he explained that natural cork will have its ups and downs. Back in France, he sent off several jeroboams of the same wine to his Canadian host.
No. 8. The brettanomyces question:
It's been suggested that Château de Beaucastel’s wines contain "brett" – the yeast that can occur naturally on grapes or wine-making equipment which is now considered undesirable in wine. In the past, it was simply considered to be part of the natural taste.
I have clearly detected brett in older vintages of Beaucastel (9 years+), but not in the most recent ones. François Perrin says it's important not to confuse reductive aromas produced by a high percentage of the mourvèdre variety in Beaucastel wines with a presence of brett. However, he acknowledges that the yeast can be found in older vintages.
Luckily, this problem has now been solved by renewing the large wooden vessels used to age the wines, as well as by improved hygienic processes throughout. Current vintages of Beaucastel are thus analytically "brett free."
No. 9. What is the ideal age for a bottle of Beaucastel?
There are usually two peak periods for these wines: prior to about five years after the harvest, when their fruit flavors show all the intensity and power of youth, and then again after ageing for about 10 to 15 years. It's then that they acquire the full patina and complexity of maturity.
In addition to the reds, Beaucastel produces two different cuvées of white Châteauneuf, including Vielles Vignes, made from 100 percent roussanne. Unusually, Beaucastel red wine often incorporates six to seven percent of white grapes.
No. 10. Let's consider prices:
A bottle of red Château de Beaucastel has an average price of $89 (ex-tax) on Wine-Searcher, while the 2010 Hommage à Jacques Perrin is listed at an average of $556 (ex-tax). The Vielles Vignes white, while rare, is cheaper, at around $127. If you want to taste the terroir of Beaucastel at a lower price, you could try their Coudoulet de Beaucastel. It's made from vines which lie just outside the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation boundary, yet lie within the Beaucastel estate.
In the United States, Perrin cousin Robert Haas produces organic wines grown from cuttings that were originally taken from the Beaucastel vineyards. Tablas Creek Vineyard, in the Las Tablas district of west Paso Robles, is a joint venture with the Perrin family. Its signature wines are labeled Esprit de Beaucastel.
Beaucastel prices on Wine-Searcher (prices in US$, ex-tax per 750ml bottle):
|Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines||Color||Avg. Price|
|Chateau de Beaucastel Grand Cuvee Hommage a Jacques Perrin||$504|
|Chateau de Beaucastel Roussanne Vieilles Vignes||$127|
|Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape||$89|
|Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc||$79|
|Other wines by Beaucastel||Color||Avg. Price|
|Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel, Paso Robles||$54|
|Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, Paso Robles||$39|
|Coudoulet de Beaucastel Blanc, Cotes du Rhone||$30|
|Coudoulet de Beaucastel, Cotes du Rhone||$26|