Yesterday saw the annual Beaucastel EP (en primeur) tasting, this year held at the Church House Conference Centre, a stone's throw away from the Houses of Parliament (it's OK, they weren't sitting: it's conference season, remember?).
The line up started, not altogether impressively, with the Vieille Ferme range which I found to have of-putting aromas. Nothing offensive, they just smell cheap (which, of course, they are). Probably OK in the supermarkets but of no interest to me.
The newly named Famille Perrin range, however, is increasingly interesting. The CDR Blanc is a correct wine with a decent enough nose and palate made in an easy drinking style. Pleasant enough. The red has a typical Grenache nose with a good helping of cherry fruit and some spice. It's a lively enough wine. The "Nature" was of particular interest as I used to import it before it was certified organic and before Waitrose muscled in. In those days it was quite animal; not so any more. It has slightly sweet fruit but good balance and nice depth of fruit and weight. There is also a CDR Villages (a new wine?) which was initially quite reserved on both the nose and palate but which showed much better around an hour later when I decided to give it a second chance. Quite youthful on the nose but good enough if the price is right.
Obviously the Crus are the main points of interest. The Perrins own some of these vineyards including those in Vinsobres where the blend is Grenache and Syrah (in more or less equal parts I gather). "Les Cornuds" is the standard bottling which has a deep and dark appearance and a slightly dusty (in a good way), black nose of black raspberry and cassis fruit. A little restrained just now but I think it will emerge with good minerality and there is some spice here, especially on the attractively tannic finish. I preferred it to the blockbuster "Les Hauts de Julien" which was a bit too much for me although given a few years... This has an intense Syrah nose with some of the animal/olive and liquorice character you sometimes get around here. Not too heavy on the palate which follows on accurately from the nose. Too much? For some, I suspect.
The Cairanne "Peyre Blanche" was more appealing than in some previous vintages: plenty of sweet cherry fruit, a respectable feel in the mouth, some spice and a medium finish. A good villages wine. The Perrins' Rasteau "L'Andeol" has often hit the spot for me. This year's bottle was slightly tight and a whiff of wood hit me but it didn't get in the way of the fruit. I think this wine has extremely good potential. Tasted again an hour later, it had opened up rather well. The Vacqueyras "Les Christins" is another reliable wine with good fruit balance and well integrated. The lively tannins are well controlled and there is good length. Similar but bigger but with even better control is the Gigondas "La Gille" with fresh minerality and a more chewy finish but I am confident the tannins will cook in given time. Just as the prestige Vinsobres seemed too much, so did the Gigondas "Domaine du Clos des Tourelles" which seems to be made on steroids. Are these wines made for the Parker palate, I wonder? The nose is intense, the palate is intense with explosive fruit and spice and a hint of rubber. Superb tannins and length though so all is not lost. It probably will come very good in the end but where's the subtlety, the finesse?
Coudoulet Blanc was very welcome after all the above! The Marsanne sings out loudest on the fairly mineral nose although there is no denying the Viognier. It has a lovely fresh palate with fruit and acidity that cuts through all those reds well as any decent southern Rhone white should. Beaucastel Blanc is mineral and crisp on both the nose and palate. It has good Roussanne and Grenache character with a long finish accompanied by good acidity. This seems to be a good vintage for whites.
Coudoulet Rouge is very young but has a clean fruited palate. I couldn't really taste the Mourvedre at this stage although I know it is lurking there somewhere. Well made, as always, and one I would like to try again in 3-8 years.
Beaucastel Rouge is always tasted in component parts at these tastings. The Grenache has excellent ripeness giving a superb nose with sweet but not cloying, mineral but not dilute fruit. There is a hint of oak on the palate not evident on the nose. Excellent mouthfeel, again not cloying at all.The fruit profile is just right; the wine is not trying to show off (unlike a couple highlighted above). Lovely balance. The Mourvedre is more closed unsurprisingly but what is showing is rather good. The Syrah offers good black fruit, quite intense but not as OTT as the Vinsobres HdJ and less animal. Tannic but should blend well (about 10% of the final blend usually). There is a pre-assembled blend of these and other varieties which the Grenache dominates although the Mourvedre is apparent. It is very fruit forward - a modern style of Beaucastel.
The tasting ended with some bottles brought out to say thank you to everyone who showed up - a 2003 Beaucastel was a pleasant surprise. More evolved than I had expected it to be, browning a little and a mature nose and palate. Whiffs of Bordeaux (in a good way). 1998 Beaucastel has a very evolved nose now with farmyard/animal hints and a hint of rancio on the finish. Lovely but I will be tackling a 2003 this weekend just to confirm today's tasting. I did ask Marc Perrin if he had cheated and opened the bottle yesterday - he said he had included the wine precisely because it is drinking so well now (of course).
Finally, a real treat: 2000 Hommage a Jacques Perrin explodes with youthful fruit on the nose. Quite pastille-like on the red/black-fruited palate with some cigar box lurking. Slightly disjointed at the moment but this is a real baby Hommage. Give it another 15 years then look again!