Written by Monique Simpson

Spring is in the air and the colour this season is red. Bold and beautiful for spring is the wine from the Southern Rhone – home to some of France’s most approachable and easy to appreciate wines. The dynamism of the ‘terroir’ elements in the Southern Rhone including, the warm Mediterranean climate; scarce rainfall; soils covered with a ‘carpet’ of smooth river stones (deposited from the Rhone river as its changed its course over time) absorbing heat during the day and radiating it at night thereby helping grapes achieve full ripeness; the inherent fruitiness of the Grenache grape which dominates the region; and relatively low yields – all lend to the Southern Rhone’s rich, spicy wine style that boasts plenty of ripe red and black fruit with an underlying note of “garrigue” (scrubland) and mouth warming alcohol.

The timing of th Famille Perrin tasting in Chicago hosted by Francois Perrin, a 4th generation member of the Perrin Family, was spot on. As you may recall, one of the big news stories to grace the wine press this year was Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s acquisition of the Province estate, Château de Miraval in Correns, France, and the release of the debut bottling of Cotes de Provence Rosé Miraval 2012 – a true “A lister” winemaking partnership between Jolie-Pitt and the Perrin family. With the interest and publicity surrounding the Miraval wine business joint venture and the Perrin name springing into the media spotlight, the tasting provided the opportunity to reconnect with the Perrin family’s own exquisite Southern Rhone wine portfolio.

Today, the Perrin family remains one of the leading top quality wine producers in the Southern Rhône Valley. Holding a diverse wine portfolio running the length and depth of the Valley, the Perrin label enables fans to experience the distinct differences in terroir at a range of price points. Despite the cost variance, all Perrin wines remain linked by a common thread – organics and biodynamics, the pursuit of excellence and quality, and the importance of family and the five generations of experience and expertise embodied in their brand and wines. Perhaps one of the greatest sites in the Perrin family wine legacy is their flagship Chateauneuf-du-Pape estate of Beaucastel; a family business run by 4th and 5th generation family members since its acquisition in 1909. The Chateau de Beaucastel estate encompasses 130 hectares with 100 hectares in the famed Southern Rhone appellation of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation is a small area with approximately 3000 hectares spread across relatively flat vineyard land with varying aspects, elevations, and soils. Generally the vineyards lie on clay, limestone soils covered several inches deep by the highly photographed, iconic ‘pudding’ stones. The warm climate, abundance of sunshine, low rainfall and cool Mistral wind that ravages through the vineyards to moderate temperatures and ‘cleanse’ the gnarly old low trained bush vines of disease causing moisture, add to the quality of the vintage. The appellation also permits the use of 18 different grape varieties. In practice, however, winemakers principally use the regions flagship grape, Grenache for red wines giving it the softness, roundness and fat, supplemented with Syrah for colour and acidity, Mourvèdre for structure, backbone and ageing ability, and Cinsault for elegance and freshness (albeit its use is declining). For the marginal amount of white wine produced, the most common grapes are Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc and Roussanne.

Chateau de Beaucastel is unique in that it is the only estate to grow all 13 of the historical red grape varieties permitted for reds. “We need different grapes as a result of varying weather and we have spent generations finding the right place for the grapes,” explained Perrin. “One year Grenache reaches perfect ripeness, one year its Syrah – so we need to have all the different grapes to be able to adapt to all weather variations with varying amounts of each grape dependent upon the vintage characteristics.” An additinal claim to fame for the Perrin’s, is the Beaucastel vineyards were one of the first in the region to be farmed sustainably. “To produce wines with character, wines with terroir, we need to preserve the soils,” said Perrin. Since the 1950’s, the family has forebid the use of pesticides in the Beaucastel vineyards thus maintaining the soils health with natural composts. By the 1960’s, the family took organics a step further with the introduction of biodynamic farming – a concept based on Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner agricultural notion that the soil is a living organism with its own cycles and rhythms. For Perrin, the right thing in the vineyard and the right time to do things in the vineyard is in sync with the soils natural rhythms. “The soil is alive and the soil gives the life so we need to keep the life in the soil.”

As for the wines of Chateau de Beaucastel, they can only be described as hand crafted masterpieces embracing elements of both modernity and tradition. Grapes are handpicked in the vineyard and sorted in the winery before being destemmed. Different grape varieties are then separated and vinified independently in modern stainless steel, temperature controlled tanks. After the initial fermentation in modern vats, the wines are then blended before undergoing a decent ageing in oak using a combination of new oak and large oak vats (foudres). The final assemblage of the wines and the oak regime varies from year to year and is always a family decision which invariably involves robust debate. “When it comes to the final wine blend, it is difficult to agree but we arrive slowly at a decision,” Perrin stated. “The end result are wines more modern in style that simultaneously retain a staunch focus on terroir and tradition.”

Chateau de Beaucastel produces several reds and whites under the Beaucastel name, however the iconic wine of the Estate is Hommage Jacques Perrin. Produced in extremely limited quantities (roughly 4000 bottles) in only the very best years (several times a decade) when Mourvedre has successfully ripened, all 13 grape varieties are used in the final blend to create this highly sought after wine. As for the signature Perrin wine style, Perrin details “the characteristic style of the house is easy to drink, and drink now or age with usually two peak periods for the wines – prior to about five years after the harvest, when the fruit flavors show all the intensity and power of youth, and then again after ageing for about 10 to 15 years. It is then that they acquire the full palate and the complexity of maturity. However, all of our wines are part of my family, part of my heart and I hope that we can share that.” With that said, all that was left to do was to nose, taste and savour the wines of this famed estate and make notes of the favourites for the dining table (or wine cellar) this season!

Recommended Wines:

Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone 2012: French for stones or pebbles, the wine is fittingly sourced from an area very close to the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation but with the same style of soils covered in river stones. According to Perrin this vintage demonstrates the true typicity of this wine style: deep purple in color with a bright peppery nose complemented with spicy, oak flavors, ripe fresh dark berry fruit and herbal, garrigue notes, and on the palate is dry with a perfect balance of fresh acidity, warming alcohol, soft dusty tannins and complexity of flavor. Wonderful peppery spice finish. Drink now or hold for a further 5-7 years.

Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2010: A great vintage year in the Southern Rhone, is reflected in this exceptional wine. Wine is ruby red in color with a pronounced meaty, perfumed nose. On the palate the wine is exceptionally well balanced with its edgy acidity, generous alcohol and its complexity of rich, ripe fruit flavors and spicy characters. While this wine can be enjoyed now, it is a wine that has been crafted by the Perrin family to rest in order to reveal its full beauty. Perrin’s rule of thumb for these wines is “10 years ageing for the wine to show itself outwardly.”

Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2011: Compared to 2010, the nose is more floral demonstrating luscious red fruit, pepper and spicy oak characters whilst on the palate it is riper and rounder showing itself earlier with its certain softness. Long savory, spicy finish. Much easier to enjoy this wine now, however, it will continue to develop 5-10 years in bottle.