We've had the pleasure of hosting Cesar Perrin here at Tablas Creek for the last year. Cesar is Francois Perrin's youngest son, a few years out of enology school in France, and proceeding through a series of apprenticeships at notable wineries around the world while being groomed to eventually take the reins at Beaucastel. During his stay he has helped in the cellar during harvest, in the vineyards during our integration of our grazing herd, and at events around the country.
Last week was his last full week here, and he took the opportunity to say thank you by leading the cellar and management teams here through a vertical tasting of eight different vintages of Beaucastel. The vintages selected were a combination of wines that the winery had available and those that members of the team had managed to accumulate over the years, so there are some notable vintages like 1998 and 2001 that weren't available. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. The list focused on the wines in the roughly 20-25 year old range, which is historically a sweet spot for these famously long-lived wines. There were also two young examples (2005 and 2007) from great recent vintages, still showing the power and polish of youth. The one wine in what might be termed middle age (the 1999) was from a vintage that was a bit overlooked in the great Chateauneuf-du-Pape run between 1998 and 2001, and showed better than we were expecting, with some of the younger, fruitier characteristics balanced by welcome secondary balsamic and mushroom characters.
Overall, the tasting was a treat, showcasing the remarkable personality and ageworthiness of the estate's wines. The lineup, lined up and ready to go:
My tasting notes, starting with the youngest wine:
- 2007 Beaucastel: A very rich, minty and herby nose, with aromas of rosemary and roasted meat. The mouth is rich and dense but not yet very giving, with power more than nuance right now. I found this less expressive than I did when I tasted it last, where a powerful undercurrent of iron-like minerality framed the lush fruit in a way not evident at this tasting. Stock this away for a long while yet.
- 2005 Beaucastel: A nose less dense than the '07, more spicy, though overall on the same continuum, with juniper and chocolate/cherry and a slightly foresty wildness. The mouth was rich and nicely tannic, with red apple skin, licorice and menthol flavors and a little noticeable oak. There was a nice coolness and balance on the finish, with granular tannins and cherry skin acidity. I found this more drinkable now than the '07, with a wonderful future ahead of it.
- 1999 Beaucastel: From a vintage, according to Cesar, with an unusually high percentage of Mourvedre. On the nose rare steak and pepper, bright, with a note reminiscent of aged balsamic. In the mouth clean and long, fruity and spicy with good acids coming out on the finish. There was an appealing forest floor character that Neil called "mushroomy... in a good way".
- 1993 Beaucastel: From a cold vintage where much of the later-ripening Mourvedre and Grenache didn't get ripe, so a notably high percentage of Syrah for Beaucastel. A perceptibly older nose of leather, thyme and juniper. The nose is so dry that the little burst of sweet fruit on the palate is both surprising and welcome. Cesar declared that he's a big fan of this "lesser" vintage for drinking now.
- 1992 Beaucastel: Another cold vintage, with some rain during harvest. The nose is a little denser and showing younger than the '93, with cedar, cocoa and leather predominant. The mouth is nicely constructed, with flavors of pencil shavings and cherry skin. There is a little nice saltiness on the finish. Not sure if I'd have identified this as Chateauneuf tasting it blind... very Burgundian.
- 1990 Beaucastel: The nose is rich, with plum and some game meat, juniper, allspice and clove. Wow. The flavors are still intense, like marinating meat, with a distinctive Worcestershire Sauce flavor that was unlike any other wine in the tasting. Spicy red fruit and cocoa powder on the finish. According to Cesar, this was another vintage with an unusually high percentage of Mourvedre, and it showed in the red fruit/chocolate/meat character.
- 1989 Beaucastel: Rich, mature and spicy, but smells higher-toned than the 1990, a little fresher and more open. Aromas are cola and herbs and meat and balsamic, with a nutty almond-like character I kept coming back to. The mouth was just spectacular, rich, with nice cola and spice high tones, pure, clear and notably mineral in the mid-palate, and then herby with sweet spices on the finish. A great Grenache vintage, according to Cesar, and my favorite wine of the tasting. An outstanding vintage of a superb wine, at its peak. Just a treat.
- 1988 Beaucastel: A classic year, according to Cesar, overlooked in the excitement for 1989 and 1990, but very good in its own right. The nose shows a little older, with charcoal, pepper and caramel notes. The palate is sweeter than the nose suggests, with cola and tart cherry flavors. Still quite powerful, with tannins that could even use another few years.
Two more photos from the tasting, on the left Cesar pouring for my dad, and on the right the 1990 and 1989, two of the tasting's highlights:
A few concluding notes. First, the quality of even the lesser vintages is a testament to the work that Francois Perrin and the rest of the Beaucastel team do. I think that this is the best measure of the quality of a winemaker: not what he or she does with the great vintages, but his or her results from the vintages that present challenges. I know how great a winemaker Francois is, and I still came away impressed.
I also came away reconfirming my conviction in the value of blending. Each vintage can then reflect what was great that year, without having to incorporate elements that were less impressive. And each vintage also shows more individual personality. That recognition of personality -- that each wine expressed something unique about its vintage -- was my most lasting impression from what was a truly wonderful tasting.