Francois and Cesar Perrin lead us through a vertical tasting of Beaucastel Blanc and Roussanne Vieilles Vignes
Last year, when Cesar Perrin was in town for blending and the Hospice du Rhone celebration, he made use of some of the extra bottles he had after pouring at their library tasting and some of what we had stashed here at Tablas Creek to host an impromptu vertical tasting of Beaucastel reds with the team here. It was a treat. So I was excited when he asked before his visit this year if I wanted to dive into a different part of the Beaucastel repertoire. When he suggested looking at Beaucastel's white wines, I jumped at the idea.
Beaucastel is rightly famous for its reds, but its whites are icons in their own rights. More than a decade ago, we hosted a producers-only symposium on Roussanne in which we dove into its history, growing, winemaking, and marketing. We began the three-day event by asking the 25-or-so producers there why they first set their sights on this famously difficult but lovely grape. Probably two-thirds of them mentioned having had Beaucastel's white as a formative moment in their appreciation of the Roussanne grape. And they weren't alone. No lesser authority than Robert Parker called Beaucastel's Roussanne Vieilles Vignes "a staggering wine of extraordinary complexity and richness" which "offers a nearly out of body wine tasting experience" while giving the 2009 vintage a perfect 100 point score.
Beaucastel makes two white wines from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Their main Beaucastel Blanc is composed of 80% Roussanne for core depth, richness, and ageworthiness, 10% Grenache Blanc and Clairette Blanche which offer a balance of texture, freshness, and minerality, and 10% Picpoul, Bourboulenc, and Picardan for bright acids and spice notes. This is aged in mostly one- and two-year-old barrels. They also make a 100% Roussanne from a 3-hectare (7.5 acre) block planted in 1909 that they call Roussanne Vieilles Vignes (old vines), 50% in new oak and 50% in one-year-old barrels. The lineup:
We tasted six vintages of each, starting with the Beaucastel Blanc. My notes from each are below. The links will take you to the wine's page on the Beaucastel website:
- 2021 Beaucastel Blanc: A lovely luscious nose of honey and sweet spices. The mouth shows flavors of spun sugar and citrus pith, gingersnap and a hint of sweet oak, with appealing brightness emerging at the end and giving relief to all the rich flavors. From a cool vintage.
- 2019 Beaucastel Blanc: A nose of lemon custard with notes of wet rocks and fresh pineapple. The mouth is clean, with flavors of preserved lemon and sweet spice, cracked pepper and mandarin. From a heat wave vintage but you'd never know it; the wine was so fresh.
- 2017 Beaucastel Blanc: Starting to show a little age on the nose, with notes of peppered citrus and creme brulee. The texture is dense but still bright, with flavors of grilled pineapple, caramel, and a little pithy bite on the end. Concentrated and rich, from a dry, low-yielding year.
- 2015 Beaucastel Blanc: Showing more savory notes on the nose than the three younger vintages: sage, spun sugar, and candied white grapefruit peel. On the palate, lanolin, cumquat, orange blossom, and pineapple core. In a lovely place, with both aged and youthful aspects. From a warm, dry, windy year.
- 2013 Beaucastel Blanc: A nose of orange blossom, creme brulee, oyster shell, and fresh pineapple. Seemingly younger than the 15 and even 17. Beautiful focus on the palate with notes of fresh honey and sweet green herbs and a mandarin peel bite on the finish. From a wet, cool year.
- 2011 Beaucastel Blanc: A nose of roasted nuts, menthol, honeycomb, and tarragon. The palate had sweet-but-not-sweet flavors of vanilla custard, drying hay, and crystallized ginger. The finish showed more nuts, mineral, and a lemongrass herby note. Beautiful.
Cesar then presented six vintages of the Roussanne Vieille Vignes, again from youngest to oldest:
- 2020 Roussanne Vieilles Vignes: An intense nose of new honey, white tea, and honeydew melon. The palate shows sweet lemon custard flavors with a rich mineral character that combines with the wine's remarkable texture to create an experience Francois described as "salted butter". The finish shows more of that vanilla bean custard character held in check by a little pithy bite. From a year Cesar described as a "classic Provence vintage".
- 2018 Roussanne Vieilles Vignes: A more savory nose of lacquered wood and petrichor, with a floral honeysuckle note emerging with time in the glass. On the palate, flavors of sweet orange and tarragon, honey, and a little sweet oak. Elegant and lingering, from a terribly wet year when they lost 60% of their crop to downy mildew after a summer monsoon. Amazing that what was left is so good.
- 2016 Roussanne Vieilles Vignes: A nose of honeydew, lime leaf, and sweet spices, with a complex prosciutto-like meatiness lurking underneath. On the palate, graham cracker and fresh melon, sweet cream butter and fresh almond notes. From a California-like vintage with warm, sunny days but unusually cool nights.
- 2014 Roussanne Vieilles Vignes: A nose of sweet spices: clove, candied pecans, and creme caramel. On the palate, flavors of salted caramel and citrus leaf, amazing rich, creamy texture but still fresh. The Perrins said this was amazing with sea scallops and I'm sure they're right. From a cool year which produced wines with good focus.
- 2012 Roussanne Vieilles Vignes: A nose showing its decade of age in a pretty way: cedar, jasmine, menthol and poached pear. The mouth shows flavors of caramel apple, complete with the bite of apple skin. Clean and lingering on the finish with notes of juniper and creme brulee.
- 2009 Roussanne Vieilles Vignes: We broke out of the every-two-vintages pattern because Cesar wanted to share the wine they made for the Roussanne block's 100-year anniversary. A nose of graham cracker and white pepper, spicy and rich. On the palate, vanilla custard and toasted marshmallow, satsuma and fresh tarragon, showing a lovely line of clarity amidst all the richness. The finish is long and clean, with a continued pithy note.
A few concluding thoughts:
- The level of consistency across these wines was amazing. There were cool, wet years and warm, dry years represented, and yet the flavor profile was relatively consistent. The hot years still had freshness, while the cool years still had weight. That's a testament to the resilience of old vines, but also to the expertise of the Beaucastel vineyard and winemaking team. I feel like we get more vintage variation here at Tablas Creek.
- The wines showed a very reliable, gentle aging curve that showed why Roussanne is famous for aging gracefully. The oldest wines we tasted were nearly 15 years old, and none felt even to middle-age, let alone toward the end of their lifespans. I've had Beaucastel Roussannes that were nearly three decades old. The character changes at that phase, losing much of the weight and gaining a lovely nutty mineral focus. That's wonderful too. If you're looking for a white that will reward your choice to lay it down, this is a great choice.
- The character of Roussanne just jumped out of the glass. That's probably not surprising given that the Vieilles Vignes was 100% Roussanne while the Beaucastel Blanc was 80%, but if you are wondering what heights the Roussanne grape can get to, I felt like any of these bottlings would give you a good sense. They're not easy to find, as whites represent just 7% of the acreage at Beaucastel, but they're worth the search. Who knows... it might even inspire you to start a winery.
- Finally, what a treat to be led through this tasting by Francois and Cesar. My dad wrote an appreciation of the Perrin family back in 2014, when Jean-Pierre and Francois received Decanter's "Men of the Year" award, which I reread recently and felt encapsulated why we're so happy to be their partners. They're classic yet innovative, relentlessly focused on improving each year yet grounded by five generations of tradition and experience. What a great foundation for our work here at Tablas Creek.
Thanks, Francois and Cesar. What a treat.