Winners and Losers
Sometimes the wine gods conspire against you. I actually knew something like this was coming. Things had been going too well for too long. I recently thought about the roll I was on, nary a corked bottle in months, and even some suspect oldies had showed well recently, rotted corks and low fills be damned. And then there was this.
What should have been a wonderful evening was marred by misfire after misfire, and sadly we suffered a 50 percent hit on rate on my favorite Chateauneuf du Pape, the always reliable and often awe inspiring wines of Chateau de Beaucastel. Now you might have read that I am not a particularly enthusiastic fan of Chateauneuf, which is true since I am usually the one writing that, but the truth lies more with Grenache than with the wines of Chateauneuf.
The truth is I think I am fairly well-aligned with many of the more traditional producers in the region with their reliance on the art of blending to make a better wine. Of course there are exceptions, stunning wines produced exclusively from Grenache, but they are few and far between. For me, Grenache rarely produces a complete wine, instead it offers up enticing perfumes of red fruit and herbs while delivering a relatively high alcohol, low acid mouthful of red fruit that can be mouth filling, yet at the same time a bit hollow. That’s where varieties like Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Carignan come in, not to mention all 13 allowable varieties in the wines of the application.
For my palate, the magic happens when the big ball of red fruit is filled, like a toy chest, with the complexity afforded by these other varieties. Some black fruit, olives, bacon fat, leather gloves, dirty boots and hung game, all mixed around adding depth, structure and nuance to the explosive core of Grenache. That’s when things get interesting, and of course that is what Beaucastel specializes in.
One of the few and perhaps only producers to use all the allowable varieties in their wines, Beaucastel has historically allowed Mourvedre to share the spotlight with Grenache, each grape making up roughly 30 percent of a typical vintage of Beaucastel. The results show in the wines, in their youth as added textural component and a more complete mouthfeel, and on to older age when the nuance really begins to show. In many cases I would tend to recommend drinking Chateauneuf du Pape rather early as opposed to later, not because the wines don’t age well, but rather because they don’t seem to improve significantly with age. Change, yes, but for the better?