Winners and Losers
In the case of Beaucastel the opposite tends to be true. These are wines that reward aging, the early exposition of Grenache fruit inevitably yields towards the layered complexity that I look for in aged wines. Simplicity is supplanted by detail, at least that’s how it’s supposed to work. In the case of this flight of wine, simplicity was too often supplanted by crapola. Not necessarily the chateau’s fault of course, who knows where some of these wines have been, mostly in cellars since it's close to release, and one hopes that quality control for corks is predictably better today, but while there were some pleasant surprises here, the tasting did little to further my thesis. That thesis being that it might be better to buy older vintages today that sell at or close to the release price for the current vintage.
That should be sage advice, and if the wine gods did not conspire against me this evening, punishing me for my recent good fortune, this last bit might well have been completely different. Consider that of the vintages we tried, 1995-2005, all can be had for less than $100 a bottle. I tasted the 2010 last night, a truly lovely vintage for Beaucastel, and the price for that is pushing $100 in most places. Given the option of laying a wine down for a decade of buying one ready to drink, I would usually opt for the latter. As it turns out I might be mistaken, but frankly not withstanding the sequence of unfortunate bottles here, I would tend to stick with that advice with the obvious caveat that you tend to get what you pay for and working with a reputable retailer is essential. I recommend that people seek out some of these vintages of Beaucastel because I love the wines and think that they offer good value, when they are showing well of course.
So how were these wines? The 1995’s, we actually opened a back-up bottle, were corked and then cooked. A shame in light of the fact that this slow-to-evolve vintage had been showing promise of opening up just two years ago. This was followed by a corked bottle of the 1996! But then things took a turn for the better with a wonderfully over performing bottle of the 1997, a vintage I have dismissed in the past. Certainly not a great vintage, but one at peak, silky, lighter bodied, but open and expressive.
In contrast was the 1998, a vintage which showed great promise in its youth but one that has been nothing but trouble for the past several years. Gone is the explosive fruit, but there’s not much seemingly replacing it. It’s worth noting that this vintage included an unusually high percentage of Grenache, a departure for the estate due to the weather conditions that year. One has to wonder if this change in routine might be responsible for the wines awkward behavior or if it is in fact going through just an awkward phase. I’d put my money on the fact that this wine is not going to be better than it is today and would opt to drink up my remaining bottles sooner, rather than later.
With the 1999 we are back in form, rather classic form, Chateauneuf that shows excellent balance and restraint, even elegance. I really liked this wine, it doesn’t knock you out but keeps you thoroughly engaged. The 2000 was quite the contrast, totally fun and full of fruit, plump and short, and not terribly complex, yet a wine that you can’t help but smile while drinking. 2001 returned us to the doghouse, turning our nose down at a heat-damaged, grey market import. 2002, the last truly bad vintage for the region was, as far as I know, not produced so we moved onto the 2003.