Drinking perfectly: 1985 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
There was no choice required when I recently saw the bottles of 1985 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape at MacArthur Beverages. Though I had no experience with this vintage I had drunk a glorious 1990 vintage just a few months prior. That was enough of a personal metric so I grabbed the wines without fear. Indeed, Robert Mayberry described Chateau de Beaucastel as “Probably the longest lived Chateauneuf du Pape of all” in Wines of the Rhone Valley (1987). Ten years later Robert Parker wrote that top vintages “improve and last in the bottle for a minimum of two decades.”
One possible reason for such longevity is the use of vinification a chaud. Invented by Jacques Perrin, this method heats the outside of the grapes to a high temperature for a minute or two after which they are rapidly cooled. Originally performed with wood fires, the technique was perfected with steam. This vinification technique purportedly allows good wine to be made in moderate vintages. It specifically kills off harmful enzymes, extracts deeper color and tannins, as well as slows natural fermentation. In fact this description is reflected in John Livingstone-Learmonth’s tasting note in The Wines of the Rhone (1992). Here he writes, “The 1985, with its deep colour holding well, carries exuberant potential on the bouquet and tremendous depth of extract on the palate”.
In 1980 an underground storage facility was constructed that allowed all of the wines to be bottled at the same time. This reduced bottle variation. For bottling, the wines were not filtered, rather, John Livingstone-Learmonth writes that the whites from some 400-500 eggs were employed for fining. The quality of the fruit was very good for the 1985 vintage. It experienced a hot summer with cool nights that, according to the Beaucastel website, was exceptional for Grenache. Michael Broadbent rated the vintage five out of five stars with the description “Outstanding.”
All of this boded well for this particular bottle. The cork, though quite dark, was firmly seated. A quick taste of the wine proved it was quite sound and in need of air. The wine was fully open after an hour, revealing good sweet aromas of garrigue followed by complex flavors delivered in an ethereal and mouth filling manner. Lou reported that the wine started to decline after three hours. Now we know the optimal window for the next bottle. This wine was purchased at MacArthur Beverages.
1985 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands. This wine is a blend of 30% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Counoise, 5% Cinsault, and 15% Vaccarèse, Terret Noir, Muscardin, Clairette, Picpoul, Picardan, Bourboulenc, and Roussanne. The Mourvedre and Syrah were vinified in oak barrels with the Grenache in tiled cement tanks. After malolactic fermentation the wine was aged for one year in oak Foudres then racked back into enamel lined vats until bottling. Alcohol 13.6%. The nose was sweet with ripe berries and garrigue aromas. In the mouth was a ripe, garrigue infused start followed by lifted, mature red fruit flavors. The tannins were almost completely resolved. With air this very good wine expanded in the mouth with only a bit of roughness in the long aftertaste. Will certainly last but why wait further? **** Now.