A Rhone wine tasting: 1985, 1990, and 2000 Chateau de Beaucastel
When the fruit was harvested for the 1985 vintage, the wines of Chateauneuf du Pape were only regaining popularity in America. Just 15 years earlier these wines had been wildly popular but a rise in price and a drop in quality caused attention to drift elsewhere. This drop in quality reflected a change “to suit the ‘modern taste’ for lighter, quicker maturing wines.” Robert Parker explained that these “innocuous, bland, and one-dimensional bottles of wine” were often produced by carbonic maceration as in Beaujolais.
There was, however, at least one estate that remained true to the traditional style of Chateauneuf du Pape and that was Chateau de Beaucastel. It was in 1978 that Francois Perrin took over the historic estate with the help of his elder brother Jean-Pierre. Together they maintained the traditional methods of their father such as vinification a chaud while also accepting new methods.
The wines of Chateauneuf du Pape may be a blend of up to 13 permitted varieties of which all are still grown at Chateau de Beaucastel. Through the 1987 vintages the blend for Beaucastel included 50% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, and 10% Cinsault. The regional popularity for high-yielding, alcoholic Grenache stems from clonal research carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture during the 1960s. Robert Parker felt that Grenache contributed “plenty of fruit, but not much complexity or staying power.”
At the recent tasting of Rhone wines we opened the 1985, 1990, and 2000 vintages of Chateau de Beaucastel. These are interesting vintages because they span a changes in blend, vinification techniques, and the introduction of a new cuvee. While the 1985 vintage saw 50% Grenache and 15% Mourvedre there was a change in 1988 such that the 1990 vintage saw 30% Grenache and 30% Mourvedre. To quote Robert Parker the Mourvedre adds “body, firmness and color”. The pumping down of the fermenting cap or pigeage was introduced in 1987 for Syrah. This was employed to obtain greater concentration. Two years later in 1989 just 2% of the wine was used to make the special cuvee in honor of their father Hommage a Jacques Perrin. This appear to have not affected the quality of the traditional red wine. Finally, the use of new oak for Syrah was introduced some time after the 1990 vintage.
I have now tasted two bottles of the 1985 vintage. The first bottle did not carry the Beaucastel funk, instead it showed garrigue notes with completely resolved tannins. This second bottle had the funk but also fruit and structure. For me I found the finish of this bottle a touch short. I have also tasted the 1990 vintage twice this year. Both bottles have shown great depth and perhaps due to all of the changes, great staying power. This is not a big wine in any sense. Incredibly, at 25 years of age I believe it will continue to develop, not just maintain itself, for years to come. Finally, I found the 2000 vintage rather shy on the first night. It did slowly open up over the first several hours but it was on the second night at which it showed best. There materials are clearly there for a strong future.
1985 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands. 13.6 % Alcohol. This wine revealed the Beaucastel funk on the nose with higher toned, mature aromas. In the mouth were earthy to funky fruit flavors that bore thin, higher-pitched, cool red fruit. With air the wine picked up good complexity, cleaned up some, and took on weight. It showed that there was still fruit and even tannins. *** Now-2020.
1990 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands. 13.5 % Alcohol. There was a beautiful nose followed by mature but lively fruit in the mouth. This juicy wine was juicy with depth, wood box notes, and youthful grip. ****(*) Now -2025.
2000 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Vineyard Brands. 13.5 % Alcohol. The nose bore brighter fruit aromas. Initially the wine was a bit tight with a ripe fruit core, plenty of power, and a fresh structure that gripped the teeth. With extended air the brighter red fruit made way to a young and strong midpalate that was coated with fat. The Becausteal funk surrounded lovely blue fruit towards the finish. **** 2020-2035.
 Wine: FRANCE’S FORGOTTEN RED. By Terry Robards. New York Times (1923-Current file); Feb 15, 1981; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. pg. SM18
 RIVER VALLEY OF REDS. The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Mar 14, 1982; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post. pg. SM42
 The Wine Takes Time: The Wine Takes Time. By Robert M. Parker Jr.. The Washington Post (1974-Current file) [Washington, D.C] 24 Jan 1982: L1.