[Cross-posted at www.calgaryisawesome.com]
For Part I of this mammoth tasting write-up, click here.
After the first half-dozen wines of Bin 905′s Chateau de Beaucastel vertical tasting, spanning six vastly different bottles from 1989 to 1999, we took a 15 minute break to chew on some cheese and cleanse our palates. After the first 1700 words of my tasting review covering those six bottles, I took a 7 day break to get mentally prepared to delve into another topsy-turvy whirlwind of a decade of Beaucastels. The second half of the tasting covered six wines from the 2000s and included one of my least favourite wines of the tasting…but also my wine of the night. First up, tasked with trying to make me forget about the likely-corked 1999, was the Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-de-Pape from 2000.
Every vintage of Beaucastel from 2000 to 2007 other than the 2005 was represented in this tasting (there was also no 2002, but ’02 was such a washout of a vintage that Chateau de Beaucastel didn’t even produce a CNDP that year, instead declassifying its grapes to lower quality level bottlings). The 2000 immediately announced that we were getting into a younger, more forward flight of wines; it was thicker, deeper and darker than its predecessors from the ’90s, mostly opaque in the glass, with bright, lush fruit aromas leaping out unbidden even before any swirling. Blackcurrant and blackberry (and even, bizarrely rare for wines, grape) flavours melded with smoke and hickory notes in this big, powerful red, which was still so structured and so wound together that I would never have guessed it was a dozen years old. It sailed into a huge, lengthy finish and definitely kicked things off with a bang. Absolutely delicious.
Two faulty wines in the last three? While I was quite confident that something was wrong with the 1999 Beaucastel that we tasted, I was slightly less sure about this one, and other tasters present were emphatic that the wine was fine, but I dunno…something was clearly going on. Both 2000 and 2001 were very strong vintages in Chateauneuf-de-Pape, and they were more or less equivalent to each other in terms of the quality and longevity of the wines produced, but the ’01 Beaucastel we had was about half as deep and half as intense in colour as the 2000, and in the place of lush dark fruit on the nose was the dank, almost mouldy odour last seen in the ’99. A couple of people at the tasting suggested that this over-damp aroma was just another display of the barnyard aroma common to CNDP in general and Beaucastel in particular, but I disagree: this was an unclean basement shower smell, not a farm/manure smell. The flat, nondescript, raisiny fruit on the palate further enhanced my suspicion, but opinion was sufficiently split at the tasting table that I won’t definitively pronounce this wine corked. I almost hope it was, because if not, it was just awful.
82-84 points (but likely flawed)
The 2003 vintage in Chateauneuf-de-Pape was a good rebound year after the disaster of 2002, and the ’03 Beaucastel bears the interesting hallmark of being one of the only vintages of Beaucastel ever produced that didn’t use any Syrah at all in its blend. As a Syrah lover, I tried not to be too offended, and I feel confident that I retained my objectivity throughout the tasting process, but I still emerged thinking this was the only wine of the 12 I would simply classify as “meh”. It wasn’t horrible, but it also wasn’t memorable in any way; it just filled space on my placemat and served as a lead-in to the better wines that followed. The ’03 was a deep ruby translucent colour and featured a rather muted nose of tart red fruit and baked earth, the latter note a characteristic of the hot, dry weather of the vintage. It was the only Beaucastel whose alcohol seemed a little over-prominent on the palate, overwhelming even the fairly substantial tannin structure of the wine and powering through its baked fruit and leather flavours. Not bad, but not great. Meh.
Beaucastel got its groove back with the 2004. This was another hot and dry year in the Rhone Valley, but not as extreme as 2003, and the resulting wine came across as better balanced and more complex than the one preceding it. Unlike the deep, thick colours of most of the other offerings from the 2000s, this one marked a return to the more transparent ruby colour found in the 1996 and 1997 Beaucastels, although the ’04 was brighter and more vivid than its older siblings. A gorgeous nose of black currant and cherry Kool-Aid with a strong hint of mint (the first time in 10 bottles that I came across that) forecast a rich, complex wine that exploded on the palate with blue and red fruit and that hinted at additional layers to be unfurled with time. Still quite dense and chewy, this one definitely needs more time, but it’s a winner.
My sadness at missing out on the 2005 vintage of Beaucastel (one of the best years in recent memory that spawned one of Wine Spectator’s top 10 wines of the year when released) was not alleviated by the 2006, which was insanely closed off and may have been going through a dumb phase, a period during the lifespan of long-aging wines where flavours shut down and the wine becomes tight and inexpressive. While the ’06 showcased a thick, rich purple colour, it was so quiet on the nose that, despite sniffing for a good couple of minutes, I didn’t write down a single aroma description: there was just nothing there. A few people around the table suggested that this wine might be corked, but cork taint smells like SOMETHING, and this didn’t smell like anything; it was just shut down. The palate exhibited huge structure, tight acid and monumental tannin, but again, not much flavour. It’s hard to really give this bottle a rating, but I felt like it was on its way to becoming something powerful and was just caught in an unfortunate hibernation. I’d love to have a bottle of this to open again in 2-3 years.
Can you say “end with a bang”? Not only was the 2007 vintage in Chateauneuf-de-Pape hailed as the vintage of the decade (even better in most people’s eyes than the dynamite 2005 — iconic critic Robert Parker called it the best vintage of CNDP of all time), but Beaucastel took full advantage of the ideal growing season and created a masterpiece. Still in its infancy, the ’07 was massive in look and smell, blackish purple and emanating powerful notes of currant and raspberry liqueur. From the second it touched my tongue I was hit with huge waves of energy and flavour held in check only by the wine’s immense structure; you could tell this was only the tip of the iceberg 5 years into the bottle’s life, but it was still gorgeous. Blueberry, black cherry and anise are enrobed in a silkiness of texture that is hard to describe but entrancing to taste, and the finish just goes and goes. Definitely my top wine of the evening, and destined to be a classic. Wow.
Tasting a wine like that 2007 at the end of the night’s second flight of six bottles just makes you look around for the next half dozen offerings, but alas, all good things have to come to an end. A huge thanks to Bin 905 for offering up a privileged look into the past 25 years of history of one of the Rhone Valley’s greatest producers, and an even bigger thanks to those tasting participants who brought a bottle from their own collection to supplement the vertical lineup — I am extremely grateful that you chose to share your passion for wine (and your extremely good purchasing tastes) with the rest of us. This was a night I will remember for a long time.