Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape 1994
Against a backdrop of feverish excitement brought on by Parker's assessment of the 2007 vintage I thought I should look at a wine with a less exalted number on the label this week. Although we all, I imagine, enjoy having a few bottles from the great vintages tucked away in the cellar, I think it would be a pretty sorry cellar that featured only such wines. It marks the owner as a collector, of bottles or perhaps just points, rather than a drinker or someone who really understands wine. I suspect such individuals would give little credence to the concept that there are some winemakers, at some estates, who make wonderful wine in almost every vintage.
The Perrin family, proprietors of Château de Beaucastel, surely fall into this category; my profile is accompanied by more tasting notes on their wines than perhaps any other profile on this site (although I confess I haven't counted). And with a considerable pile of bottles in the cellar, this trend is likely to continue, although not indefinitely; recent price rises mean that here, as well as in Bordeaux, I have had to stop buying. Who has more than £500 to blow on a case of Châteauneuf du Pape? Well, many people I am sure, just not me. It will be goodbye, Beaucastel....although my final farewell will not be for many years yet, thanks to bottles such as these from the 1994 vintage.
The year was not an exalted one for the region, thanks to the weather at harvest. The summer had been long and hot, with a staccato of showers making infrequent but welcome appearances, and the potential harvest was small as a result. Quality may also have been very high, but within a day or two of picking having begun on August 29th, the weather ensured that this would not be the case. Writing in Rhône Renaissance (published 1997) Remington Norman mentions hail on September 1st as a major factor, concluding that the wines would be "no better than ordinary". Parker, writing in Wines of the Rhône Valley (also published 1997) cited the continuing rain during the harvest, beginning on September 9th and not letting up for a month, as the deciding factor. Nevertheless, those that picked early before the torrent began had the raw materials to make good wine; perhaps this explains, in part at least, the Perrin family's success with 1994, not only reflected in this wine, but also in their decision to produce their super-cuvée, the pure Mourvèdre Hommage à Jacques Perrin.
So as usual let's actually get on to the wine, the 1994 Châteauneuf du Pape from Beaucastel, now just approaching fifteen years of age. Although this looks to have considerable maturity when it first hits the glass, there is still a fine depth of colour here, and plenty of red pigment at the core. It takes some time to open up, but when it does so it reveals a fine depth of fruit, dark and rich, showing some maturity, but it is by no means decrepit. The palate is full, broad, firm and savoury, with dry fruit but with sweetness behind it, sweetness that tells of the life that remains in this wine. It has a dry structure apparent throughout though, with ripe tannins still showing towards the end of the palate. It hasn't the lightness or the delicacy that I remember from the last bottle, which was not quite a year ago now, or the high-toned volatility which also marked it. Based on this showing, although this wine is drinking very well at present, there is plenty of time left to enjoy these bottles yet, so I will be leaving the rest of mine - three or four I think - in the cellar for the moment. 17+/20 (9/3/09)