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Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2003

This week I take a look at the Côtes du Rhône, a huge appellation which in truth deserves a much more detailed examination than I can afford it here. Nevertheless, with INAO documents in one hand and a glass of Château de Beaucastel's interpretation of Côtes du Rhône in another, in seemed like an appropriate moment to take a look at the appellation.

Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2003The Côtes du Rhône appellation is one in a state of flux, and any words written on it are bound to go out of date before too long. Since developing an interest in wine I have seen new appellations such as Vinsobres and Beaumes de Venise emerge from its melee in 2006, and others step up to the plate as villages wines, a superior designation allowing the use of Côtes du Rhône Villages on the label, or in specific cases appending the name of the commune, such as in Côtes du Rhône Valréas. The latest fiche produit from INAO, updated in 2006, lists 18 authorised appendages, although in some cases each name can account for more than one commune, so that there appear to be 37 villages communes, from a total of 95 communes eligible for the more generic Côtes du Rhône Villages.

Taking a more pragmatic approach - because I think only a true Rhône expert could tell us the difference between Côtes du Rhône Chusclan and Côtes du Rhône Rasteau - the Côtes du Rhône appellation is useful because like the Anjou in the Loire it is a melting pot out of which can spring, from the right producer with the right terroir, excellent and good value wines. This may be, in part at least, because the Côtes du Rhône vineyards swarm around and are contiguous with those of more exalted appellations. Indeed, examine any map of the southern Côtes du Rhône vineyards and you will see a swathe of vineyards with a small blank spot at the centre - where the vineyards of Châteauneuf du Pape lie. This is indeed a relevant point for this week's wine, which is made from a vineyard both across the road and also just across the appellation boundary from the Perrin family's Châteauneuf vineyards.

Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2003The wines themselves must include a minimun 40% Grenache for the reds and rosés, and principally they are a blend of this variety plus Syrah and Mourvèdre. Other varieties include Carignan and Cinsaut, but these are limited to 30%, and the inclusion of white varieties is permissible, up to 5% in the reds and up to 20% in the rosés. As for white Côtes du Rhône these wines are principally Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc and Viognier, with Ugni Blanc and Picpoul playing a lesser role. For villages wines these regulations are broadly similar, although it is notable that for the red wines the minimum Grenache is 50%, and Syrah and Mourvèdre must each account for at least 20% of the blend. There is no facility to include white varieties at this level, although they can still go into the rosé wines.

And so onto the wine in question - the 2003 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône from the Perrin family. As might be expected in a wine from this heat-baked vintage this wine has a very dark hue, deep and brooding, although it is by no means opaque. The nose has some brawny cherry fruit, with aromas of meat, animal fur and smouldering, smoky charcoal. It certainly has appeal, and its resemblance to Châteauneuf and Beaucastel's grand vin is obvious. It has lots of fat and fleshy substance at the start, before a creamy but nicely poised midpalate. There is a lot of everything going on here, ripe and furry fruit, liquorice, tar and more, cut through by firmly tannic backbone and bright although rich fruit flavour. The acidity takes a back seat here, the structure coming more from the tannic grip, perhaps unsurprisingly. Nevertheless this is certainly good wine, with some short-term potential for the cellar, although thisis drinking so well now that I don't think I would leave this as long as some vintages of Coudoulet. 17+/20 (27/10/08)

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