Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to be part of a group of Majestic staff that visited the Southern Rhone. It was my first time visiting the region, and I sincerely hope that it won’t be my last! We spent time visitng regions such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Lirac, however the highlight was certainly Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
I could romanticise about the beauty, the fantastic weather and the outrageously good food that we consumed, but I was there for one reason, and one reason only, the wines. I have always been a bit of a ‘Rhone Ranger’, but this visit just confirmed how much of one I was.
The highlight for me was visiting the very prestigious Chateau Beaucastel where we had lunch with one of the Perrin brothers. Here we got more than we bargained for, but in the most positive of ways. Monsieur Perrin sat down at the table having just performed the unenviable task of showcasing Chateau Beaucastel’s wines to the world renowned wine critic Robert Parker. This was to work in our favour as he then produced a bottle of wine from the cellars to help calm his nerves. With no label present, we had to guess what the wine was. It was a white wine that smelt as fresh as a daisy, and we all presumed it was the current release of either Beaucastel Blanc or the Vielles Vignes Roussanne. To our delight, we were informed that it was in fact a much older bottling of the latter. This is where my fascination in whites from the Southern Rhone started.
Every year I wait with bated breath for Majestic’s allocation of these two outstanding wines. The whites from Beaucastel are amongst the finest expressions of Roussanne. The 2006 Vielles Vignes cuvée is produced entirely from Roussanne vines that are a minimum of 65 years old. 50% goes into barrel, the other 50% being vinified in stainless steel. The 2006 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc is made up of 80% Roussanne, 15% Grenache Blanc and 5% of the the other permitted white varieties. 30% of the wine sees new oak barrels, while the remaining 70% goes into vats. Both wines are left to mature for 8 months before bottling. The result is something very special, and I can only recommend that if you have never tried a white from the Southern Rhone, then now is the time to do so. It is a welcome contrast to the flowery Condrieu from the North.
I tasted the Chateauneuf-du-Pape last week (shortly to be available here, although your local store may already have it), and it goes without saying that a case of that is going to find itself heading home with me. I am now faced with the dilemma of trying the Roussanne Vielles Vignes this weekend! Its going to be an expensive month for me.