Rhône Alchemy: Jaboulet Aîné & Beaucastel

Starting high in the Swiss Alps, the Rhône River works its way through narrow cliffs of limestone and schist. From Lyon to Vienne, dozens of commercial warehouses give way to oldish towns that seem to be weary of this river — which is often ready to flow out of its banks and invade the land.

But something extraordinary happens along the way and these vineyards, ideally located on the slopes adjoining the river, produce some of the world’s very best wines. Is it the great drainage offered by the sloping terrain? Is it the ever changing landscape of the Rhône which can produce as many different wines as there are producers? Is it the addition of some of the white varietals to add an extra dimesion to the wine? (Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier are the allowed white varietals here.) Or simply a combination of all these factors? For sure, it’s a strange and marvelous alchemy that provides just the right conditions for these distinctive wines.

Historically, the Rhône region has had vineyards since the days of the Romans. Later, in the 13th century, when the Popes moved from the Vatican to Avignon and brought their considerable treasury with them, wine production expanded greatly. Then, in the early 19th century, Bordeaux producers began adding Rhône wines to their Cabernet-based Clarets to add more body and structure. And there was even a period when Rhône-produced Saint-Péray sparkling whites were more popular than Champagnes! But for a number of decades, the results were poor, particularly since low prices did not allow producers to invest in modern wineries and equipment.

The ancient Roman roads and stone walls at Tain l’Hermitage in northern Rhône. Photo by Marla Norman.

Fortunately, winemakers like Paul Jaboulet, who brought Hermitage to the very top of the wine world, and Robert Parker, who enthusiastically gave the area more 100-point ratings than anywhere else, have come along and led the way for quality-driven producers to excel.

Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aîné is located in Tain-l’Hermitage, a small town situated on the left bank of the Rhône River. The area is well known for its Syrah-based Hermitage, Cornas and Crozes. North of Tain is the village Condrieu, home of some of the most beautiful white wines in the world. But let’s get back to Tain (which is also home to Valrhona chocolate, another divine goody!).

Jaboulet Aîné, under the capable management of Paul Jaboulet, became one of the most important quality terroirs in the world. Jaboulet sold his property a decade or so ago to Caroline Frey, proprietress of Château La Lagune, the finest estate in Haut-Médoc. Notably, Caroline Frey was a top graduate from the School of Oenology in Bordeaux, and prize-winning horsewoman (former member of the French junior riding team). At age thirty, Caroline took over management of the Château.

Caroline was interested in acquiring a top winery in the Rhône to produce historical wines. As mentioned previously, Bordeaux winemakers often blended Syrah from the Rhône to improve the overall quality and structure of their Clarets. Caroline does not skimp on production. Shortly after taking over, the Domaine, she converted the cultivation to biodynamic principles. As a result of her efforts, the iconic La Chapelle as well as the entire lineup of Jaboulet Aîné wine are much sought-after and represent the standard for Syrah in the Northern Rhône.

Caroline Frey, owner of Château La Lagune & Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aîné at La Chapelle, overlooking the city of Tain-l’Hermitage. Photo courtesy of Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aîné.

By the way, if you visit the Jaboulet Aîné estate, look for the famous chapel at the top of a steep hillside overlooking the city of Tain-l’Hermitage. It’s an hour climb to the top, but views of the city and river are spectacular. Be sure to reward yourself with a glass of wine afterwards!

Just like Jaboulet is a star in the North, Château de Beaucastel is the Perrin family jewel of the Southern Rhône Valley. The property is split in half by an interstate that runs through it, all the way south to the French Riviera. On the east side of the highway is Coudoulet. Not many Châteauneuf-du-Pape are better than Coudoulet — in fact, it possesses the same terroir as Beaucastel. Coudoulet, however, is not located within the appellation acreage, thus making it a phenomenal buy.

Famously stoney terroir at Château de Beaucastel. Photo by Marla Norman.

On the western side of the highway is the Beaucastel winery and cellars, surrounded by vineyards. The most striking aspect of the property are the large and bulky rocks that make up the terroir.

The stones are remnants of a prehistoric time when the Rhône, then a massive and violent body of water, tore fragments of rock from the Alps and deposited them along its course. The stones play a particular role in the development of the Beaucastel vines, in that they retain heat and moisture to protect and cool the plants as temperatures fluctuate.

The Perrin family is revered in Châteauneuf-du-Pape for a variety of reasons. They are one of the few families using all of the 13 varietals allowed for the appellation: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Clairette, Vaccarèse, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul, Picardan and Terret Noir. And the Beaucastel Rouge Châteauneuf-du-Pape, continues the traditional blend with, again, all of the 13 grape varieties — more extraordinary Rhône chemistry.

The history of the Perrin family and Beaucastel dates back to 1549, but Jacques Perrin was especially prominent in the development of the estate. In 1956, he converted 130 hectares to organic farming — this in an era when all other winemakers were experimenting with new chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Now, since 2000, the Beaucastel vineyard has been officially certified as organic.

The Perrin family, from left: Jean-Pierre, François, Matthieu, Pierre, Marc & Thomas Perrin. Photo courtesy of the Perrin family.

Additionally, the family has been incredibly successful in the development of affordable secondary brands. Their La Vieille Ferme aka “the Chicken Wine” has become wildly popular. And their restaurant and guesthouse in Gigondas, L’Oustalet, is highly regarded. Located at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range, L’Oustalet sits in the middle of many prominent Rhône appellations, including Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Vinsobres. A beautiful muscat called Beaumes-de-Venise is also produced a few kilometers away.

While touring Beaucastel with MTW, Deidra Stange & Steve Maynard chat with Chef Laurent De Coninck at restaurnt L’Oustalet.

L’Oustalet – the Perrin family restaurant and guesthouse in Gigondas. Photos by Marla Norman.

Tasting at Beaucastel, from left: Elizabeth & Joe Horsman, Preston & Barbara Gough, Susie & Bill Pinson and Marla Norman.

For a number of years, Bordeaux and Burgundy were the only wines that interested most consumers of high end French wine. Now, that has changed, thanks to visionary owners such as the Perrins at Château de Beaucastel and Caroline Frey at Maison Paul Jaboulet Aîné. These talented producers have won the hearts of wine aficionados with their hearty and exotic Rhônes.

We are pleased to offer these highly-rated Beaucastel and rare Jaboulet Aîné Rhône wines at such reasonable prices. Included here is the 100-pt 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Vieilles Vignes from Beaucastel and the 2003 Jaboulet Aîné 2003 Hermitage La Chapelle chosen as one of the “Top 100 Wines of 2006” by Wine Spectator. Finally, as a special treat we’re also offering two vintages of Château La Lagune. Write mthibaultwine@gmail.com or call 850-687-1370 to order.

At Beaucastel, Bill Pinson & Michel Thibault sample an amazingly vibrant 1983 Old Vines Roussanne.

Château de Beaucastel
2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge. Magnum. WS-97, RP-96. $135.99. 7 bottles.
2014 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge. RP-93. $69.99. 12 bottles.
2008 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge. WS-93. WS Collectible. $74.99. 6 bottles.
2015 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône. RP-92. $21.99. 24 bottles.
2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc. RP-95. $74.99. 18 bottles.
2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Vieilles Vignes (Old Vines) JD-100, DC-98  $136.99. 18 bottles.
2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Vieilles Vignes (Old Vines) RP 94-97. $132.99. 12 bottles.

Maison Paul Jaboulet Aîné
2007 Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Roure. Vinous-93. $49.99. 24 bottles.
2009 Côte-Rôtie Domaine des Pierrelles. Vinous-92 $89.99 18 bottles.
2011 Côte-Rôtie Domaine des Pierrelles. WA-92. $87.99 18 bottles.
2010 Cornas Domaine de Saint Pierre. Vinous-92. $79.99. 18 bottles.
2005 Hermitage La Petite Chapelle. $69.99. 11 bottles.
2003 Hermitage La Chapelle. WA-96. WS Top 100 Wines of 2006. $149.99. 3 bottles.
2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine de Terre Ferme. WA-94 $99.99. 5 Magnums.
2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine de Terre Ferme. Vinous-92. $37.99. 24 bottles.
2014 Condrieu Domaine des Grands Amandiers. WE-95. $104.99. 2 bottles

Château La Lagune
2016 Château La Lagune. WA 93-95. $51.99. 24 bottles. Bordeaux Futures, arriving Spring 2019.
1998 Château La Lagune. $66.99. 5 bottles.

Finally, be sure to take advantage of close-out pricing on our 2017 Rosés.
We’re also throwing in free ground shipping with orders of one case or more!!!
Sainte Roseline Château des Demoiselles. $14.00.
Château Gassier Esprit Gassier Rosé. $12.00.

 

 

 

Here’s to the augury and charm of the Rhône!

2018-10-17T19:25:46+00:00October 19th, 2018|0 Comments