Tasting Notes by
George Heritier




hile best known for their monumental Châteauneuf du Pape, Chateau de Beaucastel, Jean-Pierre, François, Pierre, Marc and Thomas Perrin are by no means inclined to rest on that admittedly lofty laurel. They have continued to expand production over the years, not only from their own properties, but from lease and contract agreements as well, with a portfolio of reds, whites and rosés that now includes wines from almost every major region of the southern Rhône, from basic Côtes du Rhône on up through sub-appellations such as Rasteau, Vacqueyras, Gigondas and even a non-Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape bottling. Recently, we had the chance to not only taste through twelve of the wines from La Vieille Ferme, Perrin & Fils and Coudoulet de Beaucastel, but to spend some time and get to know them, and from the bottom to the top, there wasn’t a dog in the bunch. Here are our impressions of what we tasted, starting with the entry level selections. (All prices listed are average retail per bottle as listed by Perrin et Fils importer Vineyard Brands, Inc., Birmingham, AL.)

La Vieille Ferme Côtes du Ventoux2004 La Vieille Ferme Côtes du Ventoux Rouge, 50% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 15% Carignan, 15% Cinsault, $7.99, 13.5% alc.: La Vieille Ferme was established more than 35 years ago by Jean-Pierre Perrin with the original intention of producing Côtes du Rhone for direct mail sales in France; I still remember some of the last of those that were by then imported to the US, before a switch was made to fruit from Côtes du Ventoux because of steeply rising grape prices, and I wasn’t all that impressed with the transition at first.  Find this wine

Happily, quality has improved, and this ruby dark garnet blend is an excellent example of how far they’ve come. It gives up straightforward spicy plum and berry on the nose, more black than red, and flavors echo with some subtle earth underneath, good concentration, smooth texture, a decent finish and enough structure for short term cellaring. Still, it drinks fine right now, and it makes a great match for a wide variety of red-friendly foods, so what’s not to like? Sees 10 months in both cement vats and large oak barrels, then fined, filtered and bottled.

2005 La Vieille Ferme Côtes du Luberon Blanc, 30% Grenache Blanc, 30% Bourboulenc, 30% Ugni Blanc, 10% Roussanne, $7.99, 12.5% alc.: Medium straw, shading to pale gold in color, with flavors and aromas of yellow apple and melon, underscored with some earthy mineral; soft and immediately accessible, yet showing good acids and some of the heft that you get from blends of this kind, it makes a good match for hors d’ oeuvres, seafood and chicken. We enjoyed it with Black Forest ham and Gruyère paninis garnished with sliced onions and Maille Dijon Mustard, along with a side bowl of chicken soup. 10% of the Grenache Blanc is fermented in small, new, Limousin oak barrels, the remainder in cement vats, then fined, filtered and bottled.  Find this wine

2005 La Vieille Ferme Côtes du Ventoux Rosé, 50% Cinsault, 40% Grenache, 10% Syrah, $7.99, 13% alc.: A pretty raspberry pink in color, with unassuming watermelon, strawberry and rainwater flavors and aromas, with a subtle minerality underneath; it shows good presence, with enough acidity to work well with a variety of food options (we liked it with salmon patties, tofu in a spicy Thai brown sauce and a sautéed vegetable mélange). This is a good, honest everyday rosé that will perform yeomen’s service any time of the year. Hand picked, lightly crushed and put in stainless steel, with skin-juice contact for a day and a night; then the free run juice is fermented in stainless steel at 70 degrees F. Find this wine

Perrin Reservé Côtes du Rhône2004 Perrin Reservé Côtes du Rhône Rouge, 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre, $10.99, 13% alc.: Made from fruit sourced from Perrin’s vineyards at Grand Prebois and Vinsobres, as well as from leased vineyards and purchased grapes and wines, this inky purple garnet offers sweet spice, black plum and mulberry on the nose, but turns decidedly drier on the palate, with fairly rich, earthy flavors reminiscent of black plum and black currant. Almost claret-like in character, with good depth and structure, and a smooth texture, this is good stuff, well worth the price and it opens nicely with air, as is the case with so many red Rhônes. It matches well with all the usual grilled red meat suspects, and provides a nice pairing with a ground turkey meatloaf with roasted red pepper sauce too! Fermented and matured mainly in tank, with 25% in casks, then fined with egg whites and bottled.  Find this wine

2005 Perrin Reservé Côtes du Rhône Blanc, 50% Grenache Blanc, 20% Viognier, 15% Marsanne, 15% Roussanne, $10.99, 13% alc.: Medium straw in color, with a lemon-like tinge, featuring a pear and melon character with a hint of lemon and some subtle minerality; medium full bodied, with moderate acids and medium length. Tasted side by side with the La Vieille Ferme Blanc, this one shows a little more heft and substance, and it also complements the Black Forest ham and Gruyère paninis and chicken soup. A fine choice for an every day white, fermented and matured in stainless steel tanks. Find this wine

2004 Perrin & Fils Côtes du Rhône Villages, 50% Syrah, 50% Grenache, $14.99, 13% alc.: The only one of these wines that shows something of the international style, this looks like ink in the glass, and it smells something like chocolate covered cherries. It gives more impressions of chocolate covered cherries in the mouth, anchored by a solid, earthy core of black plums, currants and berries, all smoothly textured, yet well structured, with earthy tannins that clamp down some on the finish. Good now with some air and grilled flank steak, and even better in three to five years, it’s not exactly traditional, but in this case, that’s not a bad thing. De-stemmed whole berries heated to 176 degrees F, then cooled to 68 degrees F; macerated in concrete vats, then matured in large oak vats (25%) and concrete tanks, and bottled after egg white fining.  Find this wine
2004 Perrin & Fils Côtes du Rhône Villages Vinsobres Les Cornuds, 50% Syrah, 50% Grenache, $18.99, 14% alc.: Dark garnet, fading to pink at the rim, with a generous nose of rich, ripe and earthy black plums and berries that follows through on the palate with plenty more earth and formidable structure; a leathery note emerges more and more with air, helping to shape the character of the wine. If you must drink this now, give it at least an hour in a decanter and grill some good red meat to go with it, but really, five to eight years in the cellar would do this one justice, and it’ll be a much better wine for it. Grapes de-stemmed, with Syrah macerated in truncated tapered wooden vats with cap punching and pumping over, and Grenache in stainless steel tanks, then blended after malolactic fermentation. Matured in stainless steel (80%) and two year old barrels, with six months bottle aging before release.  Find this wine

Perrin Côtes du Rhône Villages Rasteau L’Andeol2004 Perrin & Fils Côtes du Rhône Villages Rasteau L’Andeol, 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah, $18.99, 14% alc.: Dark garnet in color from rim to rim, with solid, straightforward flavors and aromas of black plums, currants and berries, anchored with an earthy core and shaded with notes of briar bramble and a certain meaty quality; it seems to show a hint of the 10% cask maturation on the nose, but not in the mouth. Full bodied, dense, well structured and yet accessible as it smoothes out with some time in the glass, it will age and improve over the next three to five years, or you can decant it for an hour now and enjoy it with grilled red meats or a hearty stew. 
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2004 Perrin & Fils Gigondas La Gille, 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah, $26.99, 14% alc.: We’re suckers for good Gigondas at our house, and this dark garnet gives further testimony as to why; it’s all underbrush and earthy, leathery black fruit aromatics shaded with a note of tar, with plenty more of all of the above in the mouth, fleshing out with an hour’s air to morph into a pretty nice glass of wine. Full bodied, well structured and reasonably long on the finish, with more and more leather as it opens; indeed a few hours does wonders for this, but still, it’s a ten year wine, so its best days are well ahead of it. Like the last few noted here, give it some air if you have to drink it now, and pair it with the usual suspects; otherwise, try it again in 2009 to see where it’s at. Not de-stemmed, with vatting for 13 days and pumping over rather than cap-punching; sees one year in casks (70%) and one year old barrels. Find this wine

2003 Perrin & Fils Châteauneuf du Pape Les Sinards, 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, $34, 14% alc.: We weren’t wild about the ’98 Les Sinards, the only other one of these that we’ve tried (not that it was a bad wine by any means), and while this one is not a top flight CdP (nor was it meant to be), it is a solid effort for what it is, especially considering the freak vintage. Dark garnet from rim to rim, showing black plums and red berries on the nose, then turning darker on the palate with earthy black plums and berries shaded with a note of underbrush, a smidgeon of smoke and hints of cola, dusty cocoa and lavender, with good structure and length and solid promise for further development down the road. Not as smoky or spicy as many a Châteauneuf, but it has other charms to compensate, as it opens and evolves continuously over three hours, showing a real “sense of place.”  Find this wine

Coudoulet de Beaucastel Côtes du RhôneCoudoulet de Beaucastel, the second wines of Chateau de Beaucastel, are produced organically from vines that average 30 years of age, in vineyards east of Route National No. 7, which divides the Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf du Pape appellations at Beaucastel. These vineyards are geologically identical to those of Beaucastel, with “a layer of marine limestone-clay of the Miocene period, covered by an Alpine deposit of smooth stones, or ‘galets,’ washed down by the Rhone River eons ago.” The galets trap and retain heat, while preventing evaporation of moisture from the soil. 

2004 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Blanc, 30% Marsanne, 30% Viognier, 20% Bourboulenc, 20% Clairette, $39.99, 13.5% alc.: Medium straw to pale gold in color, with a stingy nose that only hints at the dry apple, peach and pear flavors underscored with restrained earth and mineral and the barest hint of honey. Medium full bodied, with zippy acidity and good length, showing some serious intensity, especially as it opens with air; you could probably give it a good chill and then decant it half an hour before drinking. This shows obvious aging potential, and while I was initially dubious of the $40 SRP, I became a believer as it continued to open and evolve, and it makes a fine match for some highly seasoned broiled haddock, polenta cakes, homegrown sautéed zucchini and onions and an arugula salad with a fig and onion vinaigrette. I’d like to give this a try in another three to five years to see how it evolves in the bottle. Hand-picked, sorted grapes are pressed pneumatically, clarified and fermented in oak and stainless steel, depending on varietal, then aged in oak and stainless steel for eight months, blended and bottled without cold stabilization.  Find this wine

2003 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Rouge, 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 20% Syrah, 20% Cinsault, $31, 13.5% alc.: Dark garnet in color, fading to pink at the rim, and, much like the ’98 version we enjoyed a few years ago, showing almost no nose at first, and only a little more later, reflecting the flavors with a hint of the barnyard; on the palate, it offers nice leathery black plums and currants with an earthy base, and notes of cola, licorice and briar bramble. Full bodied, smooth textured and well structured, with good length, this one really benefits from some extended air, as the fruit turns richer and sweeter, continually evolving, with almost every sip showing something different, but while it’s perfectly enjoyable now, its best days are clearly ahead of it, and it should easily improve through 2013 and beyond. We didn’t have this one with food, but it drank well while viewing a pre-season Detroit Red wings game; now, if it would only do a Pinocchio and grow a nose. Hand picked and sorted, then de-stemmed and “flashheated in a vinification technique invented by the late Jacques Perrin,” aiding in the transference of aromas and color to the wine and eliminating the need for the use of sulfur dioxide; cooled, then macerated for 12 days in traditional tile lined vats, then aged in large oak barrels for six to eight months, followed by light fining with egg whites and bottling.  Find this wine

Final thoughts: This lineup ranges from good to very good to excellent in quality, and we quite enjoyed tasting through them all. They mostly impress us as being “real wine,” rather than the kind of manufactured stuff that is being produced more and more all over the world, although the basic Côtes du Rhône Villages does seem to flirt with the "international style."  Still, they all do exactly what they’re supposed to do, and they do it well. Having already been acquainted with La Vieille Ferme, Perrin Reservé and Coudoulet de Beaucastel Rouge, I was particularly interested in seeing how the others performed, and wasn’t disappointed in the least. The Perrin family continues to carry on their great winemaking tradition in grand style, and I’d recommend any of these wines without hesitation.

Reporting from Day-twah,


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© George Heritier October, 2006