Yesterday saw a return to the Church House Conference Centre in Dean's Yard, next door to (and overlooking) Westminster Abbey. An impressive location with views across Dean's Yard to the Abbey, a picturesque oasis in the middle of the hustle of Parliament and its surrounds.
Several of the country's most respected critics were present with notebooks in hand or laptops nudged between bottles so it will, of course, be interesting to read their thoughts in due course but, for what they are worth, here are mine.
Overall, an extremely good vintage for the Perrin family with, generally, low acidity and good balance. Alcohol levels seem a little lower than usual (ABVs were not printed on the labels of these barrel samples) which is welcome these days. I checked with Marc Perrin who confirmed that blends are more or less the same as usual.
The tasting was organised in the order of Vieille Ferme followed by Famille Perrin CDRs and Crus then a pair of new wines (to me, at least) from Provence and only then the Coudoulet and Beaucastel wines until, finally, a small selection of older Beaucastel wines. Of course, I had to approach the tasting differently, tackling the whites first, eschewing the rose wines and then taking in the reds all together. That said, I will comment in the order the wines were presented (my tasting sheet follows this order so I am really just trying to make my life a little more straightforward).
The Vieille Ferme Blanc seemed a really decent wine with a nose and palate typical of the region (it's actually a Luberon wine but the grapes are the same) but I found the red too much like the cheap bulk wines I consumed as a student. Slightly more appealing on the palate and I wonder whether it will grow into itself in time. Frankly, though, how many people are going to cellar an inexpensive Ventoux red? That is always the problem with these wines which can be very good value if they are consumed at the right time.
On to the Famille Perrin range and the CDR Blanc is first up: more subtle than the VF white but there is an extra layer of spice on the palate and the superior breeding shows through. The red seems to have more Syrah than most from this area, blacker fruited anyway. This would benefit from some bottle age but can be enjoyed now, I think. The "Nature" has a quite funky animal whiff and lacks something on the mid-palate. However, the last wine on this table, the CDR Villages - a new one, I think - was extremely good with a gorgeous nose of rich, rounded fruit and just a hint of oak. It is restrained but lands on the right side of austerity and is not too heavy at all. Very well judged.
Of the Crus I enjoyed the Vinsobres most this year. First, the Cairanne which is very modern and clean (none of the wet dog notes of yesteryear) with a touch of oak and firm tannins; it needs a couple of years. I slightly preferred the 50/50 blend of Grenache and Syrah that is the Vinsobres though. This is ripe with cherry notes mixed with the black fruit of the Syrah which also provides good tannic support. It seems the Syrah is particularly good this year judging by this and other wines.
Slightly disappointed with this year's offering from Rasteau which had a tartness that complimented the sweetness of the fruit but made me unsure. I also wondered about the Vacqueyras which I felt could tend towards oxidation. These criticisms are necessarily overstated; they are all good wines but some are undoubtedly better than others.
The Sinards Chateauneufs have improved. They used to be quite average, letting the range down. Not so this year. The only concern about the white is the apparent use of oak which will not be to everyone's taste. I liked it though. The red is quintessentially Chateauneuf with its warming nose and nicely rounded, not too heavy style. The fruit is slightly reminiscent of red fruit pastilles.
Table 3 began with the serious Crus. The La Gille Gigondas is a modern wine which, perhaps, lacks a little distinctiveness but the L'Argnee Vieilles Vignes from the same village was superb. More structure and fruit than its predecessor and a wine that needs some bottle age (5-10 years should do it), it has a lovely richness and length. When I find a wine I would really like to have at home, I put a star alongside my note: L'Argnee has a star, the next wine a bracketed one. Les Hauts de Julien from Vinsobres was more structured than expected and very tight. I think it will open up well in time though. It is less flamboyant at this stage than the 2011 but all the better for that! One last look at Gigondas: Domaine des Clos du Tourelles which is very rounded and fleshy, full-bodied with sweet red/black fruit. A very good, classic Rhone.
Slipped in before the big guns, two from Cotes du Provence bearing the name Mireval. Only the white was tasted: quite good if a little higher in acidity than I would personally like. The bottle shape rather put me off though.
Coudoulet Blanc is a wine I am warming to. Its texture and weight are just right. The 2012 needs to come out of itself a little to be truly great but no doubt it will achieve this. Already there are notes of honeysuckle and tropical fruits combined with good minerality,
The Coudoulet Rouge has a superb nose and follow through, more modern in style than a decade ago but a lovely wine either way. Quite meaty/savoury with the Syrah playing exceptionally well and the structural elements in good balance.
Beaucastel Blanc has excellent balance and mouthfeel with deliciously long fruit: a bigger, more complete version of the Coudoulet, perhaps. I preferred it to the old vine Roussanne which, perhaps, doesn't have quite enough acidity to help it age for long.
Beaucastel Rouge is quite restrained on the nose and palate but is clearly a very sophisticated wine with good body and mouthfeel. Clearly this is going to be a great Beaucastel one day. (I would have liked to go back to the days when we tasted individual varieties separately and then assembled our own blends but this was not to be this year.)
A final zip through 2008 (showing well), 2001 (maturing nicely but still youthful enough) and 2004 Hommage (surprisingly forward although the bottle was near its end) finished off this excellent tasting.
Marc was asked about 2013: too early to tell yet, of course, as the grapes have yet to be harvested but so far everything is looking good here, he assured us.