Rhône 2009: Versino, Beaucastel and Mas de Daumas Gassac

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September 20th 2010

There is something completely unique about tasting with a winemaker in his own cellar. All our Rhone producers come over for our November tasting, for which we are intensely grateful and that is undoubtedly the best opportunity to taste, discuss and understand these brilliant wines in the UK. However, in their natural environment the enthusiasm, expertise and energy of these extraordinary individuals is even more apparent.

Jean-Paul Versino of Domaine Bois du Boursan is one of our favourite growers. He is smiling, friendly and very talkative…. For him the 2009s are a mix of 2005 and 2007, with tannins between the two older vintages and flavours like 2005.

Jean-Paul Versino in his cellar
Jean-Paul Versino in his cellar

I am running out of superlatives – his 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape is off the clock. Sweet and ripe, black cherry, bramble, coffee and chocolate on the nose, supremely balanced, velvety tannins and a pure minerality to keep it all under control – wow. Unless he loses his mind and has a “Bordeaux moment” on pricing this will be spectacularly good value too.

As with Font de Michelle yesterday his 2008 is also tasting delicious. Again a much lighter style, packed with sweet red fruit, juicy, supple and moreish.

Thanks to a a confusing detour and blocked roads we get thoroughly lost on the way to Ch de Beaucastel, but Marc Perrin is charm personified.

Beaucastel seen from the vineyard
Beaucastel seen from the vineyard

We taste through their range in a room overlooking a cathedral-like barrel cellar. For Marc, the Southern Rhone offers an unequalled diversity of terroirs. Consequently almost every type of vine can find an appropriate location and blending this multitude is the key to making great and typical Southern Rhone wine.

The cellar at Ch de Beaucastel
The cellar at Ch de Beaucastel

Perrin & Fils is their negociant business and Marc likens this to a “pret a porter” range with Ch de Beaucastel as the “Haute Couture” label. It is an apt comparison – the same quality and polish runs through all the wines from their not so humble Cotes du Rhone via Coudoulet to the sublime Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge 2009. Completely fantastic – this is one of my wines of the vintage – my rather inflexible three star system did not really do justice to this. It is definitely three stars plus.

We have lunch at Le Verger des Papes tucked in the hillside just under the ruins of the castle in Chateauneuf. The service is patchy as our arrival coincides exactly with a coachload of pensioners, but the view is worth a little forbearance.

View from the terrace at Le Verger des Papes
View from the terrace at Le Verger des Papes

It is a bit more than a four hour round-trip to Aniane, but Mas de Daumas Gassac is worth the effort. We have been working with the Guiberts for just five years, but this “Grand Cru” of the Languedoc has been building an impressive reputation for a lot longer than that.

We are taken out into the vineyards by the charismatic Samuel Guibert in his Jeep – four wheel drive is definitely required. It is one of the most unique and fascinating vineyards I have ever visited. Small parcels of individual grape varieties are scattered through the forest. While not bothering with organic certification their practices are more than organic and the vineyard and forest is teaming with life – a hare leaps across the track in front of us, olive and oak trees are packed with birds and apparently in the early morning we would meet more than a few wild boar.

Mas de Daumas Gassac
Mas de Daumas Gassac

Back in the cellar (which was built underground in an ancient water mill) we taste the appley sweet fresh grape juice that is the 2010 white on the verge of fermentation. They are in a unique microclimate however their 2009 red shares the quality and vintage characteristics we have seen throughout the week – intense ripe fruit charateristics, smooth tannins and a balanced freshness. Delicious.

We head back towards Les Baux de Provence for dinner at a restaurant recommended by Eloi Durrbach of Domaine de Trevallon: Ou Ravi Prouvençau in Maussane les Alpilles. We find another vintage of Roc d’Anglade (the 2000 this time) on the wine list – again it is delicious, soft and savoury with notes of truffles. This is definitely a domaine worth investigating so watch this space….