A couple of weeks ago Andrew shared a few photos from his trip to the Famille Perrin winery in France with lucky competition winners Tony and Antoni. Today it’s the turn of Antoni as he gives his account of what happened on the visit.
We started our trip on Monday, a tad early for my liking, but the last traces of sleep were quickly wiped off from our faces by the excitement about things to come. After arriving at the gate at Gatwick, we didn’t need much time to find Andrew and Tony, the other winner of the Virtual Winemaker Trip, together with Tim from the wine import company, who joined us for the entire trip and who proved to be a great guide.
After a relatively short flight with Easy Jet, we landed in Marseille. Without further ado we quickly boarded our car to reach the famous Chateauneuf du Pape region after a short, one-hour drive. The first thing that struck us here was the fact that it’s much flatter then we’d expected. Andrew, however, explained to us that what makes this terroir so great is the unique soil not the landscape. Indeed, when we finally arrived at the Chateau de Beaucastel, we were surrounded by huge flat vineyards full of very large and very “pebbly” pebbles, known here as “galets”. The lovely Perrin family welcomed us and things soon got very serious, as we proceeded to the dining room for lunch.
I cannot explain how marvellous this experience was and I will not even try. We were very lucky to arrive at the Chateau in the middle of the truffle season and hence, to our absolute amusement, almost everything that we ate contained loads of truffles. The Perrin family’s chef transpired to be a real artist as he did not only make the food extremely appealing to both our taste buds and our eyes but also managed to pair it wonderfully with the wines. And the wines themselves were something unimaginable… We were served three Beaucastel masterpieces: blanc 2011 Vieilles Vignes and two vintages of rouge – 1989 and 1991.
The first one was made of the world-famous and world-oldest Rousanne, whose roots, as we were told, reach fifteen metres deep into the Chateauneuf’s soils. While tasting this under Marc Perrin’s guidance we could appreciate how this resulted in the immense extraction of wonderful minerality, yielding a really spectacular wine. It’s big, bold, and intense but, thanks to such minerality, was nothing overly oily or flat, what often strikes me in many other Rhone whites.
Both Beaucastel’s rouges were also truly outstanding. 1989, being the classical vintage in this part of Rhone Valley, showed everything that Southern Rhone has to show: a great balance of red and dark fruit aromas with touch of spice combined with great raciness and aging capability. However, my favourite among the lot was the 1991. It had all qualities of 1989 but they it was slightly less intense. On the other hand, I found it somewhat more complex and hence also a bit more elegant. However, the thing in this wine that really left me stunned was its finish. Its length, complexity, and richness were nothing that I have ever experienced before.
After the fabulous meal we went down to the cellars to see some new and old vintages developing in barrels, barriques, and bottles and then we headed to the bottling line. Everywhere we arrived, we couldn’t help appreciating the Perrin’s attention to detail. Anna and I have been to quite a few wineries before but we have never seen such efficient, clean, and well-organised production that takes the best from modern technology but without losing anything from its traditional style. We really couldn’t stop appreciating how great the Perrin family are as winemakers.
Having left the bottling line, we headed back to the Chateau for some more fun i.e. wine tasting. We were taken to the huge and beautiful tasting room and given ten, relatively recent vintages from various Perrin wineries. There is probably not enough space here to describe all of them. However the one that both Anna and I particularly loved was Gigondas – more on it later. We also really liked a very interesting, fruity and fresh Luberon rose (which you can find among the Virgin Wines’ range) as well as (surprise, surprise) our own creation Ventoux. It is a nicely balanced, fruity, spicy, and very pleasing wine. It didn’t seem to be, however, a wine that could benefit too much from aging, so I’d rather drink my case quickly and will try to order another one soon afterwards!
We left Beaucastel with some sadness that it was finished but definitely satisfied and extremely happy that we had a chance to drink such great wines. We headed to our hotel in Orange, when we continued intoxication until the wee hours of the morning!
We woke up slightly tired and headed down for a nice continental breakfast. Straight after a decent cup of café au lait, we drove up to a hilly part of the Rhone Valley to see the amazing terroir of Gigondas. Here we visited two vineyards in completely opposite locations, though in the very same appellation: a completely flat one with beautiful, 100 year old, robust Grenache vines and the second one at the very top of the nearby mountain (which, if I understood correctly, was a part of the Dentelles massif), which mainly consisted of very young vines planted recently on some newly built terraces.
Afterwards, we came back to the town for a bit of sightseeing and then, to crown it all, headed to l’Oustalet restaurant for some more truffle and wine indulgence. The two single vineyards wines that we had tasted here “L’Argnee” and “Les Chapouins” absolutely cemented my love in Gigondas wines. All three of them (including the one from the day before), wonderfully combined the warmth of the fruit, which had developed on the steep sunny slopes of the Gigondas, together with great complexity of the diverse soils, and the incredible finish and aging potential coming mostly from the age of the vines. We finished the feast with the very interesting dessert Rasteau, 2003 and continued our journey further north.
After admiring the lowly landscape through the windows of the car we reached Vinsobres, the next stop on our journey. Here, we once again appreciated the beauty of Southern Rhone’s estates. The men jumped onto a boot of the local Toyota Hilux and Anna was left in the cabin having a chance to polish her Moroccan-French conversational skills, while we were taken for a little ride between the Vinsobres vineyards. This once again gave us a possibility to see some of the best, rocky and pebbly terroir of Southern Rhone and feel happy about being in such a unique place.
As, unfortunately, Vinsobres was the last stop of our trip we drove further north to Lyon, when we quickly boarded a plane back to Gatwick and the same night we were back in Cambridge but our minds were still buried deep in the piles of galets.