French wine remains for many the gold standard of top-class wine, and in particular from the famous regions of Burgundy, Bordeaux (Claret and Sauternes) and the Rhone Valley. However, the wines can be very expensive, with prices capable of being in the thousands of pounds per bottle for the very top wines, and also difficult to understand with a system of appellations (protected named areas) and individual chateaux, merchants and negotiants making working out what to buy quite off-putting.
But a bit of understanding and knowledge of that system can also be the key to great wine bargains. Take, for example, Chateau de Beaucastel, one of the most storied names in the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation in the Southern Rhone.
Revered by all wine enthusiasts, and even more so by any Rhône wine lover, Beaucastel’s path to becoming a wine icon began in 1549, when Pierre de Beaucastel acquired the first parcel of vineyard land, located in the Coudoulet appellation. Fast forward to the year 1909, Pierre Tramier purchased the estate and set the first stones of what eventually became the world-class Rhône Valley wine that we all know, and is still in the hands of his descendants, the famous Famille Perrin.
Beaucastel counts 130 hectares of land with 100 hectares planted to vines, including 13 local varieties: Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Vaccarese, Counoise, Terret Noir, Roussanne, Clairette, Picpoul, Bourboulenc, Picardan, and Muscardin. Off these 100 hectares in production, around 53 hectares are located in Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Château de Beaucastel) and 17 hectares in Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée Côtes-du-Rhône (Coudoulet de Beaucastel). The remaining 30 hectares are situated in the Côtes du Rhône appellation of Coudoulet and farmed with rotated crops to prepare new vineyard plantings.
And it is the Coudoulet de Beacastel that is the key here. Most of the vines used for this were originally used to produce the Chateauneuf de Beacastel itself – which can sell for upwards of £100 a bottle. However, in the classification, the regional authorities classified those 17 hectares as Côtes- du-Rhône, which the market has never priced at the same level. So Coudoulet de Beaucastel can be purchased for a lot less. Wine Searcher has several bottles available for between £25 and £35, while Berry Bros. & Rudd has a case of 12 bottles of the 2015 Coudoulet listed at £160 plus duty and VAT.
So you can drink a wine that is almost the same as one of the greatest Chateauneufs of all but for a fraction of the price. A little knowledge can pay dividends in the wine world.