Our sense of taste is often linked with some of our most memorable experiences.
In the world of wine, one has experience and tastes that happen only once. Every time you open a bottle, you are experiencing the grape’s unique vintage, the hillside the row of grapes were sourced, and even the vintner's decisions that went into the specific bottle. Unless you’ve purchased a case of the wine, the result is often similar to that of a sunset: beautiful, fleeting and short-lived.
I experienced such a bottle several years ago when a bottle of 1986 Château-de-Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape (shah-toh-noof-doo-pap) found itself on my countertop. The label, worn from age, dust adorning every inch of the bottle, delivered the sort of excitement an archaeologist must feel unearthing treasures from years past.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape hails from the southern Cotes-du-Rhone wine region and is unique in that it is produced as the result of combining 13 different grape varietals; primary grapes used being Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Mourvedre. The town’s name, which directly translates to the “new castle of the Pope,” comes from the early time when the Catholic pope briefly resided in southern France in Avignon, instead of Rome. Wines produced in the region during that time were often called “the pope’s wine.” While this was short-lived, it permanently shaped the future of the region and even the wines it produced. You can see this imprint on the culture with each bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape showcasing the papal seal of two crossed keys and crown above each label.
The flavors of the 13 grapes combine to generate big flavor in this wine, offering layers of complexity with each sip. Tastes of raspberry, black currant and other berries are joined by notes of tobacco, leather, and light spice and vanilla.
Higher alcohol levels in the wine and strong tannin structure lend the wine wonderfully to game meats that benefit to the equally matched strength of this bold wine. Things like venison, lamb or wild boar make perfect matches. Avoid anything too lean as it will likely to be washed out by the intensity in the wine. Braised, stewed or roasted is the place to start with this wine.
The Syrah grape in the wine adds additional spice note characteristics that can match very well with any spice elements in your dish. Baking spice, allspice, cloves, and even fennel deliver spice characteristics that would make great matches for the wine.
With bottles 5-10 years and older I would recommend decanting the wine as we did with this rare bottle. It gives the wine a chance to “open,” making the flavors more expressive and much more enjoyable for you and your guests. With older wines such as this 1986 bottle, decanting also allows you to limit the amount of sediment that may have developed from ending up in your glass. Carefully pouring is key. With this wine, I decided to decant my wine in the morning allowing for 6-8 hours in the decanter.
When my husband and I had the chance to open the 1986 Chateau-de-Beaucastel we decided a multi-course dinner option was the best way to enjoy the intricacies in the wine for the entire evening. We first paired meats and cheeses (Manchego, Gruyere, Gouda were a hit), then a salad with orange, roasted beets, shaved fennel and whipped ricotta followed by rare filet and rich gorgonzola and creamy mashed potatoes.
As the wine paired with our meal, it continued to evolve, and prominent notes of vanilla became apparent. The softened tannins from the age of the wine made it quite complex and elegant to drink — a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is in part one of the reasons why I love what wine has to offer, always evolving, and leaving wine lovers with experiences that they can relish for years to come.
While it can be very difficult to come across Chateau-de-Beaucastel in Iowa, let alone any vintage older than 5 years, I encourage you to ask your retailers to stock this label. The price ranges from around $80 to $500 or more based on the vintage so if you do have the chance to purchase this label, I would recommend buying at least three so you can enjoy the wine’s journey as it evolves into complex magnificence. One to drink now, one for the 15-year mark, and one in 30 years. I have had some luck finding newer vintages at Costco in Davenport in recent months but Costco tends to run out quickly.