Jonathan Ray reviews our recent Spectator Winemaker’s lunch with Amandine Bernard of Ch. Beauchêne
Our most recent Winemaker Lunch was a rare occurrence in that nobody around the table once mentioned Brexit. A turn up for the books, given it’s usually amongst the most discussed topics. And one I’m more than happy to attribute to the quality of the wines on offer, thanks to which the dreaded b-word slipped our collective mind.
Another achievement then for Chateau Beauchêne, whose owners – the Bernard family – have been making wine since the 18th century. Our host, Amandine Bernard, told us that the family’s first vineyard – purchased in 1794 – is still in use today. And with her parents running the estate since 1971 (her father being the former head of the confederation of Rhône producers), there’s very little the family doesn’t know about the region and its wines.
Amandine brought a fine selection of vino which was happily demolished over a tasty cold lunch provided, as ever, by Forman & Field. With the London Cure Smoked Salmon, we had a Côtes du Rhône Viognier (£14.90), of which they only produce some 3,000 bottles. All too often Viognier can be flabby and fat but this was anything but, being gloriously subtle, peachy and apricotty. It got a resounding thumbs up.
The reds, too, hit the spot with the wonderfully easy-going and absurdly cheap Le Pavillon du Ch. Beauchêne (£10.95) and two cracking vintages of Ch. Beauchêne Premier Terroir bringing smiles to our collective chops. The BPT might only be a simple Côtes du Rhône but, as canny wine lovers have long known, it’s produced mere metres outside Châteauneuf-du-Pape and is a CNF-du-P in all but name (and half the price). We had the 2015 in bottle (£14.50) and the 2011 in magnum (£33.00), both Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blends and both joyously juicy and silky smooth with plenty of ripe bramble fruit. The 2011 just shaded it for me, with its savoury, almost earthy, finish and sheer succulence.
Then, the disarmingly approachable 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Serrière (£24.75). As Amandine pointed out, the family tries to make wines that are drinkable on release. And with plenty of soft, mellow Grenache and just a tiny touch of oak, this was ready from day one and yet continues to impress.
We paired it with cheese alongside the exquisite Côtes du Rhône Blanc (£12.65), blended from Clairette, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Bourboulenc. This latter wine was aromatic, creamy and full of buttered peach notes and proved what a fine match white wine can be with cheese. Indeed, after we had all agreed what astonishing value southern Rhône wines are compared to the rest of France, this prompted the hottest debate of the day: should it be red or white with cheese?
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