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Domaine des Bernardins, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise

The red wines of Beaumes-de-Venise were recently awarded their own appellation (previously it was one of the Cote de Rhone Villages) but it is the sweet, fortified wines made from Muscat à Petits Grains that have made the village famous. Beaumes is one of only two villages with a separate appellation for these wines (the other being Rasteau where the Grenache is fortified). Most of the wines are variations on a theme: extremely sweet, grapey wines which work well with chocolate, fruit desserts, cream or mixed with sparkling wine to go with foie gras (or on their own, of course). More...

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The wines from the 22 ha Domaine des Bernardins (a property once owned by Bernardin monks) are a step up from these, still as versatile but with more nuances, more complexity. The reason is simple: they use both white and black-skinned Muscat which gives the wine more longevity. There is another jewel: the cuvée "Hommage", somewhere between a Rivesaltes Rancio and Sherry with a myriad of fruit characters defining it.

Louis Castaud was at the vanguard of production of modern Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise and helped achieve appellation status for the wines in 1945. Today his granddaughter Elisabeth, her husband Andrew Hall and their son Romain now run the estate making some of the appellation's best wines..

Viticulture is done by hand with five full-time workers in the vineyards supplemented by seasonal employees who work during bunch-thinning and the harvest in order to bring out the very best in the vines. Pruning, de-budding, trellising, leaf removal and picking are thus carried out by hand with the utmost care. Soils are prepared by ploughing and only organic compost made from grape marc (the discarded stalks and skins) is used. The estate follows countrywide standards for ‘sustainable agriculture’. Organic techniques are widely used here such as leaving natural grass cover, removing buds and leaves from the vines, preserving biodiversity around the vineyard (which includes olive, almond and cypress trees, wild rosemary and capers).

Harvesting takes place when the grapes have natural sugar ripeness of at least 252 grams/litre - AOC Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise must have a minimum 110g/l residual sugar (although in practice it generally has more) and a minimum alcohol content of 15%..

In the winery, fermentation takes place immediately after pressing to ferment the juice without skins. Only natural yeasts are used and, being a vin doux naturel,  the alcoholic fermentation has to be closely watched so it can be stopped at the right time to preserve the grapes’ natural sweetness by the addition of grape spirit (95% ABV). The wine is then aged in stainless steel tanks for 6 months before bottling.

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