Wines from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation are considered a highlight of the Côtes du Rhône winegrowing region. Long ago, the Popes of Avignon established a summer residence on the left bank of the river Rhône. To satisfy their passion for drinking, they stepped up the cultivation of vines. Today, the diverse soils of the southern French terroirs are home to flourishing old vines through which the mistral wind blows. These produce extremely characterful red wines.
The winegrowing area of the appellation
With a total area of around 3,000 hectares under vine, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is one of the most important appellations in the Côtes du Rhône region. Its name is synonymous with the best red wines in France. The appellation has the history of the village of the same name to thank for its fame. The vineyards are located in the south of the wine region on the left bank of the river Rhône.
The Châteauneuf-du-Pape growing area, classified as a cru, has its status as a top site thanks to the excellent terroirs which boast a good soil structure and a favourable microclimate. To the south of the Rhône there is a large variety of soil types, ranging from clay and sandstone to pebbles and loam. The large rolled pebbles which cover many vineyards and retain the heat of the day are a special feature. The area generally has very hot summers, which are cooled by the mistral wind. To protect against overly strong fall winds, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape winegrowers keep the vines small. This means a smaller harvest, but better-quality grapes.
History of the appellation
The Ancient Greeks already recognized the potential of what is now the Châteauneuf-du-Pape winegrowing area. Yet in the Middle Ages, wine was no longer produced there until the Church rediscovered its suitability for cultivating grapes. With the establishment of the papacy in Avignon in the early 14th century, the region grew in importance. Not far from the new papal residence in Avignon, Pope John XXII ordered the building of a palace as a summer residence which soon functioned as a winery. It was at his initiative that the first vines were planted. His successor Pope Clement VI also used the Châteauneuf estate as a retreat. There he was able to recuperate from his clerical duties and indulge in the worldly delights of wine. He laid out new vineyards, with vines already grown on a large scale in the best sites by 1350. Up until the mid-18th century, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape winegrowing area kept on expanding. One of the many newly built palaces testifies to this success: Château La Nerthe. Following another peak in the 19th century, the area's winegrowing went into decline for many years. It was not until the early 20th century that it experienced the upturn that led to its current fame. To ensure the quality of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, palace and winery owner Baron Le Roy introduced strict measures such as a specified minimum alcohol content and permitted varieties of grape. These measures had a major impact on French wine law which is still applicable today. They also led to a steady increase in quality. Soon the French had to dig deep into their pockets to afford a Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine.
Characteristics of Châteauneuf-du-Pape vintages
Some of the characteristics of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are set out in the wine law and are strictly monitored. To ensure a high quality, the winegrowers have to weed out at least five percent of the mediocre-quality grapes. The maximum permitted yield is set at 35 hectolitres, which is very small. Each Châteauneuf-du-Pape vintage must have a minimum alcohol content of 12.5 percent – a very high figure for French wine.Since Baron Le Roy's measures were introduced, cellar masters are only permitted to vinify 13 varieties of grape. Most of these are red as the focus is on red wine cuvées. Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Muscardin, Counoise and Clairette are permitted, among other varieties. White grape varieties such as Bourboulenc, Clairette blanche and Grenache blanc are also found in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but are only rarely used to produce white wines.The fully ripened grape varieties are harvested and pressed separately. The cuvées are not blended until later, to recipes from the respective estates. In most Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, Grenache dominates. The grape variety, which is low in acidity and high in alcohol, generally makes up 50 to 70 percent. It frequently forms a harmonious blend with the highly tannic Mourvèdre variety as well as Syrah. Some vintners have limited themselves to just a few varieties while others, such as the famous Château de Beaucastel, produce a complex cuvée from all 13 varieties.
Flavour of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines
The aroma of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is reminiscent of ripe, dark fruits. This fruity expression is enhanced by spicy hints. The high alcohol content is typical but has no negative effect on the taste, thanks to the pronounced fruitiness.Any differences are mainly down to the terroir: the spiciness of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines varies, depending on the soil type, blend of varieties and vintage. It is sometimes reminiscent of herbs, sometimes pepper or olives. If the Grenache variety dominates to a significant degree, the cuvées are more voluptuous with a flavour resembling cherries, red berries and dried plums. Most estates blend grapes from different origins to give their products a greater uniformity and stronger complexity of flavours. Most winemakers leave Châteauneuf-du-Pape to mature in barrels for at least two years.In general, there are two popular styles. Traditional-style winemakers produce wines with a deep red colour which are spicy and high in alcohol and are rendered even more complex by being aged for several years. The second winemaking method uses carbonic maceration to create Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines which can be drunk young and which have a fresh aroma and lower alcohol content.The most renowned Châteauneuf-du-Pape estates include the Château de Beaucastel winery, for example, which produces feisty red wines to an old Perrin family recipe. Château Rayas also deserves a mention. This estate specializes in red cuvées with a fine structure and excellent ageing capability. Château Fortia also impresses with fine wines, thanks to a rigorously restricted yield as well as maturing in barriques for 12 to 18 months.The great and highly sought-after Châteauneuf-du-Pape vintages include wines from 1990, 1998, 2007 and 2010, among others.Do you wish to purchase a Châteauneuf-du-Pape? The Mondovino online shop and Coop sales outlets guarantee top quality and offer a large choice of fine wines from France.