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The appellation of Chateauneuf-du-Pape is arguably the most important and famous in southern Cotes du Rhone. It produces red and white wines. The whites represent only two percent of the total, but can be very rewarding. Reds on the other hand are spicy, dense and rich, demonstrating all that is great about warm climate vineyards and grapes.

The wine takes its name, which means ‘Pope’s new castle, from the relocation of the papal court to Avignon in the 145th century. The papal summer residence was constructed just north of the city in the village called Calcernier (after its limestone quarry). The new palace was built on a limestone foundation of a castle ruined in 1248. The new residence served two purposes – residence and fortification of a protective circle around Avignon. The papal residence had five hectares of vineyards and olive groves as was customary in those days. Grapes were planted in this hot and dry region since the 12th century, and the wines shipped in barrels under names like vin d’Avignon and later as Chateauneuf-Calcernier.

The wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape are unique in that up to 13 grape varieties can be used – Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Muscardin, Vaccarese, Picpoul and Terret Noir, all red. Rousanne, Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc and Picardin are white and blended to lighten the colour and regulate the age ability of the wine.

The more white wine is blended, the easier it is to drink, and the wine matures earlier.

In Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the sum of the parts is often better than a single varietal wine, and the winemaker has the luxury to create a wine according to this imagination and requirements of the vintage.

In the early 20th century, fraudulent practices were rampant and ruined the reputation of the region. However, Chateauneuf-du-Pape producer Baron Le Roy of Chateau Fortia saw to it that rules were in place and followed by all in 1923 in an attempt to increase quality and save the reputation, which looked destined to sink into oblivion. For the first time in France, a minimum alcohol (12.5 Percent) was established for a table wine. Chaptalization (adding sugar to the must) was forbidden, rose wines were outlawed and triage (selection of the healthy bunches) became mandatory.

There are over 3000 hectares of vineyards dominated by Grenache Noir. The yield per hectare has been fixed at 35 hectolitres, which corresponds to approximately two tonnes of fruit per acre. Low yields encourage deep flavours in wine, early ripening, soft tannins and deep colour.

The soil in the region is traditionally characterized by vineyards covered with boulders (galets), and there are certainly some fully covered with these smooth somewhat large and round stones. However, the soils in Chateauneuf-du-Pape are more varied than generally described in this fashion. In some chateaux the soil is sandy calcareous, others have mixtures of loam and pebbles.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines are no means uniform. Some properties produce outstanding wines, others acceptable, and some wineries miss the mark altogether. The best blend to achieve full body, deep red colour and layers of flavour, fully integrated tannins and smoothness. Generally, Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines age well pending on vintage. The best matches for red wines steaks, beef stews, game stews or roasts, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino, aged Cheddar, Emmenthal and aged hard cheeses like Appenzeller.

The following properties enjoy an excellent reputation and are recommended. Vintages play a significant role in the taste and cellarworthiness of Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines and must be taken into account.

Chateau Fortia, Chateau La Nerth, Chateau de Beaucastel, Clos de Mont-Olive, Domaine de La Vieille Julien, Chateau Carieres, Le Clos de Papes, M. Chapoutier, Jaboulet, R. Sobon, Domaine de Vieux Telegraph.

White Chateauneuf-du-Pape  wines are fruity, highly alcoholic, low in acidity, rich and unctuous. They should be consumed within a few years of harvest and go best with deeply flavoured dark fleshed fish, seafood pastas, cream cheeses, seafood pizzas and marinated seafood.

Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu

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