Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, literally the Pope's new castle, (referring to move of the papal court to Avignon the the 1300s) is a large appellation in the Southern Rhône and is considered the birth place of the Appellation Contrôlee system. In 1923 Baron Le Roy of Ch Fortia had successfully established a strict set of rules for the production of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, including delimiting an area for wine production and setting a minimum alcoholic strength of 12.5%. Reds and whites are produced, but the former is the far bigger of the two. Both colours produce rich, full-bodied heady wines rarely below 14% alcohol, distinctly southern and warm in character. The wines can be aged for anything between 5 - 20 years, even longer for the reds, depending on the quality of the individual wine. Famously the wines, in both colours, should either be drunk in the first flush of their youth within a couple of years of the vintage or at a bare minimum of 10 years, in between going through an awkward adolescent phase. The sweetness and headiness of red Châteauneuf-du-Papes comes from thre Grenache grape, it makes wines of sweet fruit, high alcohol and light colour. This is the dominant variety. There are increasing amounts of Châteauneuf-du-Papes which are Grenache only. However the classic and most common version is a blend of up to 13 varieties, the main players being Grenache, Syrah (which lends colour complexity and finesse) and Mourvèdre (which also lends colour, complexity, tannic backbone and acidity). The other varieties include the decreasing Cinsault, Counoise - highly thought of for its acidity- and a number of white grapes that can also be blended into the red wines as well as being used for makings whites, the most important of these are Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, the excellent Clairette and Roussanne.

The vineyard area extends over more than 3000 ha, the chief communes being Châteauneuf-du-Pape itself, Bédarrides, Courthézon, Orange, and Sorgues. The soils differ throughout the appellation from the classic large "Galet" stones which radiate heat to the low-trained old goblet vines, to varying degrees of clay, limestone and sand (the last of these can produce very sensual, silky wines the most famous of example of which would be Rayas.) Winemaking techniques vary from the traditional, all or part of the stalks included in the winemaking, fermentation and ageing in large old wooden foudres, to the more modern de-stalking, tank fermentation and new oak barriques maturation, or a blend of the two. The appellation is big therefore there are plenty of underperformers, however there is also, fortunately, an increasingly large selection of top class producers, including: Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Beaucastel, Clos des Papes, Barroche, Feraud et Fils, Mont-Redon, Domaine de Pegaü, Ch Rayas, St Prefert, and Font de Michelle. The best White Châteauneuf-du-Pape usually seems to have a high proportion of Clairette in it, though there is also an excellent single varietal Roussanne made by Beaucastel.

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