The famous home of France’s big, bold and beautiful wines of international acclaim
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a stunning French wine appellation recognised for producing big bold Grenache-based red wines. It’s arguably the most renowned appellation from the Côtes du Rhône’s 19 official crus (top wine-growing zones).
The Pope’s New Castle
Translated, Châteauneuf-du-Pape means “The Pope’s New Castle” and the appellation is steeped in papal history. The village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape lies about 2 miles to the east of the Rhône and a ruined medieval castle sits above the village dominating the surrounding landscape. Looking down from the castle, you can see that virtually all the cultivable land is planted with grapevines.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape was the very first French wine appellation; created in 1936. There are approximately 320 wine growers in this region routinely producing 14 million bottles every year from the 7,746 acres of vineyards.
The appellation is located between Orange on the eastern bank of the Rhône and Sorgues near Avignon in the south-east. The altitude reaches 120 metres at its highest point in the north.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape has a warm Mediterranean climate characterised by hot, dry summers (34-38°C) and cool, wet winters. Typically receiving around 2,800 hours of sunshine each growing season, it also has the renowned ‘le mistral’ wind which blows up and down the Rhône Valley, at times exceeding speeds of 100 km/h. This cool north-east wind dries the region’s air and helps eliminate viruses and fungal diseases.
Everything in this region is geared towards producing great wine.
Many vineyards in the north and north-east are covered with stones called ‘galets roulés’, or ‘pudding stones’ which cover the sandy, iron-rich red clay soil below. The stones are quartzite based and were deposited by the region’s glaciers of old.
The stones are famous for absorbing and retaining the heat from the sun during the day and desorbing and releasing it at night, which in turn enables speedier ripening of the grapes. The stones also help the soil to retain moisture during the dry summer months.
Some vineyards located on the sun drenched south-facing slopes remove the stones because the night-time heat from the stones would be too much for the vines, causing the grapes to over-ripen.
The soils in the east of the appellation are typically sandy. In the south, they are grittier from the chalky-coloured limestone rich clays (eclats calcaires).
Vines grown on the clay-based soils tend to produce wines with higher tannins; whereas the sandier soils produce more aromatic and elegant wines.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape traditionally had thirteen grape varieties with blends dominated by Grenache, however, the 2009 version of the AOC rules changed to recognise 20 varieties consisting of both red and white grapes.
Red grape varieties include; Cinsault, Counoise, Grenache noir, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Piquepoul noir, Syrah, Terret noir, and Vaccarèse (Brun Argenté).
White and pink grape varieties incorporate; Bourboulenc, Clairette blanche, Clairette rose, Grenache blanc, Grenache gris, Picardan, Piquepoul blanc, Piquepoul gris, and Roussanne.
Nearly 75% of the vineyards are dedicated to growing the Grenache grape.
Wine Making Styles
Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are typically high in alcohol with 12.5% being the minimum alcohol by volume (abv), although the wines commonly have between 13 to15% abv.
Winemakers tend to focus on balancing the naturally high sugar levels from the grapes with the tannins and phenols as no chaptalization (sugar addition) is permitted.
Following harvest, Grenache grapes are not usually destemmed prior to fermentation (meaning they get fermented as whole bunches). Whilst this adds bitterness to the wine, it also increases the wines ability to age over a longer period of time. Most other grape varieties are completely destemmed and fermented in concrete or stainless-steel vats.
The fermentation temperatures are kept fairly high and the skins are frequently pumped over and punched down to extract tannins and darken the wines colour.
Nearly all the red wines go through malolactic fermentation whereas most white wines do not.
Grenache is aged more anaerobically in concrete, whereas Syrah and Mourvèdre wines are oxidatively aged in barriques.
The common technique of using small barrel oak is not widely used in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape area, partly due to the fact that the principal grape Grenache is prone to oxidation in the porous wooden barrels. Instead, Grenache is vinified in large cement tanks, while the other grape varieties are made in large old barrels called foudres that do not impart the same “oaky” characteristics as the smaller oak barrels.
Most Châteauneuf-du-Pape red wines contain a majority volume of Grenache noir blended with the other permitted varieties, very often Mourvèdre and Syrah.
Grenache produces a sweet juice that can have almost a jam-like consistency when very ripe. Wines dominated by Mourvèdre (which adds elegance and structure to the wine) tend to be higher in tannin and require longer cellaring before being pallatable. Syrah is typically blended to provide colour and spice to the wine.
As these great Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines age, the rich spiciness is maintained, the tannins soften and they produce bursts of rich raspberry and plummy fruit flavours. As it evolves further, they eventually give notes of dusted leather, game, and herbs, sometimes described as earthy with gamey flavours with hints of smoke and tar.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape white wine is produced from the six permitted white grape varieties, but is less common because only about 7% of the region’s vineyards are dedicated to growing white grapes.
Producers generally make small amounts of white wine from blending Grenache blanc, Clairette, and Roussanne. Grenache blanc and Roussanne provide fruitiness while Bourboulenc, Clairette and Picpoul add acidity, floral and mineral notes.
These wines range in style from lean and minerally to oily and rich with a variety of aromas and flavours, including almond, star fruit, anise, fennel, honeysuckle and peach.
The white wines are generally made to be drunk young, however, some can age and tend to produce aromas and scents of orange peel after 7 or 8 years.
Traditionally, the wines have been packaged in distinctive heavy dark bottles embossed with papal regalia and insignia. However, in recent times a number of producers have dropped the full papal seal in favour of a more generic icon, while still retaining the same heavy glassware.
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