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Many look back on this famous appellation as their first inroad into French wines. Why this southern Rhone wine should be so, is probably not difficult to unravel. After all what’s not to like about Châteauneuf’s bold, fruity, Grenache based reds? Easily accessible when young yet capable of maturing for decades.  Good examples  simply burst with red fruits like raspberries, plums and cherries, and as it matures, will take on complex notes of leather and wild herbs. This herbal play is known locally as garrigue, after the region’s scrubland of sage, rosemary and other Mediterranean herbs growing profusely in the area. Of course, Châteauneuf-du-Pape also produces white wines which are weighty and honeyed but being relative rarities ( only 5% of its wines are white) , are seldom seen outside specialist wine merchants. 

The Rhone Valley, from a wine perspective at least, is a slight misnomer. Viticulturally, Northern Rhone and Southern Rhone, divided by large tracts of land where no vines are grown, couldn’t be more different. Not only are the predominant grape varieties different, but soils differ and even the climate varies. The southern end is considered Mediterranean whilst the north is continental with the usual challenges that a colder climate brings to viticulture and wine making. In general, the north, with its famous appellations  of Hermitage, St Joseph and Cote Roti are known for its long-lived wines, rarely approachable when young. These wines can challenge the best of Bordeaux and Burgundy and whilst they are far from cheap, are considered better value. Southern Rhone on the other hand, produces prodigious quantifies of inexpensive, Grenache based wines under the the DOC of Côtes du Rhône or Côtes du Rhône-Villages.  

In terms of quality however, Châteauneuf-du-Pape remains the most important appellation in southern Rhone. Its heavily embossed bottles instantly recognisable, somehow promising something rather special though, like any other wine region, quality as prices,  can be variable. With the advent of global warming, alcohol levels in Châteauneuf can be excruciatingly high and producers are regularly torn having to wait until the grapes ripen yet aware that sugar levels continue to rise, inevitably leading to excessive alcohols in their wines.

Alcohol levels in Châteauneuf can be excruciatingly high.

Of all the soils of France the soils of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are the ones instantly recognisable. “It’s the galets you see,” somebody once told me. These are large pebbles, sometime several inches across, lying in profusion around the vines which apparently speed up ripeness and reflect or retain heat depending who’s is telling you! 

Today 18 different varieties of grapes are allowed in the production of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, however its Grenache (known as Garnacha in Spain) with its inherent fruity and rich tasting sweetness which makes Châteauneuf-du-Pape glow. Conversely, its Châteauneuf-du-Pape which is considered the finest expression of Grenache in France.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape takes its name from the time when the Pope moved to Avignon in 1309. The move was due to issues between the King of France and the Papacy. Eight different Popes served in Avignon as the Papacy remained in Châteauneuf-du-Pape until 1378.

CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE AND FOOD

Most meat dishes though vegetable driven dishes work well too. Pairs well with spicier foods due to its inherent sweetness. Ideal with Moroccan tagines. Worth trying with curries. 

SOME PRODUCERS OF CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE

Château Rayas – Near perfect, harmonious wines in good years. Stone, spice and garrigue herbs. Long memorable finishes.  A millionaire’s wine at £400 plus a bottle.

Château de Beaucastel – Voluptuous wines. Memorable. £35 plus a bottle.

Dom du Vieux Télégraph – Great producer. Can compete with the best in good years. £40 plus.

Clos de Papes – Meaty and savoury. Great wines. £30 plus.

Domaine Andre Brunel – Good value. Morrison’s, £22.

Bonpas Châteauneuf-du-Pape – Anglo Hispano, £25.

P.S. The much publicised ‘Oxford Vaccine’ has prompted an angry response from bureaucrats in Paris. According to them, the name ‘Vaccines’ can only be applied to medications produced in the Vaccine Region of France, and Oxford must rename their product ‘sparkling medication’.

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