When I am asked “what is a great French wine to start exploring” most people find it shocking I recommend one of the most difficult to pronounce: Chateauneuf-du-Pape, this French wine appellation is the gateway to all that is beautiful in French wine and everyone deserves to be drinking this gem.
Let’s start with the pronunciation, “shah/toh/nuf dew pahp.”
Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a French appellation in the Southern Rhone known for its grenache based red blends. If you are looking at a map, it is just north of Avignon very close to Provence. Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines include about 13 different grapes but don’t worry about memorizing details and just remember grenache because nearly 75% are dedicated to this grape.
The history and growing of this wine are just as intriguing as the wine. The name means, “pope’s new castle.” In 1308, Pope Clement V relocated the papacy to the town of Avignon. It’s said the Pope was a lover of Burgundy wines but at the time the vineyards around Avignon were not even slightly comparable to the legendary wines of Burgundy. John XXII succeeded Clement and was also an admirer of the great wines of France. He did a lot to improve viticulture practices and is famous for building the castle which still stands as a symbol to the appellation.
For me it’s the dedicated viticulture practices giving me the most appreciation when I enjoy a glass from this region. The vineyard soils are layered with stones called galets. The stones are key for the vineyards’ survival. During the day they receive ample sunshine and at night they retain heat and continue to slowly ripen the grapes. The region also has a unique terroir with its intense mistral winds. Because of the intense winds the vines are pruned as bushes to limit damage. These winds also remove moisture from the vines creating a drier climate for the vine growth.
A great bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape is bursting with plummy fruit flavors, rich raspberries with a touch of herbs (sage, lavender and rosemary), game and leather. And if all of that were not enough it finishes with a sweet-strawberry taste balanced perfectly with a tannic structure and noticeable alcohol level. Depending on the age and vintage of your bottle it can range from sweet to savory.
So, if you simply practice the phonetics in order to pronounce this wine for buying, I promise it will be your new French favorite.
- 2015 Telegramme Chateauneuf du Pape, France (about $50 retail)
- 2015 Mont Redon Chateauneuf du Pape, France (about $65 retail)