Chateauneuf-du-Pape, French for “the Pope’s new crib”, refers to the papal palace during the Avignon Papacy (1309-1376) when, due to some drama with the French crown, the Holy See was moved to this area in the south of France. Today, this is a French wine region of great prestige located in the southern Rhone valley.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s (or CDP as it’s known in wine circles) wine frauds during the early 20th century contributed to the impetus for the creation of wine “appellation d'origine controlee” (AOC) regulations. These "protected designations of origin" are the laws that would go on to govern the production of wines by overseeing things such as location, grape growing, and wine making. With the help of a blind taster, who must approve the wine for it to receive AOC classification, the laws are meant to compel these areas to adhere to a set of very strict and precise standards. Today, more than 300 French wines that have AOC classifications. As an example of how fiercely protective the folks at CDP are of their brand, look no further than the municipal decree passed in 1954 that prohibits the landing of any flying saucers in the commune! The law still stands and along the way it captured the imagination of a popular American Central Coast producer who named his Rhone-styled CDP “Le Cigar Volant”.
CDP has traditionally allowed for 13 grapes varieties in their blends but as of 2009 this number has technically been brought up to 19 as the new regulations explicitly recognize certain red and white varieties of prior grapes. Although there are no restrictions in the proportion of varieties allowed in the blends (in fact, CDP allows for 100% singe varietal), most of their wines are Grenache dominant. The most common blends are described as “GSM”: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. The grapes in the blends have specific roles: Grenache brings the red fruit character, Syrah the savory earthy aspects, and Mourvèdre adds strength with its tannins. Whites are also allowed but they are a rarity in comparison. Chateau Beaucastel is the only producer that grows all 13 varieties.
The CDP terroir is characterized by an overall warm Mediterranean climate and arid looking soils covered by the famous “galets” (stones deposited by ancient glaciers). The heat and sunshine hours, in addition to the often-brutal Mistral (a cold and dry strong wind in southern France that blows down from the north) are the stuff from which alcoholic robust wines are made. Because these wines are not shy about their fruit and tannins, they are great pairings for the same foods you would have with California Cabernet and Bordeaux. These tend to be many of our winter comfort foods: braised anything, steaks, lamb, etc. In fact, the Syrah aspect of the wine can also make it a good companion with the more savory and spicier aspects of these dishes. But if you want to feel “healthy” try a CDP with roasted cauliflower…it works!
Although CDP’s have seen an increase in prices, mostly due to a perfect storm of decreased production (due to challenging vintages and a nasty fraud scandal) with high demand, these bottles are truly wines that have a unique taste profile that I think offer something for all red wine lovers.
Lorenzo, the wine guy
Friends, food, and wine...I'm happy there.