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Legendary Wine with a Legendary History

Fall is here. It's time for evenings in front of the fireplace with a glass or two of a rich red wine and delving into the plot of a riveting book. This weekend, you will find me curled up in our reading chair by the fireplace with my current book and, in my glass, there will be Châteauneuf-du-Pape rouge. A wine both rich and complex, with a name that hints to its fascinating history as it translates to “New Home of the Pope” – more on that later. . . This French wine comes from a region in the Southern Rhone and often features grenache as the base grape with syrah and mourvèdre commonly used as blending partners. Up to 13 grapes can be used in the blend officially, but you will also find stellar examples, like Chateau Rayas, that use only grenache. These wines are perfect for fall roasts and holiday gifting.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape was the first official wine appellation in France, established in 1936. Located in the southern part of the Rhône River Valley near Provence, it enjoys a similar Mediterranean climate with the claim of being one of the sunniest places in France. It is famed for the galets, large pudding stones, left by vacating glaciers and polished by the Rhône River. They are found in some of the vineyards and absorb heat from the sun during the day and radiate it back up to the vines at night – producing ripe grapes that are rich in flavor. The infamous and intense Mistral wind blows down from the north, out towards Provence at a speed sometimes exceeding 60mph. This wind can be detrimental in the spring when the vine shoots are young and beneficial during harvest to cool the grapes down and to blow off any water from the rain.

The wines feature a range of flavors from red fruits from the grenache (like plum, raspberry, and strawberry) and purple fruit from the syrah and mourvèdre (like blackberries, boysenberry, and black plum). Herbal “garrigue” notes of lavender, sage, and rosemary are often found in the wine, possibly due to the fields of these herbs that surround the vineyards. Leather and gamey notes can be at play as well, adding up to a wine that can be deeply complex and nuanced. The alcohol is elevated due to the warmer climate and the impact of the pudding stones but is very balanced. These age exceptionally well and are an excellent addition to a cellar. Producers to look for are Chateau La Nerthe, Château Fortia, Château de Beaucastel, Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe, Château Rayas, Domaine du Pegau, and M. Chapoutier.

Now for the rich history. . . to offer a quick version, there was a period where the Pope lived in Avignon (the city in Châteuneuf-du-Pape), due to politics over a religious military campaign. Pope Clement V (elected in 1305) was French and didn’t want to be ordained in Italy and chose to stay in France. By 1309, he moved to Avignon to be close to the French monarchy, but out of its control. For seventy years the following Popes also lived in Avignon - much to the anger and frustration of Rome. The area surrounding the Papal Castle here became known as “Châteauneuf-du-Pape”. In 1379, French cardinals elected a French Pope and the Romans elected an Italian Pope - there were two Popes, this time was known as The Great Schism. I highly recommend The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book by Harry Karis to delve further into this fascinating history and to explore the wineries from this classic wine region.

These wines are both rich on the palate and in history, perfect for contemplation over Fall’s richer food, fireside book reading, and holiday gifting. Please let Mariano know if he can source any of the wines for you!

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