GOTN Explore French Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wines

Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines from France are definitely "Old World" having survived many world events since the 1300's.  It has survived World War I, Prohibition and even Phylloxera.  Phylloxera, which is a microscopic louse or aphid, that originated in the United States devastated the Southern Rhone region to a point of almost total destruction.

The vines were introduced and planted in the Southern Rhone Valley by ancient Romans.  In 1157 Bishop Geoffrey of Avignon owned a few vineyards in Chateauneuf Calcenier. In 1308 Pope Clement V planted the original vines and his successor, after his death, was Pope John XXII, who took over the task of managing the vineyards. Chateauneuf wines were known as the "The wine of the Pope".  Pope Clement V loved his wine and spent time in a winery in Bordeaux called Chateau Pape Clement in Pessac Leognan.  He was heavily involved in improving their wine processes.

Due to issues between the French Crown and the Papacy, the Popes left Avignon and returned to the Vatican.  Being that the wineries were a church business, the bishops were delegated to take over the wine production responsibilities.  Eight different Popes served in Avignon while the Papacy remained in Chateauneuf-du-Pape until 1378. The name Chateauneuf-du-Pape means "The Pope's New Castle" was due to the transition of the Pope to Avignon.

In 1924, the official boundaries for Chateauneuf-du-Pape were established and in 1936, the INAO, Institut National des Appellations d’Origine officially created the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation.

Grenache is the primary grape of Southern Rhone along with Syrah, Mouvedre and several other varietals.  The INO allows 13 varietals (both red and white) in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and they are Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mouvedre, Cinsault, Muscardin, Vaccarese, Picpoul, Terret Noir, Rousanne, Grenache Blanc, Clarette, Bourboulenc and Picardin.  There are only a couple of wineries in France that use all 13 varietals.  The most famous is Chateau de Beaucastel, which has a sister winery in Paso Robles called Tablas Creek.  It is very interesting that the French winery some years uses all 13 and possesses the unique "Old World" aromatics and flavors verses Tablas Creek, which does not use all 13 and is a little more "New World" using old traditions but presenting a more fruit forward approach.

Older bottles of Chateau Beaucastel wine were known to be heavily affected by Brettanomyces which is a  yeast found on the skins, old oak barrels, etc. But the more recent vintages have not reflected this barnyard aromatic according to David Cobbold  (French wine writer).  The samples at GOTN did show signs of Brettanomyces, but at very low levels.  To some wine connoisseurs, this is a plus but to others it is a complete turn off. 

The wines that were sampled at GOTN were:

  • 2009 Le Jas des Papes -70% Syrah and 30% Grenache Noir

    • Nose:  "Old World" with a slight barnyard, toasty

    • Palate: Smokey red fruit and licorice

  • 2011 Pierre Rougon - Syrah, Grenache and Mouvedre

    • Nose:  Musty and light barnyard

    • Palate:  Mild red fruits, spice and shoe leather on the finish

  • 2012 Le Fiacre du Pape - Grenache 60%, Mouvedre 15%, Cinsauly 15% and Syrah 10%

    • Nose: Mild fruit and sweet

    • Palate:  Red fruit and light smoke

  • 2014 La Solitude Cotes du Rhone - 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 15% Cinsault, and 5% Carignan

    • Red berry and smoke

    • Palate:  Red berry, firm tannins, licorice, tobacco leaf and acid

    • Newcomers unable to locate the varietal chosen brought this Southern Rhone wine and commented that this winery has produced Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines also for over 500 years. 

As most people have adapted their palates to a more fruit forward style of wine it was interesting to hear the comments from the group on the intriguing complexity and uniqueness of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines.  Not only as a comparison to the typical fruit forward styles of California, but also between the different wines and regions of Southern Rhone.  Hopefully, the doors will continue to open for all of us in our wine education as we continue to train our palates and minds in the never ending world of wine.

I want to thank Tanya (Proprietor)at Wine 661 for sponsoring our group and to Tina (Wine Steward) for her continuous service and help throughout the evening.


Rusty Sly