To speak of the wines of the Rhone valley almost, to many a novice, seems to be a discussion of the wines of Southern Rhone, and more precisely, the wines of the region baptised Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CNDP). The recent masterclass in Delhi heralded a new beginning for these wines. We thought we knew something about them but soon enough we realised that there is plenty more to learn, and taste! Here are 7 salient things to know about CNDP.
1. The Popes loved it! Historically, the Popes came and settled in Avignon and aided the locals in enhancing the viticultural practices in the region and make better wines. Bishop Geoffrey was a keen viticulturist and surely had plantations in Chateauneuf. In early-1308 Pope Clement V planted additional rootstocks in Southern Rhone but it was Pope John XXII who is strongly believed to be the flag-bearer and messenger of Chateauneuf wines across boundaries. This also coined the idea of calling the wines Vin-du-Pape which was later revisited to be called Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines.
2. Thirteen grapes! The basic blend of the CNDP is based on 13 grapes (largely Grenache-based), differentiating it from the wines of the Northern Rhone, which are pure Syrah, for reds. Grenache provides high alcohol, lower tannins and colour, and adds flavours of spices and red berries. Syrah and Mourvedre contribute colour and tannins. It is believed that marriage of these grapes provide a better wine than these components individually. All this brought together makes CNDP a tremendous age-worthy wine.
3. White Chateauneuf exists. At times they’re considered fat and rich but they do come across as a breath of freshness after a few rounds of those solid reds.
4. The Galet. This blend of 13 grapes is planted in soils that can barely be called soils. ‘Galet’ is the word used to describe the round stones. They retain the heat during the day and release it at night thereby maintaining a congenial mean temperature for budding grapes and assisting them in achieving greater ripeness and acidity
5. The planting of the grapes here is also a bit peculiar; most do not use supporting wires and trellises. They look like little bushes, rounded sometimes, to resemble a Goblet, and hence the name. Grenache Noir and Mourvedre have to be planted in only this manner. Syrah, may be planted in the more modern manner, called Guyot. The short height makes grape-picking quite a task and it is common to see people bent over double during harvest time. It also make vine more susceptible to disease. The advantage however is that it gets reflected heat of the Galet stones at night thereby preserving temperature. More so, it looks well different and traditional so worth all the effort.
6. CNDP was declared a special wine by itself which gave France its first appellation controlée, the laws defining the wine of a certain region by giving it a sense provenance and characteristic local typicity. This from here went on to form the French wine appellation system that is respected the world over.
7. CNDP today has the highest legal minimum alcohol (12.5%) level in France. This is thanks to the the galet influence and that of Grenache’s highly potent nature giving wines naturally high in alcohol. It was for this reason that back in the day, wines of CNDP were mixed into the wines of Burgundy to imbue strength. Often referred to as medicine wine (vin medecin), this was one big market for them even though the consumer never got to know. The wines may not necessarily have come solely from this region but CNDP were a part of the wines used to ‘fortify’ the paler Burgundian Pinots with colour and flavour. Even today, hearty plates are highly appreciated when served besides these magnificent wines.
As for the tasting, don’t miss the next time these fabulous wines are in town!
Pale straw shade. Intense nose with an aromatic appeal. Dry palate with a crunchy acidity and mineral mouthfeel. Notes of white flowers, pears, honeydew melons, and a hint of white butter to end with. Clean and easy drinking wine. A must try!
2010 Domaine de Nalys Blanc – Grenache Blanc + Clairette + Bourboulenc (White) –
Pale straw appearance. Intense aromatic aromas filled with lime, mineral, white fruits and flowers, and pear-drop notes. Dry palate with crunchy acidity, touch of oaky hints, and faint tannins. Light bodied, New World style CNDP white, light-bodied, easily approachable, with commendable balance.
2010 Chateau la Nerthe Blanc – Grenache Blanc + Clairette + Bourboulenc + Roussanne (White) –
Pale straw hue. Mineral notes with a lifted perfumed hints. Dry palate with fruity sweetness balancing the high crisp acidity and fattiness in the wine. White stones, lime crunch, pears, white apples, ginseng notes with a clean fruity aftertaste. Weighty but a playful wine.
Light ruby with fading rims. Soft fruity nose with hint spices. Dry, light-bodied wine with dark cherries, berry fruits, earthiness, and a touch of oak at the end. Refreshing acidity, soft tannins, sharp alcohol, and intense aftertaste. A light and easy-drinking style Chateauneuf red.
2009 Domain de Nayls Le Chataignier Rouge – Grenache + Mourvedre (Red) –
Deep ruby completion. Concentrated, ripe, and structured fruit, warm spices, tobacco, black pepper, dusty oak, and licorice notes. Complex palate yet to mature and showing all the signs of developing into a better wine. Ripe juicy tannins, gripping acidity, warm alcohol, all well balance, and long soft aftertaste. Same blend but a more structured and age-worthy wine. Come back after a decade or so!
2009 Domaine de la Charbonniere Rouge – Grenache + Syrah + Mourvedre (Red) –
Deep purple hue with fading rims. Alcohol hits on the first sniff, jammy, prunes, bumbleberry, licorice, and dark spices. Dry palate, juicy mouthfeel, unripe puckering tannins yet to smoothen, good acidity, black pepper, sour cherries, and oak notes abundant. Needs time to open up and evolve.
Deep ruby appearance. Jammy nose with cranberries, bumbleberry, licorice, blue fruits, spicy and savoury notes. Dry ripe palate with concentrated flavours. Spices, toasted oak, dark cherries, earthy, and inky notes. Weighty wine with good intensity of acidity, alcohol, and tannins. Good mouthfeel and aftertaste.
2009 Domaine de la Charbonniere Le Hautes Brusquieres Cuvee Speciale Rouge – Grenache + Syrah + Mourvedre (Red) –
Deep ruby colour with fading rims. Good concentration of aromas, complex, more aromatic, filled with notes of dark fruits, spices, earth, wool, and licorice. Dry palate, juicy grape tannins, fruit-forward, soft and feminine expression. Great balance.
2005 Domaine de la Charbonniere Cuvee Mourre de Perdrix Rouge – Grenache + Syrah + Mourvedre (Red) –
Deep ruby with copper-hued rimes. Concentrated, structured, tad rancio touches, coffee, milk chocolate, sweet spices, red berries, wet wood, and earthy notes. Dry round juicy tannins, refreshing balanced acidity, warm alcohol, and long dry-fruity aftertaste. Commendable wine, collector’s pick!
2001 Domaine de la Charbonniere Cuvee Villes Vignes Rouge – Grenache + Syrah + Mourvedre (Red) –
Deep garnet appearance with rims showing signs of good aging. Complex aromas with earth, oak, leather, cocoa, tobacco, and sweet tannins. Dry velvety mouthfeel, classy round tannins, refreshing acidity, streaming alcohol. Great soft and round complexity and just-right oak. Clean soft aftertaste with warm spices. Good balance and complexity.