Chateauneuf du Pape is a famous French wine area that lies just a few miles North of Avignon city, in the Rhone wine region in Southeastern France. It derives its name from the Pope's residence in the 14th century, which translated literally means “The Pope's New Castle”. The wines did not become popular until the early 20th century, when changes in quality regulations and replantings after the phylloxera devastation resulted in the production of a much better quality wine.
Nearly all of the Chateauneuf du Pape wines are red, although there are some whites wines produced as well, but these only make up about 1% of the wines produced. The main grape used is grenache, typically with smaller amounts of and Syrah and mourvedreare added. Though not as widely used, there are a number of other grape types allowed in the blend including Cinsault, Bourboulenc, Cournoise, Clairette, Muscardin, Picpoul, Roussanne, Terret Noir, Picardan, and Vaccarese.
Chateauneuf du Pape is an Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC) and only wines produced in the village of Chateauneuf du Pape and the three surrounding communes of Bedarrides, Sorgues and Courthezon are allowed to carry the label.
In 1308 Pope Clement V relocated the papacy to the town of Avignon. He and subsequent Avignon popes were great lovers of Burgundy wines and promoted wine growing in the surrounding regions. John XXII, who succeeded Clement V, drank and enjoyed wines from the North of Avignon. He did much to promote growing in the region and was the first to refer to the area as “Vin du Pope”, which was later changed to Chateauneuf du Pape.
Over time the reputation of wines from this region continued to grow until phylloxera devastated the area in the early 1870's.
Vineyards were re-planted and slowly started to recover both in production and reputation. In the early 20th century the wine had re-established its name in the market and was once again in high demand. This led to imitators producing inferior wines and bottling it under the Chateauneuf du Pape label. Local wine growers were infuriated and in 1923 they formed a syndicate of Chateauneuf wine growers and, under the guidance of Baron Le Roy de Boiseaumarie they drew up the first Appellation Controlee rules in France. These regulations gave protection to the wine growers. It governed the growing area, minimum alcohol content of the wine, and set limits on yields as well as which types of grapes could be grown in which area.
These quality control and label protection efforts have seen Chateauneuf du Pape's reputation soar. With many wine experts naming it one of the 10 greatest wines in France.
The Chateauneuf du Pape Appellation stretches from the Eastern bank of the Rhone river near Orange in the North-West to Sorgues a few miles from Avignon in the South-East. It covers 3,100 ha (7,600 acres). The climate is dry which is intensified by the powerful mistral winds which carry away moisture. The Appellation contains three different types of soil. In the South you find gritty soil. In the East it is sand based, and in the North and North East the soil is clay based with a cover of round rocks or pebbles. These pebbles retain the days heat and radiate it at night, helping the grapes in this area to ripen faster.
Chateauneuf du Pape are typically high in alcohol at around 13-15%, with a minimum of 12.5%. They are full bodied wines that tend to display earthy flavors sometimes with a hint of tar, tobacco or leather. They can be very aromatic wines with rich plum and earthy fragrences. Though this is not always the case, while young they tend to be high in tannins, which softens if the wine is aged. These wines are best enjoyed with rich game dishes or roasted beef.