In most regions of France, only a few grapes are permitted in making wine that carries the appellation’s designation on the label.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape is different. Traditionally, 13 varieties have been permitted to be grown and used in the winemaking, compared to just three in the northern Rhone appellation of Hermitage. In 2009, the number was expanded to 18 to accommodate additional styles being embraced by the vintners.
First and foremost, Chateauneuf-du-Pape is an historic town of the southern Rhone. But it’s also famous for its rich, full-bodied, spicy red wines (and not so famous for its weighty, flavorful white wines, because they’re made in such small quantities).
Chateauneuf-du-Pape translates to “new castle of the Pope,” a reference to the fact that the town, located just north of Avignon, was selected as the new home for Pope Clement V’s court early in the 14th century.
The soils of the region are pebbly and sandy, and the climate is Mediterranean and quite dry—the driest of all Rhone appellations. Even so, irrigation is forbidden during the growing season, except in extreme drought situations.
For many centuries, the appellation’s wines were included with those from the Avignon area. Then in the 1920s, Baron Pierre Le Roy de Boiseaumarie of the Chateau Fortia assembled a set of rules governing the production of Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines.
These rules proved to be a precursor of what now is the French appellation system, and made Chateauneuf-du-Pape one of the country’s first official wine appellations (declared in June 1929).
Grenache is the king of Chateauneuf-du-Pape grapes and produces arguably better wine than it does in any other part of France. Syrah and Mourvedre are the next most important red varieties, and often are blended with Grenache to produce some very tasty cuvees.
Counoise is one of the lesser-known varieties to be grown in any measure, and is still used by only a few producers. The remaining traditional red varieties—Carignan, Cinsaut, Muscardin, Vaccarese, Picpoul Noir and Terret Noir—are planted in just a few vineyards.
Bourboulenc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne are the grape varieties used in the production of white Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines. They are employed in a mix of ratios to produce tangy, weighty wines with deeply perfumed floral aromas.