A recent interesting tasting held by London Branch was of fine wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We tasted nine wines; vintages from 1955 to 2014. We were able to compare a 1993 and a 1996 from Château de Beaucastel, one of the finest estates in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Another star wine was the 2004 Clos des Papes from another top estate, a complex and delicious wine, which was drinking superbly now, and will continue for several years.
All of us enjoyed the opportunity to consider and contrast the different vintages of these Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines.
The name derives from the time when the papal headquarters moved to Avignon in the 14th century. The village Châteauneuf-Calcernier, outside the city walls, became the Popes’ summer home. The second Pope there, John XXII, enjoyed the local wine and promoted viticultural practices.
Later, its wine production suffered various vicissitudes. It was the first major French wine growing region hit by phylloxera in the second half of the 19th century. Livelihoods were lost and vineyards abandoned.
However, the mayor – and also wine-grower – Joseph Ducos, was responsible for restoring the fortunes of the wine makers’ community. In 1893 he had the village renamed to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He researched the different grape varieties, defining those with characteristics suitable for the wine in the area, and ensured the replanting of the vineyards accordingly.
The local wine growers continued to improve the wine they produced. A later mayor, Baron Pierre Le Roy de Boiseaumarié, founded the Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wine-growers’ Union in 1924, to set conditions for the local wine production: creating geographical boundaries, making rules about harvesting, and specifying the authorised grape varieties. This was the basis for the creation of the appellation contrôlée regulations. In 1933 the defining characteristics for the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation were finally confirmed by the French Supreme Court.
Baron Le Roy de Boiseaumarié was also co-founder of l’Institut National des Appellations d’Origine in 1935, which amongst other things was responsible for the implementation of the appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) system. Châteauneuf-du-Pape became the first French AOC wine in 1936.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC has always had 13 permitted grape varieties, although most growers use a small selection, predominantly Grenache. This is the stated number on www.chateauneuf.com. But this number is in effect greater when the variants blanc, rose and noir of certain grapes are separately specified and different pruning regulations apply, viz.: grenache (noir, gris, blanc), syrah, mourvèdre, cinsault, clairette (blanche, rose), vaccarèse, bourboulenc, roussanne, counoise, muscardin, picpoul (blanc, gris, noir), picardan, et terret noir.