suspect that Châteauneuf-du-Pape may be the first of the “great” French wines that many people buy, because, while its name may be the most French they can speak in one “phrase,” it somehow rolls off the tongue—it virtually
sings itself into the glass—and it sounds sophisticated.
This was certainly the case with me. I don’t remember
the specific bottlings, but I do know that I would
order Châteauneuf-du-Pape in restaurants before I
would learn enough to order other fine wines. I do
remember being proud of my (silly) self when I
would say, “The Châteauneuf-du-Pape, please.”
Except I said de and not du and would continue
to for years, unknowing, unsophisticated
despite my attempt to be otherwise.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape got its name from the
time, early 14th century, when the papacy
moved, essentially, from Rome, Italy, to
Avignon, France, where it stayed for the
next 69 years, through 8 popes. The first
of these was Pope Clement V, who was a
great lover of wines; he drank and studied
wine not only in the southern Rhone but
also in Burgundy and in Bordeaux, where
today his name lives on in Château Pape
Clément, the oldest wine estate in all of
Bordeaux. The next pope, John XXII, was
an even greater proponent of the local
wines and erected a new castle and began
planting vines soon after he became pope
in 1316. The wines then were actually
known as Vin du Pape.
The name of the wine means The New Castle of the
Pope. But this name was not used until the very late
19th century. Until then, there was no wine named
Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It was called Châteauneuf-Calcernier, after the existence of a limestone quarry
and lime kilns in a nearby town. If anyone out there
has a bottle of Châteauneuf-Calcernier, it will certainly
qualify as an Odd Bottle.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape red wines (there is also a white
CDP) may be blended from as many as 18 different
grapes, but most consist primarily of Grenache,
Syrah, and Mourvédre. Our 1985 Bosquet des
Papes is 70 percent Grenache and 10 percent
of the other aforementioned and another 10
percent of Cinsault.
What’s most distinctive about the creation
of the wine are the vineyards, which are
virtually drowned in stones of all sizes.
There is little or no soil visible beneath the
stones, but it’s there. It’s a varying (vineyard
by vineyard) mixture of limestone, clay
(both red and gray), sand, and marl.
And what the stones do for it is to hold,
while at the same time hold off, the extreme
heat of the area and also to keep what
moisture has entered the soil, around the
stones, from evaporating too quickly.
The wine that results from this distinctive
landscape is said to taste of stone and earth;
of mineral and (in the best sense) dirt.
THE ODD BOTTLE
by J.D. Landis
Photo credit Eva Baughman