Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a historic town near the city of Avignon, in France's southern Rhone Valley. It is famous for its powerful, full-bodied, spicy red wines made predominantly from the classic southern Rhone trio of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. An impressive 18 grape varieties can be used to make Chateauneuf wines but, in practice, these three grapes make up the vast majority of the appellation's red wines. The vineyards here also produce white wines – just as powerful as the reds, and based on the rustic southern French varieties Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Clairette and Bourboulenc.
The name Chateauneuf-du-Pape is drenched in history but, in the wine world, it has been a prestigious for only a hundred years or so. For many centuries, the town's wines were collectively grouped with others from the Avignon area. In the 1920s, Baron Pierre Le Roy de Boiseaumarie (the owner of Chateau Fortia) created a document outlining the production conditions for the town's wines. This document was the precursor of France's widely imitated appellation system. Appropriately, the official Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation title declared in June 1929 was one of the country's very first.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape stands out among French wine appellations for its the unusually long list of permitted grape varieties. Eighteen are sanctioned in total – a mix of black-, pink- and green-skinned varieties. This stands in stark contrast to Hermitage, in the northern Rhone, which uses just three.
Grenache is the king of the Chateauneuf grapes. It is used in every Chateauneuf red to some extent, and many are made entirely from it. The variety performs better in the vineyards here than anywhere else in France. Syrah and Mourvedre, the southern Rhone's two other principal grapes, are the next most important varieties. Syrah grows most successfully in the town's cooler sites, while late-ripening, sun-loving Mourvedre flourishes only in the hotter, drier vineyards. Counoise is the only other variety to be grown here in any significant quantity. The remaining red varieties – Cinsaut, Muscardin, Vaccarese, Picpoul Noir and Terret Noir – are planted in just a few Chateauneuf-du-Pape vineyards. (© All Rights Reserved, Wine-Searcher)
Bourboulenc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne are the four 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.
The soils of Chateauneuf-du-Pape are pebbly and sandy, as is common in the southern half of the Rhone Valley. They are formed mostly of ancient riverbeds of various ages (the town and its vineyards are located just to the east of the Rhone river). The archetypal Chateauneuf vineyard is stewn with large pebbles known as galets, whose soft, rounded form stands in direct contrast to the gnarly, twisted vine trunks.
The climate here is Mediterranean and very dry (Chateauneuf-du-Pape is technically the driest of all Rhone appellations), which makes it all the more significant that arrosage (irrigation or watering) is strictly forbidden during the growing season. In extreme cases, the wineries must apply for special permission from the French government to water their vines.
The name Chateauneuf-du-Pape means "new castle of the Pope" and refers to the fact that nearby Avignon was chosen as the new home for the Pope's court in the early 14th Century. The pope in question (Clement V) also gave his name to the ancient and equally prestigious Chateau Pape Clement in Bordeaux's Graves district.