All You Ever Wanted to Know About Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wine (And More)

All You Ever Wanted to Know About Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wine (And More)

If there is French wine that everyone deserves to taste, it’s probably Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It’s like the gateway drug to French wine.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape OfficialGgrapes - There Are 20 - Glass Illustration by Wine Folly

What Type of Wine is Châteauneuf-du-Pape?

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a French wine appellation known for its bold Grenache-based red blends. Officially, the region makes both red and white wines with up to 13 different grapes. (Unofficially, there are 20 varieties used in the region!).

Let’s dig into the details of this historic wine and find out why Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the Southern Rhône’s most exclusive appellation.

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Tasting Châteauneuf-du-Pape

 

A great bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge bursts with rich raspberry and plummy fruit flavors. As it evolves, you’ll taste notes of dusted leather, game, and herbs. The Francophiles – and the actual French – call this herbal play “garrigue,” after the region’s scrubland of sage, rosemary, and lavender.

As if that wasn’t enough, CdP Rouge often finishes on a sweet-strawberry tingle that glows in the back of your throat from elevated alcohol. The finish ranges from sweet to savory, depending on the vintage.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine serving, aging notes

Serving Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge

Serving: Decant wines for about one hour, and less for older wines. Serve cool, below room temperature to slow evaporating alcohol at around 60–65 ºF / 16–18 ºC.

Aging: Red wines typically age 10–20 years, depending on producer, vintage, and style. White wines age up to about 10 years.

Food Pairing: Try this wine with roasted and spiced vegetable-driven dishes like Morrocan chicken tagine with olives, lamb dolma (Turkish lamb-stuffed peppers), or smoky cauliflower steaks.

CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE VINTAGE CHART
  • 2011 Exceptional, high yield vintage. Concentrated, dense, fruity wines.
  • 2012 Good. Average yields and late season rains caused some more bitter tannins. Still, increased acid levels suggest age-ability.
  • 2013 Okay. Reduced yields from cooler temperatures throughout the season. Look for quality producers; these will age.
  • 2014 Okay. This was a tricky vintage that required a lot of work in the vineyards. Look for quality producers; these should age.
  • 2015 Good. This was a bombastic fruity vintage. Less herbal and bitter tannins overall. Great drinking wines.
  • 2016 Exceptional. Happy grapes, good wines.
  • 2017 Good. Smallest vintage in 40 years (only 9.6 million bottles). Extremely difficult harvest due to drought.
  • 2018 Good. A rainy, cooler year.

 

What About the Blanc?

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc is harder to find because only about 7% of the region’s vineyards are white grapes. Still, you’ll find many producers make small amounts that are usually a blend of the region’s white grapes, most notably, Grenache Blanc, Clairette, and Roussanne.

France Cotes du Rhone Map by Wine Folly
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is located in the Southern Rhône Valley next to Avignon. Map by Wine Folly

Where is This Place?

Châteauneuf-du-Pape sits towards the bottom of the Rhône Valley, close to the border of Provence. The name means “pope’s new castle,” and refers to a time when the seat of the Roman Catholic Church was in Avignon (between 1309–1377). The region has written records of vineyards dating back to 11–, but winemaking has been here longer than that!

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is one of 19 official crus or “growths” of the Côtes du Rhône wine region. If you didn’t already know, these 19 crus represent Côtes du Rhône’s top wine-growing zones.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is considered –by most– to be the benchmark of the Southern Rhône.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wine Facts
  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape was the very first French wine appellation; created in 1936.
  • There are 320 wine growers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s syndicate of vignerons.
  • There are 7,746 acres of vineyards (3134 hectares) in the region, which produce an average 14 million bottles each year.
  • Nearly 75% of the vineyards are dedicated to Grenache (aka Garnacha).
  • Almost 30% of the wineries are organically certified by the EU.
  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape is made up of five communes: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Courhézon, Orange, Bédarrides, and Sorgues (ordered from largest to smallest).

Going There?

Vinadea Maison des Vins de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

If you get the chance to visit Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the fastest way to see most of the region’s wines is through the appellation’s wine shop, Vinadea.

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While it’s not a free-for-all tasting shop, there are often tastings available. The staff is extremely knowledgeable regarding the region and can help you plan your winery stops or ship wines back home for you.


Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wineries to Know

With over 200 to choose from, you can bet there are many great wines to explore from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. That being said, here’s a snapshot of 9 top-rated estates and their stories.




Image of a bottle of Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine
Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe

A vineyard estate that has managed to stay family owned (by the Brunier family) since 1898 – in the midst of the wine phylloxera epidemic. Vieux Télégraphe is positioned on an elevated plateau called “Le Crau,” which is famous for its deposits of large rounded, river stones (aka “galets roulés”). To many, the vineyards on the La Crauplateau represent the top wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The assemblage (wine blend) is typically 90% Grenache with a splash of Mourvèdre,that’s partially destemmed and aged in concrete tanks and large wooden foudres. Wines are unfined and unfiltered and are known to age for 25 or more years.





Barbe Rac M. Chapoutier Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine
M. Chapoutier

Marius Chapoutier was the original “M” of M. Chapoutier. Marius purchased a winery estate in Tain l’Hermitage in the Northern Rhône Valley (Syrah country!) in 1808. The holdings of the Chapoutier’s continued to grow and now have property all over the Rhône Valley.

Since Michel Chapoutier has taken over, estates have been converted to biodynamic winegrowing and they have eliminated fining and filtration.

There are seven Châteauneuf-du-Pape labels by M. Chapoutier, including a 100% Grenache Blanc. The most well-known are the two top rouge wines called “Barbe Rac” and a younger-vineyard wine, “Croix de Bois.” Both wines are 100% Grenache which are destemmed, fermented naturally, and held in vats for at least three weeks (this polymerizes tannins). Then, the wines are aged for over a year in oak barrels or concrete vats (respectively).



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A view over the La Crau Plateau in Châteauneuf-du-Pape over the vineyards of Clos St. Jean. Image by Clos St. Jean

Terroir of Châteauneuf-du-Pape

From an outsider’s perspective, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is nothing more than a plateau and a few low, undulating hills that that slink into the Rhône River. But to the expert, the region is a complex myriad of soils, subtle slopes, and micro-terroirs that define the appellation’s best wines.

  • Soils: There are three main soils found in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, including galets roulés (rounded stones over sandy, iron-rich red clay), safres (sand-dominant soils), and eclats calcaires (more chalky-colored, limestone rich clays). More robust wines with higher tannin tend to come from the clay-based soils. More aromatic and elegant wines tend to grow on the soils with a higher prevalence of sand.
  • Sunshine: Châteauneuf-du-Pape receives an average of 2,800 hours of sun per growing season, making it one of the sunniest of France. (This is as sunny as Los Angeles!).
  • La Crau Plateau: One notable feature in the region is the La Crau Plateau. This raised area is home to some of the region’s most famous Châteaux and it is marked by round stones over iron-rich red clays left during the Villafranchian Age (in between the Ice Age and Pliocene Epoch – around 1–3 million years ago).

Winemaking here has evolved over several centuries and today uses a combination of classical techniques paired with modern cleanliness. You’ll find there are some stylistic differences between producers, which is achieved through winemaking techniques.

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Many vineyards in Châteauneuf-du-Pape are covered with stones (called “galets”) that were originally on the bottom of an ancient river. Photo by Jean-Louis Zimmerman.
Handling Grenache in the Winery

Traditionally, Grenache bunches aren’t destemmed (they go into the fermenter whole). Leaving stems adds some bitterness, but it also increases age-worthiness. You’ll find that some producers do partial or full destemming, especially on tough vintages, to make a softer, fruitier wine. (Be sure to look for this in winemaking notes!).

Winemaking: Oak vs. No Oak?

The region has long used concrete vats to ferment wines and you’ll also see a lot of stainless steel vats. These tools keep temperatures low as the fermentation heats up. A few producers opt for oak barrel fermenters, although this isn’t as common. Grenache is very sensitive to oxidation, so the use of oak fermenters is more-than-likely used for other varieties.

During elevage (“aging”) you’ll find that some producers use new oak, but this is often for varieties other than Grenache. Truthfully, Grenache is capable of producing a lovely rich wine without the need for new barrels. That being said, you can expect wines aged in new oak to have even more smoky-sweet, clove-like overtones and will often include bolder varieties like Syrah and Mourvèdre.

Nearly all red wines go through malolactic fermentation whereas, most white wines do not.

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Click map for full-size version. Map created by Cyrille SUSS of www.cscarto.com