Chateauneuf-du-Pape & L'Impressionniste
Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine emanates from a region called the Rhone Valley. This mighty European river which originates above the Swiss Alps runs its course down to the Mediterranean.
The town, which can literally be translated as the “Popes Nest” is situated on the undulating banks of the river and produces mainly red wines, as well as a small percentage of whites.
The unique quality of the wine produced is due to the thirteen different grape varieties used to produce Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine.
By Philippe Aviles, Operations Manager
The name Chateauneuf-du-Pape dates from the time of the dual Papacy in the 14th century. It was Bertrand de Goth, former archbishop of Bordeaux and owner of Chateau Pope-Clément in Graves, who upon taking up the papacy in 1309 decided to reside in Avignon rather than in Rome, due to the strained Franco – Italian relationships of the time.
It was his successor Pope John XXII who first started to enlarge what was a relatively modest set of buildings in Avignon itself. The result of this, whilst being extensively renovated, is the magnificent papal palace that we know today. His thoughts turned to strengthening his defences in the surrounding countryside and building himself a residence where he could escape from the oppressive summer heat and stench of busy medieval Avignon. A castle at Chateauneuf already existed but was in ruins and between 1318 and 1333 a “new castle” was constructed. For a summer palace it was huge, it also formed part of a defensive circle of fortifications surrounding Avignon.
Chateauneuf was already an important wine area. In the 14th Century it is estimated that 1000 hectares were under cultivation. The modern era for the wine began in the 18th century with the rise of a number of individual estates such as La Nerthe and La Neste it is doubtful of course, that the present wine of Chateauneuf-du-Pape bears much resemblance to the wine of 600 years ago, which a good thing is probably!
The soil in Chateauneuf-du-Pape is varied; it consists of gravel, clay, sand and limestone.
The Rhone valley is some 50km wide at this point and the vines are planted on undulating mounds and valley hillsides. The river has changed its course many times over recent millennia and the river has deposited stones and debris on the valley floor.
The stones or “galets” are very important, these pebbles act as an insulator, retaining the heat of the day and reflecting the heat back over night thus retaining moisture in the soil. Because of this, the vintner does not have to prune the leaves of the vines. This then protects the vines from the wind and scorching sun. The Rhone valley is well known for the strong mistral wind that blows, and the area is very exposed.
The wines of this area are blended from up to 13 different grape varieties; the foremost among these grapes is Grenache which was brought over by the Spanish. In the hot climate of the Southern Rhone, Grenache thrives and ripens with an absolutely dramatic effect - huge cherry – raspberry fruitiness & high alcohol vintages.
Syrah is important in the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape; it provides good colour and peppery spiciness, floral aroma and a pleasing blackberry / blueberry fruitiness and tannins; although the trend in the region today is to eliminate the percentage of Syrah and replace it with the Mourvedre variety.
The Mourvedre grape imparts colour, power and texture, as well as gamey, truffle-ish complexity and the taste of ripe black plums.
The other permitted grapes are Cinsault giving warmth and mellowness, Marscardin, Vaccarèse and the white grapes Cournoise and Picpoul which give vinosity charm, freshness and bouquet, finally Clairette and Bourboulenc give fire and brilliance.
With such a multiplicity of grapes, soils and new growing methods, it is not surprising that there is no such thing as a typical Chateauneuf-du-Pape: All wines will be full of colour and full in body: somewhat fiery and robustly peppery, with a warm rich southern flavour.
There is additionally a small amount of white wine, made from a number of grapes; Bourboulenc, Clairette, Roussanne, Picardin, Picpoul, Grenache Blanc and Tarret Blanc. Like the reds, that can vary enormously in character and are decidedly fragrant with a hint of peaches and nectarines, particularly if drunk young. The white is an assertive, full, uncompromising wine.
Our barge Impressionniste is based in Avignon and starts its cruise on the mighty river on its way to the Canal du Midi: It passes places such as Arles, the Roman capital of French Gaul, which is where Vincent Van Gogh produced most of his masterpieces during the Impressionist movement. Following the Rhone to its delta in the Camargue, which is a protected natural park with its fragile environment between salt and fresh water. In amongst these lakes, is the fortified town of Aigues Mortes from where in the 13th century St Louis departed for the Crusades. The end of the cruise is a truly Mediterranean experience, cruising the Etang de Thau which is a 20km salt water lake with the largest oyster estuary in Europe and our final destination is Agde on the banks of the Canal of the Two Seas better known as the Canal du Midi.
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