The Appellation d’Origin Contrôlée of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is located across 3200 hectares in the south-eastern Rhône region in France. The term can be the source of quite a bit of confusion – Châteuneuf-du-Pape refers not only to the AOC, but also to the village itself. If that wasn...
The Appellation d’Origin Contrôlée of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is located across 3200 hectares in the south-eastern Rhône region in France. The term can be the source of quite a bit of confusion – Châteuneuf-du-Pape refers not only to the AOC, but also to the village itself. If that wasn’t enough, the wine from this region is also known as Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
It boasts the title of being the first AOC to be established in France when the system was implemented in 1936. A wide variety of soils are found across the appellation, ranging from limestone, clay from the valley floor and red iron-rich soil from the plateau. Rocks from the old riverbed, known as galets, are found in the vineyards and are a further signature of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. They absorb the heat of the daytime and reflect it back onto the vines at night, thus increasing their ripeness.
The region is divided into five sub-regions, which collectively cater to the region’s 143 producers. Châteauneuf-du-Pape forms the main sub-region, with the nearby villages of Bédarrides, Courthézon, Orange and Sorgues. Together, the area as a whole has an annual output of about 100 000 hectoliters annually.
A staggering thirteen varietals are permitted by the AOC. Too many to list here, the main components are Grenache, Syrah, Mouvèdre and Cinsaut. Only a handful of producers incorporate all thirteen varieties into their wines, adding Bourboulenc, Clairette, Counise, Muscardin, Piquepoul, Roussanne Terret and Vaccarèse and Picardan. Red makes up 90% of the vines planted. Whites, although much sought-after, are rare.
The village of Gigondas traces its roots back to Roman times. Its original name, Jocunditas translates from Latin to “great pleasure” - serving as some breathing space for members of the Roman Legion. Known for its often powerful reds, Gigondas is sure to make an impact on your palate.
Often referred to as “the poor man’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape”, the region was established as its own appellation in 1971. A short drive, about 20 minutes or so out of Châteauneuf-du-Pape you’ll stumble onto this region – similarly focussed on red wine production, with the only exception being a small amount of rosé produced in miniscule quantities.
Interestingly, no white wine is made. Before receiving AOC status, Gigondas wines were mostly used to enhance wines made in Burgundy – adding colour and body, particularly in lesser vintages. Vines can be as high as 600m, often located on steep terraces cut into the mountainside. Although older practice was to vinify in cement vats, most estates have now moved over to oak barrels.
The Dentelles de Montmirail is a small mountainous ridge that makes up a very important piece of the geology in this region. It splits the appellation into two areas and each area has its own variation on the Mediterranean climate - one area cooler, the other warmer.
Regulations place an upper limit on the use of the Grenache grape, capping its content in Gigondas Rouge to 80%. Furthermore, a minimum of 15% Syrah or Mourvèdre must be included. Wines will generally benefit from at least three years in bottle, although the great estates and more “serious” wines can be laid down for ten years and more.
Hermitage is the home of Syrah (synonym for Shiraz) in France, and indeed many see it as the grape’s spiritual home. A miniscule appellation, the entire area is only 136 hectares - about the same size as the entire Chateau Lafite in Bordeaux. Hermitage is named after a small chapel built in 1224, which was occupied by a wounded soldier living as a hermit.
The area is composed of steep hills slinking out from the town of Lyon, and the vineyards are interspersed with big signature signage for the names of the larger producers. The small hectarage is limited to what is currently planted, thanks to ancient decrees preventing further expansion. Flint and gravel soils produce earthy wines, high in tannin and structure allowing the best examples to be cellared for many years. The appellation only produces an average of 730 000 bottles every year across all domaines, far below the worldwide demand.
Whilst the majority of the grapes grown are Syrah, small parcels of the white grapes Rousanne and Marsanne are also grown, and utilised by a handful of domaines that produce a Hermitage white. In the words of wine author Hugh Johnson, “You could not drink it and fail to impressed.”