Leaving the Corton Grancey/Corton Charlemagne seminar that beautiful January morning, I was hard-pressed to imagine that anything could top the experience of those Burgundies. Until I arrived at the afternoon seminar, that is, and got to spend 90 minutes with 10 Châteauneuf-du-Papes.
The seminar was hosted by Alain Junguenet and his son John from Alain Junguenet Selection, Wines of France, Inc., New Jersey-based wine importers since 1984. Alain Junguenet has been dubbed “Mr. Châteauneuf-du-Pape” by Robert Parker, who also has named him “Wine Personality of the Year.” The seminar wines were all chosen personally by Alain and John Junguenet from the 2007 vintage.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape, in the Southern Rhone Valley, was founded in the 12th century when the Bishop of Avignon began planting vines in his fief. By the end of the 13th century others had followed his example, and more than 300 hectares were under cultivation across the region surrounding the town of Châteauneuf-du-Calcernier. In the 14th century, the Catholic Church experienced upheaval and schism and seven popes lived in exile in Avignon from 1305 until 1378. The first “French pope,” Clement V (1305-1314), actively embraced wine making, developing even more land across the region for wine cultivation, a practice continued by his successor, Pope John XXII (1316-1334) who is often credited with increasing the region’s reputation for wine during his reign. John XXII also built the chateau, which the popes used as their summer retreat, and which today stands at the heart of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region. The region’s wines and winemakers continued to grow in sophistication, and in 1836, Commandant Joseph Ducos, then mayor of Châteauneuf and proprietor of Chateau La Nerte officially changed the name of the village to Châteauneuf-du-Pape in honor of the Popes who had reigned there. One hundred years later, the Baron Le Roy de Boiseaumarie of Chateau Fortia together with other vintners from the region formed the Syndicate of Châteauneuf, which declared the “Appellation d’Origine Controllé Châteauneuf-du-Pape,” the first official AOC.
Today the region is comprised of 125 vineyards spread out across the five communes: Sorgues, Béddarides, Courthézon, Orange, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which make up the Appellation. While there are a small number of white varietals grown and produced in the region, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is known primarily for it’s reds, which account for 95% of total production. The primary grape of the region is grenache, the “base” of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. In addition to grenache, the region’s winemakers grow an additional 12 varietals, each having their own hallmark characteristics which they carefully select and blend:
- Muscardin – good aroma and fullness
- Vaccarese – spice
- Cinsault – big arome and body
- Terret Noir – color and body
- Counoise – acidity and spice
- Mourvedre – black fruit, leather, spice, tannin
- Syrah – peppery, red fruits & structure
- Roussane – aroma & ageability
- Clairette – alcohol and depth
- Bourboulenc – acidity and floral notes
- Picardan – acidity
- Picpoul – citrus and roundness
As with all AOC’s, the region’s winemakers are bound by a series of very strict rules governing wine production, including the mandating of manual harvesting of all grapes, minimum alcohol content of 12.5%, and three sortings with each domain required to exclude 5% of its harvest each year to ensure only the highest quality grapes are used in the wine production.
A fascinating history, accompanied by a beautiful slide-show of the region’s vineyards and wineries, but through it all the wines were calling. 10 wines, ranging in color from deep ruby to a dark, rich plum, they lined up in front of us, teasing us…
Thursday, April 15th – 10 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Papes.