Hot and sunny by day, Chateauneuf de Pape, in the Rhone Valley, is famous not only for its spectacular red, white and rose wines but also for its galets – fist-to-pumpkin-sized Alpine quartz rocks deposited in the area by the Rhone Glacier movement and rounded smooth over millennia by the Rhone River. Completely covering large expanses of the vineyards, the rocks soak up heat from the sun by day and radiate heat to the vines and roots by night, assuring the temperature does not drop overnight thus hindering the ripening process. “Le Mistral” the savage cold, dry wind that blows down from the Alps and through the Valley, cools the vines during the higher Autumn temperatures and insures a slowing of the ripening process, which concentrates the sugars and acids in the grapes while insuring they are free of humidity and mold as the harvest season begins.
Like many Americans, my first introduction to Grenach-Syrah-Mourvedre (GSM) came from the Australian “plunk” wines in the 1980s. It wasn’t until 2003, and my introduction to the 13 red and white grapes permitted in the wines of Chateauneuf de Pape, that I started my love affair of the wines of the region, and the addition to my collection of various wine from each vintage. Robert Parker describes the experience of Chateauneuf de Pape as “Sunny herb scented, lavender strewn, olive growing Mediterranean.” Parker has rated all vintages since 2003, with the exception of the ‘08, vintage a minimum of 90 points with most being much higher.
While many of the CDP winemakers forgo blending all 13 grapes relying on the GSM meritage, Chateau de Beaucastel takes pride in their blending of all 13. Most winemakers rely on Grenache for ripe fruity jam characteristics, Syrah for deep color and spice and Mourvedre for structure and elegance. Low yields from the vineyards are vital to the wine’s complexity and flavor. Chateauneuf de Papes by law have the lowest yields in France at just 368 gallons per acre. CDPs are best consumed either one to six years after the vintage then they seem to go dormant for 10 to 12 years after vintage when they reemerge fully mature. Some, like Chateau Beaucastel, remain vibrant up to 25 years.
Here is a sampling of red wines we are drinking now divided into three categories that I overheard at a wine dinner:
Wines to drink with friends – 2010 Domaine Chateaumar “Cuvee Bastien” Cotes du Rhone
While the appellation says Cotes du Rhone this is 100 percent declassified Grenache from the sub region of Chateauneuf de Pape. It has nose of raspberry, strawberry, and blackberry with secondary notes of eucalyptus, black pepper and licorice, and enough tannins to insure a long finish. It’s a great everyday wine.
Wines to drink with good friends – 2008 Andre Brunell “Les Cailloux” Chateauneuf de Pape
A blend of Grenache 65%, Mourvedre 20%, Syrah 12% and Cinsault 3%
It has a nose of sweet cherry and raspberry jam with secondary notes of stewed fruits and herbs. On the palate it exhibits a big taste of dark fruits, Provencal herbs, spice box, black cherries, and black currants with big tannins for a long, smooth finish.
Wines to drink when your good friends are not invited (just the two of you)– 2007 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf de Pape
A perfect blend of all thirteen grapes of Chateauneuf de Pape
Grenache and Mourvedre at 30% each, Syrah 10% Muscardin and Vaccarese 5% each for color and spicy aromas while increasing the wine’s aging potential. Cinsault 5% is added for softness and its special bouquet. The remainder is made up of the seven other varietals allowed. Most of the varietals are fermented separately to allow for different timelines for secondary fermentation. It is blended and aged one year in oak. On the nose there are red fruits, blue fruits, leather, truffles and musk. On the palate find plum, raspberry, spices, pepper, and liquorices. Big tannins and well balanced, it’s a classic wine.
Remember in the end, wine is meant for your enjoyment. Drink what you enjoy no matter what the experts say. Buy new and exciting wines, trade wines that you love with friends, and try wine that your friends love. Ask your servers at your favorite restaurants for new or different recommendations. Explore and learn – it’s a lifelong, enjoyable journey.
As Terra’s general manager, Jarrett has managed the restaurant’s front of house and staff since the restaurant opened. In 2009, Jarrett also earned a Wine Specialist Certification from the Society of Wine Educators. His dedication to service and wines that complement Chef Mike Davis’s menu are integral to the Terra experience.