Chateauneuf-du-Pape is the most famous wine of the southern Rhone Vally. The wines come from the commune of the same name as well as parts of four others Bedarrides, Courthezon, Orange and Sorgues. Its name means literally "the new castle of the Pope," and in the fourteenth century the papal seat was moved here during a time of great strife in the church; remains of the papal residence are a popular tourist attraction even today.
The wines grow on a soil that is a mixture of large quartz stones and sandy red clay. The quartz stones are known as "galet roules" and are the most recognizable feature of the Chateuneuf vineyards. Visitors are often amazed at the size of these stones through which the vines burrow. The galets roules reflect sunlight upon the vines, having a warming effect. A wind, known as the Mistral, whips up through the valley from the Mediterranean Sea and has a cooling effect, but the region is nonetheless quite warm and very dry.
Chateauneuf may be made from a blend of up to thirteen grapes: grenache (noir), mourvedre, syrah, muscardin, vaccarese, counoise, picpoule, cinsault, clairette, bourboulenc, terret noir, picardin and roussanne. In reality, grenache is the primary grape with syrah and mourvedre and to a lesser extent cinsault also blended in. The others, if used at all, will usually not play a significant role in the blend. In at least one case, that of Chateau Rayas, grenache alone is used to make the wine.
Chateauneuf is one of the world's great red wines. Grenache, its main component, gives the wine a grenadine-like base of pure, sappy red fruits. This foundation is commonly highlighted by blue and black fruits derived from mourvedre, syrah or in some cases muscardin or vaccarese. The same grapes add firmness and body to the wines texture. The other grapes when used add further elements such as vinosity, warmth and freshness. All in all, the complicated array of exposures, grapes and winemaking work differently in each wine but always yield a wine of profound complexity.
White Chateauneuf, once merely a curiosity, is fairly well respected today. The wines are fullish and have great depth. They often drink well in their youth revealing fresh tropical fruits. After a period of closing down, they emerge again five or more years later as a completely different animal. The wines develop hints of stewed fruits, oranges and caramel. Aged Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc is not often seen but is a wine of sufficient interest and breed to grace tables being served the finest of meals.