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WINES BY REGION

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Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Chateauneuf-du-Pape is undoubtedly one of the world's greatest wine-producing regions, consistently making some of the most delicious, most long-lived and quite frankly, greatest wines in the world.  Yet it is a region that doesn't enjoy the same profile as Burgundy or Bordeaux, nor the single-mindedness of collectors.cndp-village.jpg

Located in the southern end of the Rhone Valley, Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a beautiful, ancient village of a little more than 2,000 inhabitants dominated by the ancient ruins of the castle that housed a succession of Popes from 1309 for nearly a century.  The castle was built in 1333 and over the following centuries fell into a cycle of disuse, ruin and renovation.  Only a small portion of the original castle remains, yet it was used as recently as the second world war, when the Nazis set up a watching post in it - and the destruction of their munition storage several days before the conclusion of the war lead to the final destruction of the castle - all that remains in several walls of the tower.  The region was ravaged by phylloxera in 1866 - within a few years more than two-thirds of vines were destroyed.

Nearly 95% of the region's wines are red, produced by more than 300 individual makers.  There are numerous distinct vineyards, and around 1,800 hectares of vines in total, a large proportion of which are old vines.  Average yields are just over 30 hl/ha, with annual production of a little more than one million cases.  

Whilst Grenache is the region's most important grape variety (accounting for some 80% of plantings), there are 13 permitted varieties (or 14 if you count Grenache blanc as a separate variety): Grenache; Syrah; Mourvedre; Cinsault; Muscardin; Counoise; Vaccarese; and Terret Noir for reds; and Grenache blanc; Clairette; Roussanne; Picpoul; cndp-vine.jpgBourboulenc; and Picardin for whites.  Just as striking as the region's unusual mix of permitted grape varieties is its geology and soils.  Or more accurately, stones!    A relatively small region - an area perhaps 12 kilometers by 8 kilometres - the vineyards are significantly covered by large stones or galets that in most cases entirely cover the surface of the ground.  These stones - remnants of glacier movements from the Alps - retain the summer heat in this baking area, refecting it back on to the vines each night.  But clay and sand also feature prominently in terms of the soil composition of the vineyards (and the resultant wine styles).

It would also be remiss not to mention the significance of the Mistral - the powerful wind that sweeps from the Alps south to the Mediterranean.  Bitterly cold during winter, and often blowing at more than 100 kilometers per hour, this not only naturally restricts vine-height (hence the low-to-ground, head pruned vines) but also greatly reduces disease pressures.

Unsurprisingly, given the heat of summer this region enjoys, the resultant wine style is invariably ripe, sweet-fruited and powerful.  Yet this is not to suggest that elegance and finesse cannot be found, or that all wines are 'over the top' or excessive.  Like all fine wine regions, there is limited homogeneity in terms of style or quality, especially with so many makers of varying levels of ability - both experiential as well as financial.  Yet the best wines are well-made, highly-pleasurable wines that offer excellent ageing potential.

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