Friday, October 17, 2008

I am glad we had the Popes in Avignon

Because the popes were great wine lovers, they did much to promote local viticulture and winemaking while the Papacy was located in Avignon. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which means New Castle of the Pope is a wine district a few miles north of Avignon that has become the most renowned appellation in the southern Rhône Valley. It is also a small town with a 14th-century castle that was build by Pope John XXII as a summer residence.


Local winegrowers have traditionally planted different grape varieties to enhance their wines and improve quality. So for this reason, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation allows thirteen grape varieties. Red wines are usually blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre and to a lesser extend, Cinsault, Counoise, Muscardin, Terret Noir, and Vaccarèse. White varieties include Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Picpoul Blanc, and Picardan (Grenache and Picpoul may be used both in the red and white versions so the actual number of allowed varieties is in fact fifteen).

The Domaine de Marcoux is one of my favorite Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers. It is also one of the oldest properties with family vineyards dating back to 1344. It is run today by the two sisters, Catherine Armenier and Sophie Estevenin. The property that includes 10 acres of 95 year-old-vines, is farmed biodynamically.

I recenty opened a bottle of their 2001 vintage. The wine exhibited fragrant aromas of sweet fruit compote. On the palate, it was concentrated and full with more ripe black fruit flavors and spices, leaving a lasting impression of harmony and balance. What a pleasure! Next time, try a Châteauneuf-du-Pape with a lamb stew with figs and olives.

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