Posts Tagged ‘chateauneuf du pape’

In the 14th century the Pope Jean XXII chose Châteauneuf as a summer residence for the popes located at that period in Avignon. Perhaps, it was the need for a mass wine, that lead him to extend plantation of vines on the stony soil around the village. The vines were planted here already before as the Gauls and Romans cultivated vines and spread their tradition across Europe. The pope was though one of the first wine producers in Châteauneuf, soon to be called Châteauneuf du Pape (The pope’s new castle).

Chateauneuf-du-pape old village

It was not until the 18th century though before the wines of the Châteauneuf du Pape gained international fame. One of the most apt local wine growers was Marquis Tulle de Villefranche (former proprietor of today’s Château La Nerthe), who exported his wines through a network of dealers asking high prices, which many of his aristocratic clients did not hesitate to pay. It is a paradox today, that the majority of the French do not want to pay the high prices the wines of Châteauneuf du Pape dictate, but it is the profits from the 70% (approximately) which is being exported that makes the wine business there thrive.

Geography and soil

Settled between Avignon (South) and Orange in the North, Châteauneuf du Pape is located in the lowest part of the Rhône valley in France. It is known for its stony soil covered with galets roulés (oval-shaped stones). These reflect the sun, keeping moisture in the soil during the warm summer months. The reflected heat also assists with drying the grapes after rain so many diseases that thrive in wet conditions are kept on bay.

Grape varietals

The AOC Châteauneuf du Pape is unusual in that sense that 13 grape varietals are permitted in its red wines. Not all the châteaux though plant all of them. The two most famous though – Beaucastel and Domaine du Vieux Telégraphe – are including all of them in their vineyards.

Just for an illustration, look below at the picture (excuse me for the wine stains, I took it after a wine tasting, and the wine was served into glasses standing on this sheet of paper), where each of the local grapes’ contribution to the blend is explained very well.

Chateauneuf du Pape grapes

The village of Châteauneuf du Pape

The remains of the Papal castle are located away from the town’s centre and unless you get lost in the wine cellars lining the narrow cobbled streets you reach it within a five-minute walk. It has been ruined over the centuries, but it offers magnificent views across the Rhône valley, Luberon and even part of Avignon where the former Papal palace is located. The town’s heart is Place de la Fontaine, where the famous restaurant La Mére Germaine peers on the thirsty flocks of tourists from around the world.

Degustation at Chateauneuf-du-pape

“Proud of the wine called after me!”

The wine shops and tasting rooms

In the Place de la Fontaine’s proximity there are numerous wine tasting cellars offering wines from the different domaines. Most of them do not charge for the tasting, but you will surely please them if you buy the wines you liked the most directly from them. Their prices are better than in the restaurants and surely they will sweep the costs of these wines abroad.

Degustation at Caveau D’Brunel

Unusual bottle shape was not the first think that stroke my eyes at the family-owned Caveau d’Brunel. Rather it was the friendly and smiling lady that was offering the wines for tasting. She explained to us the story behind each wine and she was especially proud of a red blend named after her “Danièle Brunel“. The Brunel family owns vineyards in Châteauneuf du Pape, Côtes du Rhône Villages Rasteau and general Côtes du Rhône Villages appelations.

My absolute favorite from all the wines we tasted (including a half bottle of Domaine du Vieux Telégraphe 2009) was the Château de la Gardine Cuvée des Génerations Gaston Philippe 2009.

Well-balanced, concentrated yet still keeping some of its elegance this red blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre was juicy, deep and long tasting.

Chateauneuf du Pape Chateau de la Gardine Gaston Philippe 2009

Ancient bottle shape

There are many other cellars, but this one we got recommended during our lunch at La Mére Germaine and enjoyed it a lot perhaps because of the friendly lady serving us the wines from her family’s winery as well as from other properties.

For an interesting comparison of old versus modern style wines from Châteauneuf du Pape look at these tasting choices by Eric Pfanner in New York Times July 21-22, 2012 article.

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Entrance to the Chateau La Nerthe

Château La Nerthe is one of the oldest wineries in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Established in the 12th Century, in the period when the popes were residing in Avignon and made Châteauneuf-du-Pape their summer residence as well as source for the mass wine. It was first documented though around 1560. Then it was known under different name (Grange de Beauvenir) and subsequently owned by various owners often coming from an aristocratic families.

Tranquille Chateau La Nerthe

The winery

The old winery was built in the 16th century. Here there are also stone tanks built into the walls about 1.20 meters thick, which have been used to age wines since the beginning of the production at the château. Some wines are still matured in these today and the other reds and some white grapes (Roussane, old Clairettes) are vinified as well as aged in large wood barrels typical for the traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds. Only natural yeasts are used to initiate the fermentation process. The rest of the white grapes are matured in stainless steel tanks and subsequently blended. No malolactic fermentation is used in the production of the white wines as the winery aims to preserve freshness and fruity character of their wines.

The old winery

Inbuilt wine tank

The cellar & vinothèque

The oldest part of the cellar (built in 1560) was dug directly in the stone mineral wall containing cobalt (safre). You can see it above on the picture. It is very hard to clean, but it is meticulously being done by a dedicated person at the winery since the tanks are still in use.

There is a lovely arched cave housing the small as well as huge oak barrels, in which the wines are being aged.

A unique feature of  the cellar at Château La Nerthe is the “vinothèque“, holding the private reserves of some of the greatest chefs and restaurants.

The legendary chefs include Allain Ducasse and also supposedly the oldest restaurant in Paris – the La Tour d’Argent. They all have their golden nameplate above the wines that will once be featured on their wine lists.

The chef Alain Ducasse

The wines

The annual production of the Château la Nerthe is almost 300,000 bottles of red and 40,000 bottles of white wine. It is not a small winery, but not a giant making commercial wines. An average age of the vines is 40 years and the oldest ones are over 110 years old!

During my visit I have tasted one white blend and three reds:

Château La Nerthe 2011 A.O.C. Châteauneuf-du-Pape blanc – a white blend of Grenache blanc, Roussane, Bourboulenc and Clairette. partially matured in barrels and stainless steel vats.

The reds are usually a blend of Grenache noir, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsault and a small proportion of other grapes included in the 13 allowed grapes in the A.O.C. Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The grapes are matured separately, some in large wooden casks and others in oak barrels. They are tasted separately and then blended to the winemaker’s satisfaction.

Château La Nerthe 2006 A.O.C. Châteauneuf-du-Pape rouge – had the highest percentage of Grenache from all the reds I have tried and it showed on the palate. Very deep and strong wine with misleading sweetness on the nose and vivid alcohol aftertaste. It is surely a food wine and needs a big chunk of meat to tame it a bit.

Château La Nerthe 2008 A.O.C. Châteauneuf-du-Pape rouge – my favorite as it was the most balanced wine here. It had an appealing cigar box on the nose, vibrant acidity and tannins on the palate with slight touch of dark fruits.

Château La Nerthe 2009 A.O.C. Châteauneuf-du-Pape rouge – the 2009 was an excellent vintage producing age-worthy wines with lots of fruits in the profile. In the case of this wine from Château La Nerthe it really needs the time to mellow its strong character. Now it is juicy, bursting with dark fruits, dominated by a more acidic blackberry.

After the tasting at the Château not only me, but also many other wine connoisseurs felt so light, exactly like the sculpture in the tasting room. (Pictured bellow) What a great piece of art!

Feeling like flying after the wine tasting.

Address: route de Sorgues  84230 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France
Contact: +33 (0) 4 90 83 70 11

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La Mere Germaine in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Cuisine: French traditional bistro style; Southern Rhone cuisine

Visit: August 2012

Price: medium (three-course lunch menu €23; four-course dinner menu €37)

This vibrant and friendly restaurant was first opened in 1922 by Madame Germaine Vion, who was previously the chef at the Élysée Palace in Paris. Thus the name of this iconic Chateauneuf-du-Pape restaurant was born. Recently it was renovated and reopened by its new owner Andre Mazy, who also monthly selects special local wines for wine enthusiasts visiting from all corners of the world. During my visit, there was a large Chinese group wine tasting in one of the rooms, but the wine tasting area is separated from the other dining rooms and we had a relaxed lunch with tremendous views of the vineyard-dominated Southern Rhone landscape.

Terrace at La Mere Germaine

Atmosphere: Casual, artsy and fresh. There are three dining areas. The first has been infused with art as paintings hang, sculptures stand and wine is being tasted there. The second has huge old windows and a mirrored wall allowing the natural light from outside to lighten up the room. The last is a terrace protected from the Mistral wind by windows built into arches, so you can savor the sun and fresh air without your napkin flying all over the place. You can wear anything you want except a swimming suit. It is a very casual place where locals cross with foreigners. Although the entire menu is in French, the friendly staff will explain to you what each dish is about.

Restaurant inside & view

Food: Traditional yet innovative with daily change of the lunch menu so one never gets bored by the food there. There is usually one fish and a number of meat courses, vegetarians will have to request something special unless there is already something suitable on that day’s offer. The food is honest, the portions generous and it is intensely tasty – no salt and herbs was spared on preparing these meals.

Since the food is changed daily, I will try to give you an idea, what it could be like from the dishes we had during our Monday lunch at La Mère Germaine.

We tried all the three appetizers on offer. They were all delicious and each of us went for something appealing to his/her palate.

Fish Terine

The Terrine de Poissons Aux Herbes, Tartare de Tomates was delicate, full of flavor and quite a light starter. The fish in the egg-based terrine was freshened up with herbs, and zesty chopped tomatoes on the side added juice to the otherwise dry terrine. It was perfectly balanced and excellent with a glass of a medium-bodied white Rhone wine.

The cantaloupe melon was in season and most of restaurants in the region included it in their menu either in the classical melon with ham or in a more sophisticated starter. At La Mère Germaine they have adopted the later. The Fraîcheur de Melon et Caillette, Gaspacho de Melon was a complex starter. With a side of a small cantaloupe gaspacho, the chopped melon slices with herbs and vegetables made into a salad and a meat terrine there was a little bit of everything. The gaspacho was refreshing and not too sweet, the salad with melon resembled more Asian style of fruit and veggie mixed salads and the terrine was a based on a great quality meat. With a dish like this though one struggles to choose the right wine to pair it with. I would say, that anything medium-to full-bodied should work. Just avoid feeble or crisp white wines.

The third starter of Foie Gras Confit, Chutney de Melon Jaune, Cake à la Verveine was another story in terms of finding the right wine match for it. An aromatic even slightly sweet white wine would do perfect and even a fruity and juicy red would cut through the fatness of the duck liver. Another great use of cantaloupe in this dish. (I almost think they must have had over-production of melons this year in France). The sweet character of the melon chutney combined with a verveine (verbena) infused cake instead of the commonly used bread was a unique and surely very tasty accompaniment to the delicate Foie Gras.

Foie Gras Confit

From the main courses we went for the Filet de Cabillaud Roti, Matignon de Légumes et Coques, Fleur de Courgette Farcie. The roasted cod filet with vegetables, cockles (small mussels) stuffed in a courgette flower had not a fault. It was an interesting way how to prepare cod in an engaging fashion. White wine is a must as seafood combined with fish and green vegetables rarely go with red, unless there is a rich sauce such as tomato or a meat juice.

And finally, the real carnivores would be delighted by the Gigot à Agneau Rosé, Pommes Croustillantes, Légumes Sautés, Tomates Confits. The traditional chunks of cooked veal were served with potatoes, sautéed vegetables and conserved tomatoes. If one was still hungry after eating the big thigh of veal, then a dessert would fill the gap. We had space only for a cup of coffee and tea and a wine tasting in front of us so we had to preserve our stamina for the afternoon happenings. Judging from the neighbors’ plate, the sweets looked delicious, so if you are not in rush, just savor one of them without hesitation.

Veal Filet

Drinks: The wine list is specialized on the Rhone Valley wines for great prices at a restaurant. The Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines are listed by vintage with the oldest wines reaching over 40 years back. The owner offers a special local selection of great-value-wines each month. Nevertheless, there are some Burgundies, Champagne and other lesser known wines from around France. We drunk first a local white wine from Domaine Lou Devete 2010 Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc Les Poéses de Marie.
It is a blend 50% Grenache Blanc and 50% Clairette aged for 6 months in barriques (small oak barrels). The production is quite small. Depending on the year it usually reaches about 1.300 bottles. It was refreshing yet deep and ideal with our appetizers. Later we ordered another lesser known red from Domaine du Lampourdier 2010 from the nearby Côtes du Rhone appellation. It was intense with a hint of spice from the Syrah in the blend. Great and juicy wine with the beef, but a bit too intense for the fish main course.

Contact: +33 (0) 4 90 22 78 34

Address: 3 Rue Commandant Lemaître; 84230 Châteauneuf-du-Pape; France

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