It is a wonderful custom in Britain that while on holiday a local bottle is bought back as a souvenir of the land’s gastronomic tradition. I was the lucky sharer of such a happy occurrence last month when a family member returned from Provence in the sun-kissed deep south of France. Once the bottle was opened and generous dollops partaken, it was soon agreed that the wine was very fine – in fact, amazing! That wine was Domaine Tourbillon Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieille Vignes 2016. The grand sounding beverage gets its name from the fact that the Popes set up shop in Avignon in the 14th century. Now a small village in a stony area grew the best grapes in the Southern Rhône and so was acquired by the French Pope Clement and renamed ‘the popes new house’ or ‘Newcastle’ du Pape. The stones, or ‘galets’, were significant. The ‘galets’ had resulted from an old course of the Rhône washing up large flat eroded pebbles into heaps. Later, as the river become diverted, the stones formed an ideal component for well-drained soils that retained the scorching heat of the day – a night storage heater for vines.
By the 1920s more and more grape varieties were assembled into the Southern Rhône Red Blend, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre (or GSM) being the major blended components but many more were included even white grapes, all ripening at different times in the season. So, a set of quality-based rules was drawn up to keep tabs locally on how grapes were grown and made into wine - the birth of the French Appellation system or Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC became one of the first in 1929.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine is rich, full-bodied and very food friendly. A mix of red and black fruit, a touch of ‘garrigue’, the heady concoction of wild herbs found in the region: rosemary, thyme, lavender, juniper - as well as dark chocolate and sweet spicy notes. The very best examples such as the Tourbillon are expensive to buy so I have focussed on the £15 to £20 price point for my choice of the month.
Tesco’s Finest Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2017 GSM blend at £18 gives a nice introduction to the brand with black cherry and damson fruit, lavender, with herbaceous notes, bitter chocolate well balanced with a pleasantly warming finish. The offering from Family Perrin made with just Grenache and Syrah, Les Galets de la Berthaude Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2017, available from Portland Wine at £19.95, offers on the nose, dark cherry, strawberry, sweet spice, chocolate, earthiness and a creamy texture on the palate with warming alcohol. However I found it a little hollow and unbalanced in structure and possibly in need of more cellaring. Finally from Sainsburys I chose Cellier des Princes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2017 at £20. All these three wines are made with less extraction than the block-buster £30 bottles and are vinified to give a pleasant drinking experience after two to three years but with age potential.
I found the Sainsbury offering to have typical herbs with thyme, and rosemary on the nose, a mixture of red and black fruit (dark cherry and strawberry) and spicy and chocolatey flavours along with integrated alcohol and a good balanced structure. The Cellier des Princes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2017 is therefore my recommended tipple for those cold and dark November nights; time to enjoy the English custom of wine and cheese in the evening. Cheers!
Le Cellier des Princes, France
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