Châteauneuf is a dandy little French word that means “New Castle” and while the ruins of the Catholic Pope’s onetime summer French palace in exile (it’s a complicated story) are no longer new but crumbling, there is a sense that old, new and everything in between really are relative in light of the beauty and deliciousness this terroir produces.
This is by far the most prized red wine of the French Rhone and its made its way around the world in recent years with a vigor and boldness that is modeled on the very spicy Grenache and silky Syrah grapes that make up its full bodied and high alcohol (15%) character.
A place full of History
As if the papacy in exile isn’t enough of a fantastic draw for history buffs, the region holds lots of WWII and French Revolution history to explore and it is all very well marked and preserved. The ruins of the Pope’s castle are a fraction of the once glorious building, but the ability to walk in them and survey the wine country, Rhone valley and Avignon miles into the distance is just breathtaking.
Character in the Scenery
For a world-class wine there is no snobbery or privacy that fans need to worry about here. The 60 different estates that radiate outwards from the castle all have wonderful pathways that allow one to walk right through the midst of the vines. 3200 hectacres are under vine and one of the most enduring images we recall from the hikes we took were the layers of white rock piled so thick around the vines that you can scarcely see a patch of earth anywhere.
It’s not just gently rolling hills that give the town and vineyards character, but the fact that far off on the horizon you can see the Luberon, Mt Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains like a living painting. The wide and blue Rhone river is just minutes away and really signals the special landscape that is unforgettably associated with these wines for us now. There is something to seeing where a wine is born, it allows you to recollect the soil, sunlight and sky and future tastings have the added joy of memory to make the experience that much more delightful.
Red Wines of Distinction
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is actually a comeback story. Where it not for the Phylloxera outbreak in the 19th century the viniculture may not have undergone the rehaul it did. The result is that we found a wine that routinely retails between 20 and 70 Euro, never really more or less even for noteworthy collectors bottles. The types of tourist that come here aren’t the massive busloads but more discerning drinkers who wander the various wine shops, tasting rooms and restaurants in search of an in situ indulgence.
We opted to stay at an Airbnb in the heart of town which was actually attached to a tasting room. The result was we had a blast with our hospitable French hosts and being just steps from the action of the small city could enjoy the collective excitement shared by discerning wine enthusiasts, without being overwhelmed by overtourism and just minutes away from walking the vineyards of history, beauty and distinction that have captivated palates across the globe.