Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Châteauneuf du Pape : when a castle means wine, and more.

Serious wine. Heavy, heady, colorful. Ancient as the Popes, keeps for ages, yet mature and drinkable only a few months after the harvest. The Côte du Rhône are arguably the epitome of french wines, (Some say life in Paris is hardly bearable without the influx of Côte du Rhone poured at the counter of every corner café) and Chateauneuf du Pape is the epitome of Côte du Rhone. Ideal terrain, perfect climate, dry, chilled by Mistral wind...
Robert Parker, the celeberated wine critic recently included no less than seven different Chateauneuf's wines in the wine tasting exhibition organised in wine future in the Spanish Rioja. The local wineyard-owners and wine-makers ( propriétaires-récoltants) were the first to set rules to their production and to defend it's territory, and their self-discipline inspired the french AOC certificate of origin for vintage wines.

Halfway between Avignon and Orange, the village by itself is lovely, built in golden colored stone on a slope with great views.
We went for a little shopping in Chateauneuf - finding it not terribly changed since it was build by the Popes to defend the northern approaches of Avignon - and wanted to came back with liters of the stuff. Alas, it is not as unexpensive as it once was... bottles start at 13 euros.
So we bought chocolate instead. There is a famed chocolate house in Chateauneuf du Pape, Chocolats Bernard Castelain. Free tasting, mini museum, open monday to saturdays in winter. (The Castelain's just opened a temporary store in the center of Avignon, in a prime location place de l'Horloge... that will close by the end of the year, unfortunately.) My favourite chocolate is their 'ganache des Papes', made with marc ( a liquor obtained from the distillation of mout, i.e. what remains of wine grapes after pressing.) Gorgeous.
And yes, there is a castle there, the dark oblique slab above is not a piece of chocolate but the dungeon. Sorry for the bad photographs.