Diving into Chateauneuf-du-Pape with Wine Buyer Barry Herbst

Written by Wine Buyer, Barry Herbst

As the years go on and my tastes for wine have darted around the world including the regions of Piedmont, Rheingau, Stellenbosch, Chinon, Volnay, Aube and more, but I always come back to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The best examples have an immediate deliciousness that is unmatched. Surely other regions can provide equal or greater intellectual satisfaction with age, but Châteauneuf-du-Pape is always ready to please like chipper Golden Retriever waiting on your doorstep.

Over the years the style of Châteauneuf-du-Pape has changed, peaking in the mid 2000’s with a general tendency towards a ripe fruit profile. Now with the beautiful 2015 and 2016 vintages on the shelves, it seems Châteauneufs has come back into balance. I have been particularly fond of the wines that are heavier on Grenache. The best version of these wines possess a beautiful ripe berry liquer quality with loads of cedar and tobacco.

With more than 8,000 acres under vine, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the largest appellation in the Rhône, producing only two wines, a red Châteauneuf-du-Pape (which represents 94 percent of the appellation's production) and a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Of the eight red varietals planted, Grenache is the dominant variety (nearly 80 percent), followed by Syrah, Mourvèdre and tiny quantities of Cinsault, Muscardin, Counoise, Vaccarèse and Terret Noir, while the most important white varietals include Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc and Roussanne (Picpoul and Picardin are also permitted). Until recently, white Châteauneufs were largely bland and uninteresting. However as winemakers have invested in better equipment to preserve freshness and aromas, these wines have soared in quality and complexity.

The legend of Châteauneuf-du-Pape begins in the In the XIVe century when Pope Jean XXII chose Châteauneuf as the location for his summer residences, and then decided to plant vines on the stony land which surrounded his landholdings. The wine region remained largely a secret until the XVIIIe century, and was not officially recognized as it's own appellation until 1929.

Primarily thanks to the lavish praise from Robert Parker and other high profile critics, Châteauneuf is definitely not flying under the radar anymore. However, despite the accolades, Châteauneuf has largely remained a great value in the hierarchy of top wines of the world. The best examples that often score in the 96-100 point range will set you back between $50-$100. Conversely similarly scored wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and even the Northern Rhone will set you back on average between $150-$500! Do yourself a favor and give these beauties a try while they still remain affordable. You can enjoy them on release or put them away and enjoy down the road.

Here are a few red wines we recommend from the region that are high in value with great ratings:

  1. 2016 Clos du Mont Olivet Le Petit Mont ($26.99)
  2. 2016 Domaine de Saje ($38.99)
  3. 2016 Clos Bellane Urgonien ($42.99)
  4. 2016 Domaine La Cabotte Vieilles Vignes ($46.99)
  5. 2016 Domaine de la Charbonniere Cuvee Mourre des Perdrix ($50.99)
  6. 2016 Domaine Du Vieux Telegraphe La Crau ($74.99)

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