Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Popes in France?

Yes indeed. From 1305 to 1377, seven popes (all French) ruled the Catholic church from Avignon in the South of France. This is why you will find the Palais des Papes in Avignon. It's where my father was born, and I visited the area when I was 2 and 5 years old. Sadly, I haven't been back since.

New digs for the popes (as of approx. 1334 AD)

It also explains the Châteauneuf du Pape appellation along the banks of the Rhone. It literally means "the new castle of the pope", and refers to the new residence of the popes. Pope Clement V declined to move to Rome when he was elected to the papacy in 1305 and instead moved to Avignon in 1309. Clement VI started construction of a new palace in 1334 (Palais Neuf) as Clement V and other popes ruled from the old palace (Vieux Palais) until 1334.

Châteauneuf du Pape is mostly made from Grenache grapes, and guess what we crushed at the winery a few days ago? Yep, several tons of fine-looking Grenache:

Beautiful Grenache grapes

Grenache is a thick-skinned grape (don't trust what Wikipedia says about it), and you can really feel the difference between it and thin-skinned grapes like Pinot Noir or Zinfandel. The berries have a beautiful dark blue, almost iridescent coloring. While Châteauneuf du Pape wine often ends up dark red/purple and very concentrated, that coloring is usually thanks to some blending with Syrah. Grenache tends to oxidize easily during fermentation and loses much of its color.  Many Grenache-based wines are pale in color, though Châteauneuf du Pape is an exception.

Châteauneuf du Pape has enjoyed a resurgence in the US these past few years, and you can find much more of it in your local wine shops and restaurants. The bottles are often very ornate, with embossed logos in the glass:

Typical Châteauneuf du Pape bottles

For a more detailed look at the Southern Rhone region of France, check out the map below (click on it for a more readable view):

Click on image above for a readable map of the Northern and
Southern Rhone wine growing regions of France

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