Chateauneuf Du Pape – Two stars of the southern Rhone

2013 Domaine Giraud Chateauneuf Du Pape Tradition
2013 Domaine Jerome Gradassi Chateauneuf Du Pape

-Pipe and Pint Grape Notes – Vol.1/ Ch.4

Let’s take a trip to Europe today, specifically to the southern Rhone region of France and one its most famous wine growing regions, Chateauneuf Du Pape. In fact I can already let you know that we will be staying in Europe for the next couple of reviews which, despite being somewhat coincidental, is a nice change from the California-heavy theme of my first three write-ups. In addition to staying in Europe, we will also be focusing on wines that are primarily composed of two major grape varietals, Grenache and Syrah which also happen to be the two most common varieties used in making Chateauneuf Du Pape wines.

For those of you not familiar with Chateauneuf Du Pape, let me start off by saying that if you like medium to full-bodied, rich and silky smooth wines with great character and complexity, you can rarely go wrong when picking up a bottle from this region. Just looking at these bottles which usually sport a fancy/old-school label and embossed logo on the actual bottle gives you a sense of tradition and conveys the history of this place. Not surprising, considering that Chateauneuf Du Pape is actually France’s oldest classified wine growing region, having been named an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (controlled designation of origin) in 1932. And it is the largest wine growing area in the southern Rhone region of France. The wines are usually blends and for a wine to be sold under the Chateauneuf Du Pape classification it has to consist of one of 13 specified grape varieties, which apart from the predominant Grenache and Syrah grapes, also include Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre. Usually Grenache is the “star” or “dominant player” in the Chateauneuf blends though and it leaves its mark with a beautifully balanced mix of fruit (strawberry, black cherry) and herbal/spice (cinnamon, tobacco) aromas which make this variety so easy to recognize on its own. Pair those aromas with the darker fruits and peppery notes of the full-bodied Syrah grape or the complexity of a Mourvèdre and you’ll get an idea why the Chateauneuf blends are so incredibly appealing. There is just so much variety and our two wines today are actually a great example of that.

Chateauneuf-Du Pape-Two Stars-PartOne

The 2013 vintage of Marie and Francois Giraud’s Chateauneuf Du Pape Tradition is a typical fleshy and chewy mix of sweet red fruit with a slight herbal undertone. The strawberry and black cherry fruit is definitely at the core of this wine which is a mix of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah. Only the Syrah is aged in oak barrels (the Grenache in cement vats) but that does give it a silky smoothness and even some hints of vanilla and Syrah-pepperiness which complements the sweet fruit very well. The tannins are present and hold it together well without getting in the way. Overall, a very pure example of Chateauneuf style and a great, easy-to-drink bottle.

Now we’ll turn to the other Chateauneuf, one that really reminded me of walking down the aisles of an Asian or oriental spice market, picking up new and interesting scents left and right. Winemaker Jerome Gradassi, a former chef at a Michelin starred restaurant and a rising star in the Rhone valley seems to be able to make wines that reflect the whole gamut of flavors and spices available to a good chef. His 2013 Chateauneuf Du Pape is no exception to this. It’s a very elegant wine that when first opened doesn’t hide its sweet raspberry aroma but with some air quickly starts to envelop those fruity aromas into a wealth of herbs and spices. Cinnamon, black tea, herb mix and hints of liquorice hit the nose. With even more time, I sensed a nice peppery finish. A real joy to explore and supported by a smooth texture in the mouth and similar to its counterpart from Giraud, backed by enough tannins to give it structure.

Let me wrap up by saying that both of today’s wines are a joy to drink and they demonstrate the breadth of aromas and flavors to be explored from within this single region. Depending on your mood, either one can be the perfect companion. I guess that’s reason enough to have at least a bottle of each on the wine rack.

Stay tuned for part two where we will be looking at two more wines from the southern Rhone region, this time outside of Chateauneuf Du Pape.




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