As a youth, even I had heard of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, despite growing up in a working class household in an unfashionable corner of south east London. This wasn’t because my parents were wine drinkers (my dad, bless him, bought one bottle a year: a Black Tower for Christmas dinner). No, I had two cultural reference points.
1. Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses: the cockney chancer loved to drop a bit of French into conversation as an aid to sophistication. To him, Châteauneuf-du-Pape was an exclamation of disbelief (injected with a soupçon of exotic allure).
2. The Beastie Boys’ lyric from the track Body Movin’: “Like a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape / I’m fine like wine when I start to rap.”
But… it was a long time till I actually got to try the stuff.
So what is Châteauneuf-du-Pape? It’s a style of wine (almost always red, but there are some whites available) made in any of 320 vineyards in a protected area near the village of the same name (translated as “the Pope’s new castle”) in the Southern Rhône region of south eastern France. It’s the purple bit here…
Eighteen grape varieties are allowed to be used in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but the most common combination is a blend of Grenache (provides sweetness and lightness); Syrah (known as Shiraz in the New World. Adds depth of colour, spice, dark fruits and body); and Mourvèdre (adds structure, tannin and finish). This, the staple combination of the Côtes du Rhône, can be abbreviated to the “GSM blend”.
Châteauneuf reds tend to be strong, full bodied, fruity, earthy an spicy. They age well but can also be drunk young. The 2015 vintage I tried last weekend (see stained, empty bottle above) was overflowing with soft, tangy dark-fruit flavours: blackberry, blackcurrant, cherry.
You can get cheaper wines from other appellations around the Rhône that use the same grapes and provide a similar experience to the Châteauneuf mix. And New World producers are at it too. My local supermarket does a very smooth South African blend of Shiraz, Grenache and Viognier (a white grape variety, used in place of the Mourvèdre), which is excellent value at £7.
But, of course, they don’t have the name-drop value of a Châteauneuf. My only gripe about the above bottle was that it gave me a horrific hangover. Mind you, I had done a ninjutsu grading earlier that day. Maybe I should have rehydrated beforehand. Unfortunate proof that enjoying wine and being a ninja don’t always mix.