In 1268 the papal election lasted three years. Following the death of Benedict XI in 1304, there was so much infighting among the College of Cardinals, essentially equally divided between the French and Italians, a year passed before Pope Clement V was elevated to head the church. When Raymond Bertrand de Got, a Frenchman from Bordeaux, become Pope Clement V in November of 1305, he refused to appear in Rome. His coronation took place in the French city of Lyon, after which he settled not in Rome but in Poitiers, located approximately halfway between Paris and Bordeaux. He remained in Poitiers four years before moving further south to Avignon, now a part of Provence but during Pope Clement’s reign, a holding belonging to the King of Sicily.
The papacy remained in Avignon for the next 76 years. Avignon is located in the heart of the southern Rhone winegrowing region where red wine varietals grenache, syrah and mourvedre dominate. No doubt Pope Clement, who built a new home named Châteauneuf-du-Pape, “new chateau of the Pope,” consumed these wines during his tenure in the region. His successor, John XXII, built a new papal summer home in the midst of the vineyards.
Until the 20th century, wines from this region were known as Châteauneuf-Calcernier. In the early 20th century the wines of the region became known as Châteauneuf-du-Pape after undergoing significant improvements mandated by a regulatory agency dictating such things as varietals grown, yields and wine alcohol levels.
White Châteauneuf-du-Pape is produced, but 90 percent of wines from this region are red. Some 14 different varieties of grapes are allowed in these wines. It is not unusual for white varietals to be blended with red varietals but the workhorses remain grenache, syrah, mourvedre and to a lesser extent, cinsaut.
Red wines from this region run the gamut from exceptional to mundane. They are adorned with customary identifying labels but most bottles are embossed with the papal mitre or crossed keys, or a combination of both. Wines from the southern Rhone can be great values on restaurant wine lists, but Châteauneufs can be a bit pricey. Try one of the following in celebration of the new Pope.
2009 Domaine Grand Veneur “Vieilles Vignes” Châteauneuf-du-Pape
$80 range by special order via your favorite wine merchant or online from K&L wine merchants. When tasted at a recent trade show, this wine provided one of those transcendent wine moments. From a blend of grenache, mourvedre and syrah. Unlike some Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this wine sees time in new oak but the oak is not obvious. The fruit dominates tempered by earthiness. A harmonious blend. This bottle had been opened two hours before tasting. For those who follow wine critic Robert Parker, he raved about this wine, awarding it 96 points.
Châteauneuf du Pape Domaine Jerome Gradassi 2009
$42.75 at Tyson Fine Wines and Things in Golden Springs. A blend of 80percent grenache and 20 percent mourvedre, syrah and the white grape, clairette. Aged in neutral oak barrels. Made in small quantities by a former one-star Michelin chef. Earthy berry infused nose. Slight sweetness on the approach. Complex palate with hints of pepper and herbs. Smooth and lingering finish.
Domaine de Chateaumar Cuvee Bastien Grenache Cotes du Rhone 2009
$14 at Tyson’s. From 100 percent grenache. Only 500 cases produced of this versatile, full-bodied, deep red wine with juicy flavors of bramble fruit mingled with bacon and herbs. A declassified Châteauneuf, usually meaning that for varying reasons this wine was intended for a pricier label.