The Many Grapes of Chateauneuf
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed July 22, 2002.For more information go to wineloverspage.com.
Among the many highlights of my recent trip to the Southern Rhone and Provence, one of the brightest had to be our visit to Chateau de Beaucastel, one of the top properties in one of my favorite wine regions, Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
I have written before about this Rhone region near Avignon, with its colorful history that goes back to the 14th Century, when the Popes of the Catholic Church moved their court to Avignon - and established not only a summer palace but the papal vineyards in and around the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape..."The new castle of the Pope."
Although a small amount of excellent white wine is made here, the flagship wine of the region is the red, virtually unique among the world's wines in that it is made from a blend of as many as 13 grape varieties. Grenache generally dominates, with Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsaut as important supporting players. But a few wineries - including Beaucastel - still make it a point to use at least a bit of all 13 in every vintage.
In a special treat during our visit, winery spokesman Mike Rijken offered us a "components tasting," a rare and educational chance to taste five of the grape varieties being vinified for the 2001 vintage before they are blended into the 13-grape "symphony" that is Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Here are my tasting notes on the components - it was truly intriguing to see how each presents its own distinctive aromas and flavors that will become a part of the whole.
MUSCARDIN - Warm, plummy, almost raisinlike in quality, with a soft and lactic texture. Makes up only about 1 to 2 percent of the final blend.
COUNOISE - About 7 to 10 percent of the blend, added for acidity and structure. Tasted alone, it is peppery and a bit green in scent, with spicy green peppercorns on the palate.
GRENACHE - Beaucastel usually uses only about 30 to 35 percent Grenache in the blend, a smaller portion than many of its neighbors. This component is very dark, with huge, ripe raspberry fruit, the trademark of Grenache. Deep and structured, a hint of black coffee behind all the berry fruit.
SYRAH - Added in only about 5 percent proportions to impart color and tannins. Held in large oak casks, it's black and opaque, with tart and leafy green aromas and a blast of black pepper on the palate.
MOURVEDRE - "This is the horse we bet on," Mike said, comprising about 30 percent of the blend. Cinnamon and spice surround big black fruit in a sample that's already showing full, ripe and "sweet."
These notes are included in my extensive wine and travel diary of the Rhone/Provence trip, which is now online with tasting notes and photos. You can also visit Chateau de Beaucastel.