Home Destinations Legacy of the Popes: Chateauneuf du Pape

Legacy of the Popes: Chateauneuf du Pape

by Penny Sadler

A ruined chateau built in the 14th century under the reign of Pope John XXII dominates the hilltop. To the west, the Rhone River meanders across the landscape.

Though only the south wall of the chateau remains, the view is breathtaking enough to warrant a visit to the ruins. Not to mention, there are ancient caves, wine and food. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Legacy of the Popes Chateauneuf du Pape

Most tourists travel to Chateauneuf du Pape to visit the many tasting rooms and vineyards. For a hard core wine-lover, this area is not to be missed. It is one of the most well-known appellations in the southern Rhone Valley and one of the world’s most popular wines.

However,  it would be a mistake to visit Chateauneuf for the wine alone. Of all the wine regions I’ve visited to date, there amongst the remains of the castle, you recognize what “a sense of place,” truly means.

Legacy popes chateauneuf du pape

The Wine of the Popes of Avignon

The papacy moved to Avignon from Rome in 1309, and in 1316, Pope John XXII initiated construction of the castle. It was easy to see why Pope John chose this location with its 360- degree view of the village and vineyards below, only 30 kilometers from Avignon.

The popes of Avignon really dug the wine being produced in the area planted new vineyards in the more fertile land to the north. Pope John is credited with doing much to improve viticulture in the area as well. The wine was given the name “vin du papes” (wine of the popes) and was promoted far and wide. If not for the popes, would the wine of Chateauneuf du Pape be so well known? I think eventually, yes! Today the ruins are symbolic of the famous wines.

Sadly, Pope John died only one year after the chateau was completed so he never spent much time there. None of the subsequent popes ever lived there either. Pope Clement VII used it as an occasional hideout. The castle was passed to the Bishop of Avignon but it was too expensive to maintain. In time the stone was mined for building materials much like the Colosseum in Rome.

Drinking a wine from Chateauneuf du Pape is like drinking a bit of history.

Chateauneuf du Pape became one the first AOCs or appellation d’origine controlée in France in 1936. What this means is that every step of the production of wine must adhere to strict standards. This is the same for every appellation in France. What makes Chateauneuf wines unique is the thirteen grape varieties that can be blended into the wine, unlike most regions where only one grape is allowed. Grenache is the most widely grown varietal and the backbone of Chateauneuf wines. It lends the wine notes of dark cherry, blackberries and spiciness. It is said that Chateauneuf wines can be drunk young however they are much more approachable with a bit of age. The wines produced have the distinction of having the highest minimum allowed alcohol content at 12.5% although, in practice, they are usually 14% and higher.

Other important grapes in Chateauneuf du Pape are: Syrah, Mourvedré, Cinsault, Clairette, Vaccarése, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul, Picardin, Terret noir. Grenache Blanc is not considered separately from Grenache Noir.

The climate is typically Mediterranean, very sunny and dry, thanks to the mistral wind. Biodynamic farming is much more easily accomplished here as pests simply do not thrive in this environment. There are many different soil types from clay to sand and the galets roulés – large round pebbles that are said to help hold the heat in the soil and assist in drainage. Another feature of this AOC: All harvesting is accomplished by hand.

legacy popes chateauneuf du pape

Now, let’s get back to that wine cave and food I mentioned early on.

After a brief walk around the ruins to take some photographs, Michael Ippolito, my guide, led the way to the Cave du Verger, a tasting room representing over 200 wines from the area. The limestone cave was dug during Roman times and maintains many interesting architectural features.

wine popes chateauneuf du pape

Michael had brought along a 2014 Domaine du Pegau a Tempo for us to drink, so we did not linger but went straight away to a private tasting room.  The musty room was lit by candlelight and contained many bottles of very old vintages of Chateauneuf. The only other objects in the room were table and chairs we sat in and yet I felt as though I were in a Michelin-starred establishment. A sommelier opened the Pegau for us and we toasted my first visit to France and the amazing white Chateauneuf wine we drank.

White flowers and citrus jumped out of the glass and onto my taste buds. There was also a touch of stone fruit. Fresh and crisp but with a long finish, this wine perfectly suited my palate. Give me an aromatic white wine and I’m happy.

 

Wine Popes Chateauneuf du Pape

Just when I thought things couldn’t be any better Michael said we had a reservation for lunch in the restaurant above the cave, Le Verger des Papes. We started with mussels prepared in garlic and butter followed by duck breast with a red wine reduction. Michael had fish and shrimp in a light lemon sauce — all of it paired perfectly with the floral and citrus notes of the Domaine du Pegau.

The Wine of the Pope Chateauneuf du Pape

Intimate, even though buzzing with French families enjoying a leisurely Sunday afternoon meal, Le Verger du Papes is a family-owned restaurant that appeared to be somewhat of a local secret. Afterwards we moved to the terrace for coffee, which shares the same stunning views of the Rhone Valley and the landscape below.

Le Cave du Verger Chateauneuf du Pape

We did not visit any other tasting rooms that day. As it was Sunday, most were closed and I had a boat to catch back in Avignon. I don’t think anything I could have had to drink after lunch would have tasted any better than the wine I drank in a 2000-year-old cave under the ancient chateau – the legacy of the popes of Avignon.

Thanks to Micheal Ippolito of Wine in Provence, a luxury private tour company for the fantastic Domain du Pegau and tour. Michael is a longtime resident of France who together with his French wife, Cyrielle, shares a wine insider’s view via Wine in Provence Tours with visitors from all over the world.

Legacy of the Popes Chateauneuf du Pape

If you’d like to read about past vintages of Chateauneuf du Pape and some great tasting notes from real pros this article from the New York Times is very good.

If You Liked This Article Check Out Another!

25 comments

Veronika Tomanova April 19, 2017 at 5:04 am

I really love wine so place with as many as 200 various kinds sounds like paradise! I am glad to read about your wine sating experience. In my country we say that where people drink wine, people live better.

Reply
Penny Sadler April 19, 2017 at 10:37 am

Hello Veronika, I am not sure where you are from but I agree, wine does make life better.

Reply
Annie April 18, 2017 at 2:25 pm

I agree that visiting a wine region only for the wine is silly! So many wine regions are beautiful or have a lot of history. That castle looks like the perfect place to check out 🙂

Reply
Penny Sadler April 19, 2017 at 10:37 am

Thanks Annie. It is and the Le Cave tasting room is excellent. You don’t have to do a tasting, just go check it out!

Reply
Maartje April 18, 2017 at 11:41 am

Chateauneuf du Pape is world famous and I am happy that thanks to your post this got on my radar again! And that I have some more knowledge on the wine history and region. It’s such a shame that the region is just a little to far for a weekend drive from Amsterdam!

Reply
Lieurene Tran April 18, 2017 at 4:53 am

How interesting to learn about this place and its history. I think its great how they can blend 14 different types of grapes into wine, since that actually might enhance the flavors. Sounds like it was a great experience!

Reply
Nancy April 16, 2017 at 7:30 pm

Wine tasting in Chateauneuf du Pape is fabulous – I agree it is like drinking a bit of history! Excellent post 🙂

Reply
Frank April 16, 2017 at 1:26 am

Hey Penny,
Thanks for the article. I’ve never been to Western Europe but places like this and posts like this make me really curious about European history and visiting. I’m not a hardcore wine person but it sounds like this place is worth the drinks! Appreciate your input.
Cheers,

Reply
Lois Alter Mark April 15, 2017 at 10:06 pm

This sounds like an amazing experience. I love when you’re able to be immersed in so much fascinating history while indulging in great food and drink!

Reply
Jenn and Ed Coleman April 15, 2017 at 9:40 pm

Sounds like an amazing tour. It seems like there are more and more wine tours popping up but nothing compares to a wine tour in France repleat with castles. (Or at least chautiues)

Reply
Penny Sadler April 15, 2017 at 9:44 pm

It’s true. Castles and chateaux…

Reply
Kimberly Erin April 15, 2017 at 8:23 pm

There is something so picturesque and cool about the wineries in France, I know. But I am a non- drinker so pointing out different things to see within wine country is great 🙂 Thanks

Reply
Penny Sadler April 15, 2017 at 9:05 pm

I’m glad to hear that because I love wine country travel – not only for the wine but the culture and history.

Reply
Danik April 15, 2017 at 6:03 pm

This is really strange, I explored that area way back in 2010 and never came or heard across the Chateauneuf du pape. Now I am going to try and find it when I drive through that region of France like I do often from north to south.

Reply
Penny Sadler April 15, 2017 at 8:02 pm

Very strange indeed.

Reply
Bob R April 15, 2017 at 3:36 pm

Really happy to have crossed paths with this today, we were just discussing some similar options for a trip to the Rhone region. I’ve been a huge fan of Chateauneuf du Pape since being turned on to it in the early 90s by an early Guigal fan. He’s still among my favorite winemakers. Will pin for future reference.

Reply
Penny Sadler April 15, 2017 at 8:03 pm

Hey Bob, thanks for the comment. Happy to hear that it was helpful for you.

Reply
Sand In My Suitcase April 11, 2017 at 10:50 am

Chateauneuf du Pape certainly has the reputation of producing excellent wines! It must have been lovely to visit the area in person — and taste some of their vintages :-).

Reply
Penny Sadler April 11, 2017 at 2:49 pm

It’s a very interesting area for sure.

Reply
Jenna April 11, 2017 at 1:12 am

Oh wow, what an experience! And I would LOVE to visit the old wineries in France, something I didn’t do when I was there many years ago.

Reply
Penny Sadler April 11, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Well you must go back!

Reply
Alison April 10, 2017 at 12:38 pm

This is one of my absolute favourite regions of France, which is saying something because I love the entire country. There are so many incredible wines and domains to discover, my bucket list keeps getting bigger instead of smaller! 🙂

Reply
Penny Sadler April 10, 2017 at 2:11 pm

I know what you mean. There’s always more to explore!

Reply
Susan Manfull April 4, 2017 at 10:54 pm

I would love to visit the château … especially a a bottle of white CNP! You lucky lady!

Reply
Penny Sadler April 5, 2017 at 12:52 pm

it was fantastic. I wish I had another!

Reply

Leave a Comment