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|February 26-March 4, 2009
• Where carnivore and vegan meet
Blues & Greens mixes musical and culinary delights
by Clay Fong
• A new draft pick
The Boulder Draft House makes its mark on the local scene
Sip a bit of history
Chateauneuf-du-Pape, an often overlooked wine you should be drinking
by Bill Daley
With its bottles proudly embossed with the keys of St. Peter or the triple-tiered papal tiara, Chateauneuf-du-Pape offers modern drinkers a most delectable reminder of the Middle Ages, when turmoil forced the popes from Rome to the relative safety of Avignon in southeast France.
The papacy never put down permanent roots in France. The Holy See was reinstalled in Rome within seven decades. Yet those 14th century popes, particularly John XXII who built the castle for which the region got its name (chateauneuf du pape is French for “new castle of the pope”), left an enduring legacy in the vineyards they planted. The wine region has become one of the most recognized, and important, appellations in the southern Rhone.
More Americans need to get acquainted with this red wine.
“Chateauneuf-du-Pape is one of the most remarkable French wines and in my opinion often overlooked,” said Mark Dryden of Cabernet & Co. “I have had wines of amazing velvety flavors and others that are dark and earthy. The region is always producing wonderfully complex wines that go well with a variety of meals.”
What’s key is the wine’s innate fruitiness that allows consumers to enjoy Chateauneuf-du-Pape while young, said Tom Benezra of Sal’s Beverage World stores. The wine, in a word, is “accessible.”
Chateauneuf-du-Pape is “an excellent choice to bridge the gap for those accustomed to the New World styles of California, Washington and Australia and wanting to try French wine,” he said.
Thirteen grape varieties, both red and white, can be grown in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It’s a throwback to an earlier age when French winemakers had more grapes to work with. The major grape is grenache, which Benezra said contributes “warm, plummy fruit flavors.” Other varieties increasingly being used are mourvedre and syrah, which have resulted in “bolder wines with darker fruit flavors and more international appeal,” he added.
While this blending leads to more complexity and finesse, Rob Mosher, wine buyer for Chicago’s Just Grapes, said a blended wine like Chateauneuf-du-Pape tends to confuse American consumers.
“We are used to single varietal, easy-to-understand wines,” he said. “This just puts the onus on servers, sommeliers and wine retailers to educate their guests. It’s a wine that people must be led to, but then it can really wow people.”
Chateauneuf-du-Pape also can be pricey, with many bottles in the $30 to $50 range. It’s not in “that everyday category,” said Larry Ellis general manager of Antioch Fine Wines and Liquors in Antioch, Ill. But devotees say consumers get much for their dollar, including alcohol. Wines from Chateauneuf-du-Pape must contain at least 12.5 percent alcohol by law, the highest minimum of any French wine region, but some of the reds are up to 14.5 percent.
A string of excellent vintages have worked in Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s favor, especially 2003 to 2007. This has burnished the reputation of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Rhone wines across the board in comparison to the more variable output from Bordeaux and Burgundy, said Doug Jeffirs, director of wine sales for Binny’s Beverage Depot.
“In these great vintages, the rich, sappy cherry fruit of grenache complemented by the deep black fruits of syrah and mourvedre seem to keep the earthiness in check,” he said.
While Chateauneuf-du-Pape can be enjoyed young, a little aging helps open the wine further. Because most retailers sell the wine young, decanting the wine well before serving can “tame it a bit,” Mosher said.
“Consumed young, Chateauneuf-du-Pape will fill the bill of the big boy wine to go with grilled steak and lamb,” he said, noting seven to 12 years of bottle age will soften the wine while heightening its complexity and food-pairing possibilities.
“The wine pairs fabulously with roasted meats and herbs,” he added. “The complexity and depth of the wine matches that of the food. Game, including duck, pheasant and goose are good choices.”
I’m sure if those medieval popes were alive today they’d be putting their blessing on this lovely, delicious wine.
Signaling the potential
Telegramme Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the second-label of the esteemed Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe, earned a rare rating of four corkscrews, an “excellent,” from the Good Eating wine tasting panel. The wine, made from 90 percent grenache and 10 percent mourvedre, sent a clear message about how big and bold doesn’t necessarily translate into brash or brassy. The wine is expensive, $43 a bottle, but it filled the glass with color, the nose with aroma and the palate with flavor. If you’re looking for bang for the buck, this southern Rhone red fills the bill. So, too, did the other Chateaneuf-du-Papes sampled. They all rated “very good.” The wines could be cellared for years, perhaps decades, and would benefit by at least two hours in the glass or decanter before serving.
Several varieties of Chateaneuf-du-Pape are available locally at Liquor Mart (1750 13th St., 303-449-3374). Bottles range in price from $30 upwards to $200. Call or visit the store for more information from their wine experts.
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