The wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are some of the world’s most collectible. Hailing from the Rhone region of France, the wine is named for the area of Avignon, where in the fourteenth century the Papal court relocated from Rome to France, with seven successive Popes refusing to move to Rome. It’s during this time that vines were planted in the region and producers began making wine.
However, the wine they were making back in the fourteenth century had very little in common with the wine that helped make the region famous at the beginning of the twentieth. It was early in the 1900’s that winemakers made the decision to formally designate the area, and create guidelines for how the wine could be made, like the minimum level of alcohol – 12.5% – and the outlawing of rosé production. But one of these guidelines has become more famous than all others – the fact that producers are permitted to use up to 18 different grape varieties in the production of the famous wine.
It’s a fact that’s recited by almost anyone who comes in contact with the region, partly due to the fact that it’s not just the sheer amount of grape varieties permitted that’s astonishing but also that the producer can use both red and white varieties in the wine’s creation.
Hearing this one might assume all wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape are blends of many different grapes, so many in fact that it’d be tough to know what grapes were inside the wine without a serious scientific analysis. The truth, however, is very different. In reality, only four grape varieties, and really only three if we’re being completely honest, are commonly used to create this collectible wine: Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault.
The region is arguably the best in all of France for producing Grenache and it’s this variety that makes up the majority of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend. Winemakers then make the decision on the amounts of Mourvedre and Syrah to add in order to give the wine tannin and structure. Finally, in some instances, a bit of Cinsault is also blended in.
While there are exceptions to this reality – Chateau de Beaucastel, one of the region’s top producers, are famous for cultivating 13 of the allowed varieties – most vintners choose to stick with the four grapes that truly make the wine one of the best in the world.