Anthony Gismondi on Wine

The village of Châteauneuf du Pape lies between the towns of Orange and Avignon in the Cotes du Rhone.

The vineyards, all 3,200 hectares, are spread throughout the commune and include parts of neighbouring Bédarrides, Courthézon, Orange and Sorgues.


The area is one of the driest in the Cotes du Rhone with a strong Mistral wind frequently blowing throughout the growing season. Pope John XXII established the papal summer residency in Châteauneuf du Pape with its attendant castle on the top of the hill in the early 14th century. The papal coat of arms from Avignon includes the keys of St. Peter.


Vineyards were established early but drew little attention until the latter part of the 19th century when unfortunately they were decimated by phylloxera and remained partially planted until the end of World War II.


Historically growers were permitted to use 13 grape varieties and while the regulations remain unchanged today's reds are primarily comprised of grenache noir, syrah, and mourvèdre with small amounts of cinsault and counoise.


Grenache noir generally represents between 60 and 80 per cent followed by syrah and mourvèdre at 10-20 per cent each. The syrah plays a less dominant role here due to a much warmer climate (than the northern Rhone) which benefits the grenache and mourvèdre.


Several producers such as La Nerthe and Beaucastel now use less grenache, 40- 50% and have increased the mourvèdre and syrah contents to about 20 per cent each with a bit of cinsault, especially in their top wines. Cinsault and counoise represent only about 5%-10% now mostly because the other grapes provide so much more character.


Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc is made from several grapes based on grenache blanc, clairette, bourboulenc, roussanne, picpoul and picardin. The best and richest examples are dominated by roussanne and secondarily by clairette, grenache blanc and bourboulenc.


The vineyards are highly unique with deep sandy, gravel soils mixed with clay and chalk but on the plateau (La Crau), an area north and east of the city, you'll find the famous reddish galets roulés. These large, ovate, grapefruit to football-sized stones radiate the day's heat throughout the night.


Cultivation can be difficult. Harvesting the grapes is a painstaking process. Because of appellation rules, none of the vines are staked or on wire trellis. Goblet pruning is used and the vines are kept low to the ground to reduce damage from the wind.


Syrah is the only variety allowed on a guyot or cordon due to the upright nature of the shoots that can be damaged during windy periods. The average age of the vines in Châteauneuf is very old as exemplified by the short, thick, gnarly trunks and tiny arms.


The vineyards are un-irrigated and the 35 hl yields are some of the lowest of any French appellation. Many of the best reserve cuvées are made from 50 to 100 year-old vines and yield even less. Most growers farm organically and some could probably qualify as biodynamic. This is more of an established practice and philosophy for the region as opposed to a marketing shtick.


There are myriad styles of Châteauneuf du Pape due to the diversity in local microclimates, vineyard location, exposure, grape blends, and winemaking style. Harvest dates can vary as much as a month depending upon site location and style.


In the winery, producers utilize large oak foudres (20-150 hl) as well as stone vats and barriques to achieve a variety of styles. Many traditionalists remain such as Domaine Pegau that utilize whole clusters lightly crushed but with stems. It's a style that requires absolute optimum ripeness but can be rewarded with big rich flavours.


The softer, forward, fruitier styles of wine are often drinkable upon release but can age well for five years or more. The medium term, moderately ripe style is good upon release but the wines are best drunk between seven and twelve years of age. The sturdiest, most long-lived Châteauneuf will age effortlessly for 10 to 30 years.


The region has been blessed with a recent spate of excellent vintages - 1998 was a blockbuster and exhibits very ripe fruit but substantial ripe tannins so lay them away. The '99s are also very good - perhaps a bit more classic with rustic tannins but very good fruit and worth laying away to soften.


With 2000 comes another fabulous vintage, similar in fruit intensity to 1998 but with much more supple tannins and elegance. Most taste so good now they will be destined to disappear early on but the best are capable of lengthy aging.


The new millennium wine, 2001, although still in barrel, also promises to be another outstanding vintage with excellent fruit, ripeness and structure.


Most major Canadian markets boast an excellent selection of producers although not all so check both your local monopoly stores and the private shops for their special selections.


Spotting authentic Châteauneuf du Pape is easy because every bottle is embossed with two intertwined keys (the keys of St. Peter), the papal coat of arms from Avignon.


Finally the very best food pairings with Châteauneuf include wild game, truffles and rabbit.

Current Notes


96 Domaine de Beaurenard (Paul Coulon) 2000 'Boisrenard'

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley, France

Made from 60-90 year old vines, unfiltered, 18 months in oak casks. About 70% grenache, rest equal syrah, mourvèdre, cinsault. Super aromatic black raspberry jam, pepper, spicy, garrigue, smoky floral game aromas with hint of vanilla and black licorice, wonderful intensity and ripeness. Rich, round, silky smooth ripe tannins but quite substantial in the finish. Almost unctuous on the palate, has very ripe plum jam, black raspberry, peppery, spicy earth flavours with a big dried orange peel, licorice, vanilla and spice finish. Long, concentrated aftertaste and big ripe tannins. Great fruit intensity. This will last for fifteen to twenty years but some may be tempted to drink it now while so ripe and fruity. Classy and relatively good value for a top cuvée. BC $78.95 (WA)


95 Chateau La Nerthe 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pape 'Cuvée des Cadettes'

Rhône Valley, France

A blend of 39/26/35 grenache/mourvèdre/syrah aged in new barrique for 12 months.

Intense dark cherry colour. Open vanilla, cedar, smoky, very spicy, ripe plum aromas mixed with prune, sweaty leather and game notes, very complex. On the palate it is very rich and round with supple tannins. Intense smoky, cherry, plum, pepper, leather and vanilla spice flavours that persist. Very long, rich and fruity. Needs five to ten years to come around but wonderful intensity and structure. BC $85 (ST)



94 Domaine de Beaurenard (Paul Coulon) 1999 'Boisrenard'

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley, France

Made from 60-90 year old vines, unfiltered, 18 months in oak casks. About 70% grenache, rest equal syrah, mourvèdre, cinsault. Intense black pepper, violet, garrigue, black cherry jam, raspberry and licorice aromas with hints of vanilla and game, great intensity. Earthy, cedar, peppery vanilla flavours with a big whack of black cherry jam, licorice, game and spice. So round and ripe but finished with substantial fine tannins. Drinkable now with roast game but will really need seven to fifteen years to fully mature. Try again in seven years. Elegant and classy. BC $78.95 (ST)


94 Chateau de Beaucastel 2000 Du-du Pape

Rhone Valley, France

Although the 1999 is still in market, the 2000 was available for tasting at the winery this year. Big smoky, spicy, gamy, black berry, black plum, garrigue and pepper aromas. Very rich, round and supple but intense with very ripe tannins. Ripe blackberry jam, plum, gamy, licorice, smoky mineral and leather flavours. Long and supple with very ripe fruit. Very appealing but will age well for at least ten to fifteen years. One to watch. BC $62.00 (ST)


94 Domaine du Pegau 1999 "Cuvée Réserveé"

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France

Rich open, ripe cherry, blackberry aromas with a peppery, toasted kirsch character. Super rich and ripe in the mouth with intense black fruit flavours that persist well into a smoky/gamy warm finish. Big ripe tannins add heft and weight to a super ripe peppery finish. A blockbuster style worth cellaring and the 2000 will be even better. BC $58.95, AB $50.95 (WA)


93 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe 2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Rhône Valley, France

Big barnyard, pepper, earth, mushroom, gamey cherry kirsch nose. Richer and more concentrated than the 1999, it has ripe cherry and plum fruit flavours mixed with mineral, peppery, spicy flavours. A bit higher acidity with very ripe, smooth tannins and a long smoky, spicy plum finish. Will be very good in ten years time but approachable early. BC $ 59.95 (ST)


93 Les Cailloux 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Rhône Valley, France

Very spicy, peppery, gamy, sweaty, prune, plum ad roasted pepper aromas with a touch of letter and chocolate, very good complexity. Rich, round and unctuous with very supple, fine tannins. Big intense ripe black cherry and plum fruit flavours mixed with licorice, earth and peppery orange spice. Ripe, somewhat tannic finish with good acidity. Delicious flavours now but needs five to seven years to fully round out and may keep ten years. BC $42.95 (ST)



92 Chateau La Nerthe 2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Rhône Valley, France

Very open dark plum, prune, barnyard, sweaty leather and spice aromas. Ripe, round and elegant with very supple tannins. Black plum jam, prune, leather, smoky spice flavours with a long finish. Very balanced and elegant, supple. Medium term aging but another excellent 2000. BC $?? (ST)


91 Domaine du Père Pape 1999 "La Crau de Ma Mere"

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France

Reductive aromas of garlic, game and wet earth. It tastes much better than it smells at this point. Elegant style on the palate with spicy lychee meaty (syrah-like) fruit. Full flavoured and well balanced with a fine smoked-earth finish. It's young and should be even better in five years. The nose should clean up too. BC $39.95, AB $33.95 (WA)


91 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Rhône Valley, France

Very gamy, smoky, earthy, sweaty leather with garrigue and black cherry jam. Elegant, round and somewhat tannic has black cherry, game, peppery, spicy, meaty flavours. Strong tannic finish, very good potential for vintage, needs minimum of five years, probably eight. BC $ 59.95 (ST)


91 Le Vieux Donjon 2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Rhône Valley, France

Smoky, peppery, spicy gamy licorice aromas with a strong black cherry background. Rich, ripe, intense fruit with big black cherry, plum, licorice, game and roasted pepper flavours. Very elegant and round with ripe tannins in the finish. Drinkable now but will improve for five to eight years. Very balanced and suave, representative of the 2000 vintage. BC $39.95 (ST)


90 Chateau La Nerthe 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Rhône Valley, France

Black berry, plum, gamey, smoky, vanilla aromas. Somewhat tight and tannic on the palate, has good cherry, spicy, earthy, smoky pepper flavours. Slightly leaner style but maintains the elegance and structure. Needs three to five years at a minimum. Definitely a 1999 with the tighter tannins. BC $?? (ST)


90 Saint-Benoit 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Grand Garde

Rhone Valley, France

Open earthy, smoky, mushroom aromas with a smoky, gamy berry fruit aromas. Quite smoky, pruny flavours with a soft, round, mid-palate. The aftertaste is long and smooth with some dryness at the end. Well-balanced and showing signs of maturity. Drink through 2006. BC $39.95 (WA)


90 Clos de L'Oratoire des Papes 2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Rhône Valley, France

Made from 80/10/10 grenache/syrah/cinsault and mourvèdre

Earthy, licorice, barnyard, raspberry peppery prune aromas. Rich and round with intense cherry, raspberry jam flavours and a spicy, licorice, pepper and prune finish. A bit more structure but very drinkable now and over the next five years. Very fruity and elegant. BC $39.95 (ST)


90 Chapoutier 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pape 'La Bernadine'

Rhône Valley, France

Prune, peppery, barnyard, licorice, sweaty game aromas with cherry jam underneath. Ripe and round with light tannins that add some grip. Gamey, licorice, cherry kirsch, plum flavours with an earthy, sweaty, pepper finish. Very elegant but a bit beefier in style. A mid-term wine for drinking now and over the next five to seven years. BC $44.95 (ST)


90 Chateau de la Gardine 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Rhône Valley, France

Spicy, peppery, intense licorice, game, black cherry jam with a hint of barnyard and sweat. Rich and round but has some tannins. Very spicy, white pepper, raspberry plum fruit on the palate with a touch of earth, prune and leather in the finish. Needs two to five years to round out but well balanced. BC $39.95 (ST)


90 Domaine Duclaux 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Rhône Valley, France

Very good gamy, smoky leather, spicy black berry jam aromas. Rich and round but tighter with a bit more tannic grip but shows elegance. Nice peppery, gamy, licorice, garrigue and black berry flavours. Somewhat more tannic style, good potential for the vintage and very characteristic. Good value. BC $33.95 (ST)


90 Domaine du Vieux Lazaret 2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Rhône Valley, France

Very spicy, gamy, smoky, leathery, black cherry and plum aromas with a hint of garrigue. Round and soft with good concentration, has very soft, forward tannins. Very good cherry, plum jam fruit intensity with pepper, spice and anise in the finish. A bit of tannin and acidity in the finish should help it age five to seven years but has good ripeness and structure. Good value for near term drinking. BC $31.95 (ST)


89 Domaine La Roquette 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Rhône Valley, France

Open cherry kirsch, gamy, smoky, black berry aromas with a bit of earth and pepper. Softer, rounder and more forward with light tannins. Nice cherry, spicy, anise and smoke flavours. Very feminine, balanced style with a spicy finish. Drink now or over the next two to five years. BC $39.00 (ST)


88 Caves des Papes 2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape 'Les Closiers'

Rhône Valley, France

Spicy, white pepper, raspberry and plum jam aromas with licorice and a touch of game. Round and soft, an elegant, forward style with very light tannins. Very ripe raspberry plum fruit with gamy licorice, white pepper flavours. Ready to drink but nicely balanced and fresh. BC $35.95 (ST)


87 Jean-Marc Diffonty Cuvée du Vatican 2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape "Réserve Sixtine" 

Rhône Valley, France

A 50/30/20 blend of grenache/syrah/mourvèdre. Réserve Sixtine is aged 50/50 in older larger wood and new barriques. Look for a sweaty gamy barnyard nose with mineral black cherry and pepper aromas. Big licorice black cherry and pepper flavours and lots of big tannins still to be dispersed. Big and rich but the nose, especially the sweaty gamey character tends to dominate at this point. Production is limited to a few hundred cases. BC $52.00, AB $41.95 (WA)


85 Jean-Marc Diffonty 2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée du Vatican 

Rhône Valley, France

The young Jean-Marc Diffonty has now taken over the winemaking at the family estate and is committed to earlier bottling and fruiter wine. The new cuvée is composed of 70 per cent grenache with significant portions of mourvèdre (13 per cent) and syrah (13 per cent) with 4 per cent cinsault. Peppery spicy, manure (dekkera?). Great structure but the aromas and taste are too sweaty leathery and mousy. Poor old style pruny Rhone red. BC $37.00, AB $31.95 (WA)

Written By: Stuart Tobe
Stuart Tobe
Stuart Tobe

Stuart Tobe has been active in the wine industry for over twenty-five years. He was one of the first Canadians to receive his Master of Science degree in Enology from the University of California, Davis in 1983.