Birthplace of AOC – with lots of grapes.

closnerthe Chateauneuf-du-Pape is where the first AOC area was delimited in 1923. It also has 18 permitted varieties of grapes that can make up the wines for that AOC and the majority of wine made is red (90%). The wines that we tried on Sunday were a white Clos des Papes 2011 and a red Chateau La Nerthe 2005. They are two kilometres apart, south-east of the town, on slopes dominated by sandy soil. The white was interesting for the fact that six different grape varieties, in roughly equal quantities, are fermented together. All six (Clairette, Picardin, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc and Picpoul) contribute to a fine blend, confirmed by our tasting the wine, but how the winemaker can commit to that mix before fermentation is amazing. We’d not heard of that before; the nearest example being a field blend of Alsace (blogged before). The colour of light lemon yellow with a very slight green hue showed the wine’s  comparative youth. There was a slight viscosity which belied its massive 15% ABV. The nose was citrus fresh but quite dumb and suggested a richness; I thought I could detect a slight almond note. The palate was definitely rich and had a big mouth feel; dry, with some acidity, this was a powerful, fruity wine which needed strong flavoured food. The red La Nerthe had only five grape varieties dominated by Grenache (55%) with Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Counoise. These produced a very deeply-coloured wine with plenty of viscosity and a brown rim. The nose indicated power, fruit and alcohol – all tinged with a slight sweetness. The palate was well-balanced with the red fruit sweetness finishing with a mineral edge. The tannins were present but softened and held in by a weighty mouth feel. This was an attractive wine, all the better for not ending on the jammy note that wines of this magnitude can have. We thought the ten year ageing helped us with this red. The art of blending in this area is well-developed and possibly quite unique in this age of drinking mono-varietal wines. Their continued – and increasing – popularity is a credit to those wine-makers who know the attributes and drawbacks of their grapes. Both wines were very enjoyable.

[Richard: both these wines came from the WS and both are no longer available. CdP is not an area I know much about, despite having stayed in the region a few times. Too big, too many growers, no obvious quality structure like the Rhone villages and, of course, too alcoholic. The Nerthe came from a mixed half dozen of CdP reds which I must have bought in a spirit of adventure. This is the last one, at about £29. Very fruity, well integrated, expressive nose. An excellent vintage, now ready to drink. Must better than the last CdP ‘big name’ we tried.

The white was equally good. I bought 6 of these plus 6 Vieux Telegraph whites. Around £36 a bottle all in. A lot of money – it would buy a decent white burgundy but if you like the style these are among the best, possibly the best, white CdP. Only about 1,000 cases of the Clos made each year. I wondered if the wine was too young – they age very well – but it wasn’t. Powerful, good mouth feel, plenty of nuance in the flavour.]

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