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The Grapes of Chateauneuf du Pape
|In some appellations in France for example the crus in Bourgogne and the
most famous appellations in the Northern Rhone only one grape variety is allowed
for red wines (Pinot Noir and Syrah). In Bordeaux 2 varieties are mainly used:
Cabernet Saugvignon and Merlot. In Southern France and especially in the Rhone
Valley are traditionally used many different varieties.
Already in the 19th century many different varieties was used in Chateauneuf du Pape. It's known which varieties were planted at La Nerthe after the Phylloxera about 1880:
"Giving liquor, heat and the marrowy: Grenache and Cinsault in the maximum proportion of two tenth.
Giving solidity, preserve, colour and a refreshing taste: Mourvèdre, Syrah, Muscardin and Camarèse (Vaccarese) (four tenth).
Giving vinosity, approval, freshness and a particular bouquet: Counoise and Picpoul (three tenth)
Bringing the smoothness, fire and the brilliance: Clairette and Bourboulenc (one tenth)".
All the 10 mentioned varieties became allowed grapes when the rules of the appellation was decided 40 years later. At that time 3 more was included: Terret Noir, Picardan and Roussanne.
In some appellations in Southern France there are some grape varieties which have to be used in minimum or maximum parts of the blend. This is not the case in Chateauneuf du Pape. You are alloved to use one variety alone or whatever blend you want. These are very flexible rules.
The "aristocrat" among the white grapes
Grenache is without competion the most
used grape variety in Chateauneuf du Pape. More than 70% of the vines today are
Grenache. This has not always been the case. If you look at what Joseph Ducos
planted in 1880 it was "Giving
liquor, heat and the marrowy:
in the maximum proportion of two tenth". 100 years later Grenache was
planted on 80% of the fields. On every estate in Chateauneuf du Pape this grape
is planted in more than 50% of the field and some of the estates make wine only
from this grape. If the Grenache plant is young it can be difficult to make
wines with enough colour and structure but it will always bring much alcohol to
the wine because of the high level of sugar in the grapes.
To make great wines from Grenache alone you must have old vines and you must keep the output at a very low level. Some of the best wines from the appellation are made from parcels with 60-100 years old Grenache vines and an output of about 20 hl/ha - or less.
Syrah and Mourvedre
are most suitable to blend with Grenache. Both of them bring colour and
structure to the wine.
Syrah reaches its peak in Northern Rhone and brings here (Hermitage, Cote Rotie and Cornas) very structured wines with a deep colour.
Grenache brings some roundness and elegance to these "hard core" grapes. The same thing can be said about Mourvedre if you think of the wines from Bandol, where the Mourvedre wines have the colour and structure like wines from the Northern Rhone. Both grapes also bring ability to age well to the wines. Both grapes are planted more and more in Chateauneuf du Pape and this will probably also be the case in years to come. It's common to see a percentage of one of them or both in the blend on a level of 15-30%. A leading estate to promote Mourvedre is Chateau de Beaucastel where the top cuvée has up to 60% of this grape. You can also see 100% Syrah wine, but such extremities will show a wine not typical for the appellation.
Cinsault, Counoise, Muscardin, Vaccarese and Terret Noir are planted only on a total of 3,6 ha in the appellation and can't be said to play a big role. You can meet producers using one of the grapes more than common and he may claim that this grape give his wines its special character. This may very well be true. There may perhaps also be some marketing success in claiming the use of all the 13 grapes.
Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Picpoul and Picardan are the allowed varieties for white Chateauneuf du Pape. They cover nearly 7% of the fields and the white wines are 6-7% of the production. Some of these grapes are used for the red wines. Picpoul and Picardan are of marginal importance. Most of the producers make a small amount of white wines and try to sell it at the same prices as for the red wines. You have to admit that the fame of the appellation doesn't come from the white wines.
In 1989 and 2004 was the percentages of the different varieties in Chateauneuf du Pape:
Source: Federation des Syndicates de Producteurs de Chateauneuf du Pape.
It's always mentioned that 13 different grapes are used in Chateauneuf du
Pape. In the table above you can count 14. In the rules Grenache Noir and
Grenache Blanc are only counted as one variety. Picpoul can be found as a red variety.
In the rules about pruning is mentioned Grenache Blanc an Picpoul Noir - totally 15 varieties.
It's allowed to use white varieties in red wine and this is done in small quantities. It's also allowed to use the red varieties in a white wine but this is normaly not done.
The figures for the less used grapes are perhaps uncertain. They are often found in old vineyards, where the varieties were grown together.
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