Châteauneuf-du-Pape, A Red for All Reasons


I mentioned in my blog on Bordeaux-Style Wines that red Bordeaux is, “Probably THE Classic French Wine.”  There is in my opinion, however, another French red wine that is at least as good, if not better.  That would be the incomparable but  not widely known Châteauneuf-du-Pape, named after a small village in the southern portion of France’s Rhone river valley region.  But whereas the Bordeaux uses as it base grape Cabernet Sauvignon, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape derives its character from the Grenache, blended with Syrah and Mourvèdre.  Remember the first letters of those three grapes, as that’ll come in handy in just a moment.  Other grapes blended with the base Grenache may include Cinsault, Cournoise, Muscardin and, to lesser degrees, Picardan, Picpoul, Roussanne, Terret Noir, and Vaccarese.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is very full-bodied and considerably tannic in nature. Thus it benefits greatly from aging.  And because if this full-bodied, tannic nature, Châteauneuf-du-Pape pairs very well with many of the same meats as does Bordeaux, in particular beef, lamb, and game.  But unlike Bordeaux, Châteauneuf-du-Pape also takes on the spicier dishes with ease because of the greater Syrah component.  Think chili, stew, beef bourguignonne, and even many tomato-based Italian dishes including pastas.   At the other end of the spectrum, and something you definitely wouldn’t want to try routinely with Bordeaux, are pairings with tomato-based shellfish dishes and, really surprisingly, pork and chicken dishes that would normally benefit from a much lighter red such as Burgundy (Pinot Noir) or one of the fuller-bodied whites such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.  This makes Châteauneuf-du-Pape a much more versatile wine than its more famous but comparatively restrictive Bordeaux neighbor.  This is one red that allows the home chef to do some really creative pairings without too much worry of clashing.

Although Châteauneuf-du-Pape prices have been following the downward trend of other French wines in recent years, they are still not what I consider a great buy despite their versatility.  Fortunately, as with Bordeaux, you do have alternatives.  The Grenache grape thrives in warm, dry climates and as a result has been planted extensively around the world.  Notable examples include California’s San Joaquin Valley, Eastern Spain (where it’s called Garnacha), Southern Italy, and very importantly Southern Australia, particularly in the McLaren Vale, and Barossa Valley appellations.  And it is from Southern Australia where you make your best deals on a very good, reasonably priced Châteauneuf-style red.

As with Bordeaux, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a registered name and thus it cannot be used in the marketing of similar Grenache-based red blends originating from beyond the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region of France.  So, Australian vineyards routinely market their version of this wine as a GSM.  Do those letters sound familiar?  They should.  I asked at the beginning of this article that you remember the first letters of the three most important grapes for this style of wine—Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre.  Armed with this knowledge and a good wine rating (I personally use Wine Spectator as I’ve found their tastes come closest to matching my own) you now have all the information you require to find a comparable wine at a fraction of the cost of the original, and Costco is a great place to find a wide selection of Australian GSMs from which to choose.

If you love red wines but haven’t tried a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, you owe it to yourself to give this style of wine a try.  You’ll be very glad you did.

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