A Trip to the Promised Land of Grenache & Syrah: Châteauneuf-du-Pape

A family trip to the Southern Rhône brought us to Châteauneuf & the famous summer castle of Pope John XXII that now stands as a symbol for the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is one of the most famous appellations in France & the most famous one in the Southern Rhône.

While Annelie (my oldest daughter) played out her princess fantasies at the impressive ruins of the castle (remember, if you don’t buy Châteauneuf, you will go to the dungeon), I rather preferred to visit wineries, vineyards & meet winemakers to learn more about the appellation: 

Pope Clement Vhad to go into exile & relocated his papacy to Avignon (north of Châteauneuf). He was succeeded by Pope John XXII who tremendously loved wine (who doesn’t?) & improved the viniculture in the surrounding areas. The wines of this area came to be known as “Vin du Pape” & later Châteauneuf-du-Pape (the new castle of the Pope).

The appellation Châteauneuf-du-Pape allows 13 different varietals, but most Châteauneufs are mainly blends of Grenache, Syrah & Mourvèdre & must have at least 50 % Grenache & been aged for 1 year in oak barrels.

Riding around the vineyards with Frederic Charvin (owner & winemaker of Domaine de Pignan) & meeting Laurent Charvin (from Domaine Charvin) showed me what makes this appellation so special: 1) the “terroir” (big pebbles/stones reflecting the sunlight to the plants, 2) the smell (garrigue, herbs) & 3) without doubt, the passion of the winemakers.

Enough said. Here are some of our favourites:

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape 
$67.99 | Mixed Case $54.39
Owned by the Brunier brothers, this is a fantastic house & one of the most famous Chateauneuf producers. A blend of mainly Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre, but also includes some other varietals. Big, full-bodied, powerful, concentrated, with superb aromas & flavors of black raspberries, kirsch, black cherries, red plums, ground black pepper & lots of garrigue. A seriously long finish. A wine for the ages.

Domaine du Banneret 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape
$46.99 | Mixed Case $37.59
A 95% Grenache (110 year old vines) & 5% Mourvedre blend from a very small house. Inviting aromas of sweet, ripe red & dark fruit. Medium- to full-bodied with fantastic acidity & tannic structure. Flavors of ripe, spicy black cherries, raspberries & olive tapenade. Long, rich finish. Just wonderful & tasty.

Domaine de Cristia 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape
$52.99 | Mixed Case $42.39
One of the newer wineries. Decanter quoted them as one of top 5 upcoming domaines in Châteauneuf. A blend of 90% Grenache& 10% Syrah. Wonderful aromas of sweet, ripe blackberries, blueberries & again olive tapanade. Gorgeous texture & mouthfeel. Great concentration & acidity. Flavors of crushed currant, cassis, olives & licorice are framed by smooth tannins. Irresistible!

All in stock & more. Check them out!  They make superb gift wines & we encourage you to splurge & treat yourself as well.

Jens Strecker
Owner, Portalis Wines

Tales from the Tuscan Road

Having just returned from conducting a wine tour in Italy, I thought it would be fun to share some highlights as we ate & drank our way through Tuscany visiting 6 wineries in 7 days. During our week long stay, we visited wineries in the Chianti Classico region, Montalcino and our home-base in San Gimignano. In Tuscany, where the Sangiovese grape is king, the best way to enjoy their local wines was with their regional food. I won’t torture you with the details of all of our wonderful winery visits or the exquisite meals that accompanied each one, but perhaps just a peak at our ‘tough week.’ This is not for the weary, I mean the Tuscans take their food & wine very seriously. It’s common for us to pair Chianti with a tomato based pasta dish, but here in Tuscany, it goes literally with everything.

Our day would start out with  a, um…a light lunch, you know the kind that includes several platters of local cured meats, a selection of aged & young pecorino cheese, and some bruschetta with garden tomatoes. Just for starters and just to kick off the real show…which was of course the vino! At Castello di Verrazzano winery (near Greve), we savored the aforementioned delights  with their 2009 Sangiovese Rosato and 2005 Chianti Classico, moving then to roasted pork loin with white beans paired with Verrazzano 2004 Chianti Classico Riserva. We finished with a seasonal specialty, stracciatella cake made with Sangiovese grapes and paired with a dessert wine called Vin Santo (made from Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes).

One of our favorite visits was with Mannucci-Droandi, a family-operated winery near Montevarchi in the Chianti sub zone of Colli Aretini. Owner Roberto Droandi took us to a nearby site where we walked through a small vineyard of ancient vines, some nearly 100 years old. We also visited his experimental vineyards that was home to over 40 different indigenous varietals, many closely related to Sangiovese. Mr. Droandi explained that he was working with the local university to help preserve these varietals and testing a few for the market. We felt so cutting edge!

Afterwards, we experienced an amazing lunch inside his home. Here we feasted on local meats of sopressata, finocchiona, wild boar prosciutto, garden tomatoes and pecorino cheese (getting the idea?) which were paired with his 2007 Chianti Colli Aretini and 2006 Chianti Riserva “Ceppeto”. Next up was rigatoni pasta with homemade peperoncini sauce paired with Mannucci-Droandi 2006 Toscana Foglia Tonda and 2006 Toscana “Campolucci” (Sangiovese/Cabernet/Merlot). We finished with cantucci (small Tuscan almond biscotti)  paired with his delicious Vin Santo.  Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday… oh I love the Tuscan hospitality!


– Cheers, Gina!