FIELD NOTES - Vol. 4. - The Lighter Side of Chateauneuf
Within the notoriously restrictive French AOC system, the contrastingly liberal Rhone appellation of Chateauneuf du Pape allows for use of up to thirteen different grape varietals in their wines. Most of these varietals are utilized in red wine blends that are known for their dense and garrigue-y quality. But it’s the white wines, accounting for just 7% of the total production in this area, that offer some of the most consistently interesting and age-worthy gems and make for the perfect transitional wine from Summer to Fall. Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Clairette Blanc and Bourboulenc typically contribute to a Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc bottling, though a little bit of Grenache Gris, Picpoul Blanc or Gris and Picardin sometimes find their way into the mix. Grenache Blanc or Clairette Blanc (sometimes both) is often the star of the show, contributing juicy ripe white fruit character and bright acidity, while Roussanne often plays a pivotal role lending rich and spicy notes reminiscent of baked apple or quince to the blend.
The others, used in widely varying amounts depending on the whims (and plantings) of the producer, all lend unique flavor notes from lemon and green apple to wet stone and fresh tarragon that make no Chateauneuf du Pape blend quite the same. Similarly, aging regimens can vary from stainless steel with absolutely no touch of oak to vinifying some grapes in steel while others go into oak, to full-on oak barrel treatment. The one thing most Chateauneuf producers agree upon is that the white wines rarely are allowed to go through malolactic fermentation, as the natural acidity levels in these varieties is low enough that most producers prefer to retain as much of that acidity as they can.
The resulting wines are often richer in weight, lower in acid and higher in alcohol compared to most whites, offering notes of apple, pear, quince, and peach with a honeyed note that often grows in prominence with age. Underneath this, expect to find anything from anise to floral to saline notes depending on the unique varietal composition and vinification methods aforementioned. Nothing goes better with buttery scallops and fennel (your last grill of the summer) or roast chicken and cauliflower (your first roast of the Fall.) Grab one of these two classically-crafted CDP bottlings and see for yourself.
Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc
For a blanc that’s heady, yet exhibits that just-released tangerine freshness, turn to Chateau La Nerthe’s 2019 Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc. A blend of 40% Grenache Blanc, 34% Roussanne, 20% Clairette and 6% Bourboulenc, with the Roussanne made in barrels (one-third new), it walks a fine line between citrusy zing and toasty depth.
Clos de L'Oratoire des Papes Chateauneuf-Du-Pape Blanc
A fleshy, apricot-fruited blend made for ageing, composed of equal parts Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Roussanne augmented by Bourboulenc, this one offers sumptuous heft on the palate that will develop beautiful savory notes over the next decade.