The List




The List


Clos Des  Papes

Chateauneuf du Pape, with its thirteen permitted grape varieties (for red wine, at least) may seem like a rather strange appellation to modern drinkers brought up on more prescriptive AOCs. After all, how can an appellation that permits any proportion of grapes, ranging from the familiar (syrah) to the obscure (terret noir), to be used in its wines, be of any use in guaranteeing a level of quality and consistency to the consumer?

The answer, of course, is that, largely, it hasn’t; a red Chateauneuf might range from an early drinking jammy wine, to an unyielding tannic monster that should be approached with the kind of caution usually reserved for handling toxic chemicals until it has spent at least a decade in some dark and damp cellar.

But, if one is not seduced by mass market Chateauneufs (as we are sure you are not), it is possible to find a handful of high quality, ageworthy, wines that provide a true and largely consistent representation of the appellation’s unique terroir. And, at the top of the heap of these, is the world class, yet unusually affordable, Clos des Papes.

The vines of Clos des Papes, which are a mixture of grenache, mourvedre, syrah and small amounts of three other varieties permitted under the Chateauneuf appellation, are grown on a clay soil that is covered with a thin layer of oval pebbles, known as galettes. The pebbles accumulate heat during the day, and, as they conduct heat more poorly than the surrounding soil, maintain their warmth throughout the night, helping to obviate some of the effects of cool night time conditions on the vines.

The yield is low at 21 hectolitres per hectare, compared to the Chateauneuf du Pape average of 35 hectolitres, and the wine is aged in wooden foudres for up to twelve months. Pesticides and artificial fertiliser are not utilised, and the majority of the vineyard is now fully organic.

The wine itself reflects the composition of the vineyard, and is typically comprised of around 65% grenache, 20% mourvedre, 10% syrah, with the remaining 5% being split between the three other red grapes grown.

Our recommendation – the 2005 vintage – represents the pinnacle (thus far) of Clos des Papes achievements. The nose is full of dark fruit and even acetone and on the palate it is a blockbuster of a wine, with an immense structure holding together the elements of blackcurrant and dark spice.

Although it will benefit from a good decade in the bottle, it is not the kind of one dimensional brute of a wine that the Rhone has sometimes thrust into a market that no longer prizes power above all else. There is finesse and elegance here, and none of the domination of a particular characteristic, say wood, that blights many of its peers.

Perhaps the best part about drinking Clos des Papes, though, is the sense that one is drinking a wine that is the product of the vineyard owner’s endeavours to achieve perfection through hard work and dedication, rather than an attempt to achieve wealth through cynically engineering the wine to appeal to a wealthy demographic. So, despite its reputation, and the inability of supply to meet demand, Clos des Papes remains one of the most affordable world class wines. We can only hope that long will it remain that way.