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
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
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.