Châteauneuf du Pape is a special wine for so many of us. Situated in the Southern Rhone, it was the first area to have Appellation Controlée status. The world famous wines are typically made from famous GSM grapes, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. The winemaker blends these three different black grape varieties. Some wines use 100% Grenache with concentrated spiced red fruit flavours. Others make greater use of Mourvedre because it adds spicy, gamey qualities, while the addition of Syrah is known for adding colour and tannins.
However, there is far more to Châteauneuf du Pape for me than rich, deeply coloured red wines. Every bottle of wine is a story and that story is what makes it truly special. Firstly, there is the place, which I am lucky enough to have visited. Henry and I travelled down to the Southern Rhone a few times. We took the morning train from London directly to Avignon and stayed in an old mill house just outside Lirac. Then the climate is wonderful, Mediterranean with mild winters and warm dry summers. And it’s not just perfect for tourists, it’s also ideal for cultivating vines. How could we not visit Châteauneuf du Pape while we were in the area?
The name itself means ‘Pope’s new castle’ and refers to a time (between 1309–1377) when the seat of the Roman Catholic church was in Avignon. The castle was the Pope’s summer residence during this time. It was partly destroyed in the 16th century and damaged even more during the Second World War. Nevertheless, it continues to dominate this small medieval village. Enter what was once the old wine store and you are rewarded with amazing views across the Rhone Valley.
Henry was fascinated by the galéts roulés. These large rounded stones cover the vineyards in this area. He tells me that they were washed down from the Alps millions of years ago. Now they surround the vines allowing them to retain the heat of the warm Provencal summer days during the cooler. These ancient stones help the grapes to ripen. We walked through the vineyards and spent a while selecting the perfect stone to take back to London. It now sits on our mantlepiece, a reminder of happy times.
We were lucky to have a great restaurant recommendation from Henry’s friend John Arnold of A&B Vintners. Le Verger des Papes is at the top of the village right up by the castle ruin. It has the most spectacular views of the surrounding countryside, the river and Avignon. I’ll use Henry’s words and quote from his book to tell you about our visit.
That evening we stayed in Châteauneuf for supper, in a restaurant recommended by John, outside, among trees and under the stars. A travelling flamenco band was installed for the evening and we sat in happy silence listening to the band blister out their frenetic tunes. In silence or in nonsense chatter – “who think the same thoughts with out the need of speech/who babble the same thoughts without need of meaning”.Thoughts on a Wine Cellar: Henry Goulding
Of course, we tasted and drank the wine. One of our favourites comes from Domaine Vieux Télégraphe. The vineyards are positioned on an elevated plateau called “Le Crau,” home of many of the top wines of the region. We have several bottles in the cellar. However, I’ve gone even further to make sure that I have a lasting reminder of the those happy days. I have used each part of the bottle to create gifts which tell a story. Firstly take a look at our collection of Rhone placemats and coasters. These feature two Châteauneuf du Pape capsules with their distinctive image of the Pope’s crossed keys. Each time I use them I’m transported back. I love the way that when I use these placemats I’m gathering family and friends together and we are creating yet more happy memories. I’m hoping that you will too.
Secondly, there is my latest project. This involves creating lamps from the upcycled bottles of the much loved wines. Naturally, a bottle of Vieux Télégraphe was one of the first. The distinctive bottle is embossed with the Papal keys. It will look perfect on the desk of any wine lover. I know Henry would have loved it, hopefully as much as his galét roulé. I can imagine it taking pride of place on his desk.
Finally, a few more recommendations
Who better to ask for a few more recommendations than Henry’s friend John Arnold, a wine merchant and a real expert. He carefully selects wines from his favourite growers and imports them to the UK. I’m looking forward to trying the Châteauneuf du Pape from Domaine de Cristia. It blends 60% Grenache with 20% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre. John stocks several vintages. Another favourite comes from Chapelle St Theodoric. This organic wine is 100% Grenache and is bursting with freshness and complexity. John says “there is a wonderfully ethereal quality to the St Théo wines which one so rarely encounters this far south”.
What is special about Châteauneuf to Pape?
Like music and art the wonders of wine transcend all boundaries but often the bottle is finished too quickly. I hope that our collection of unique wine gifts will capture the feelings the wine creates and keep bringing people together.