Oh, the very name Châteauneuf-du-Pape is enough to make most jaded winos squeal with delight.
It's a tiny appellation near the Rhone river, on land which surrounded the Avignon's papal summer home. From his perch on the hillside, he could still keep an eye on Avignon, but, you know, enjoy the summer breezes while quaffing a delightful glass or two of his choice beverage. Because of it's tiny size and a favorable Parker score creating high demand, the wines can be quite expensive, to the point where I would consider some of them overpriced. It's good to taste as much as possible before investing in a case or two, just to make sure you have some winners.
If you are going to be tasting or buying, it's a good idea to go about this in an intelligent manner. Bicycles are a good choice. We did some fun tours in Languedoc hopping from vineyard to vineyard on bike, only buying what we could carry until the next picnic. That was lovely, and really a great way to do it. Most wine regions have a lot of car services and tour guides that specifically bring you around to vineyards, and some are so knowledgeable about the wine and the terroir, it's like investing in your education while getting tipsy, and not having to worry about getting home after your 20th tasting.
I found a lovely guide who goes by the name of Mike. He's Dutch, but he's lived in the area for ages, and he created a nice living for himself taking Anglo and Dutch tourist around to his favorite haunts. His company is called the Wine Safari, and while I didn't see too much in way of dangerous wildlife, he got us around safely along with a group of Swiss expats who were looking to buy quite a bit. I would highly recommend his tours as he knows quite a bit and he's friendly with quite a few of the local winemakers.
After a rather early morning pick up, we were off to the hilltop where the Pope used to summer.
There's just a shell that remains of the Chateau after being bombed in WWII, but the views from up here are spectacular.
There's a cute old village, but the land value is so high here that it's reserved for growing grapes. Fields of them stretch as far as you can see. They make more wine here per acre than anywhere else in the Rhone Valley. There are grapes everywhere.
Oh, check out this: I think I found the world's largest nightcrawler.
We thought it was a snake before I realized it was an earthworm. Ever see that awesome B movie with Kevin Bacon, "Tremors"? It looked like one of those.
The winds coming down the Rhone valley are fairly fierce. Because of this, they keep the vines pruned low to the ground.
From the other side of the hill, you get a good view of Mont Ventoux, one of the toughest legs of the Tour de France.
The terroir here ranged from sand to rocks to chalk to clay.
Beautiful, gnarled old vines.
We did a tasting at Domaine le Pointu, a small organic vineyard on the far reaches of the AOC.
He had some really fantastic whites, but the reds were a bit odd. Someone said, "this smells like tomato soup", and it did. I've never had a wine that smelled like tomatoes so strongly. Not my favorite style.
The one red I did like was well out of the price range of mortal wine drinkers.
I honestly think wine snobbery is a terrible thing, and you should just drink wines that you like that you would be able to afford to drink every day. I liked this wine, but it was in the 40 euro a bottle price range, which is just a bit too much for everyday sips, and that's the only wine I want to buy.
I am a big fan of nibbling and noshing and tastings, and this was great fun for me.