The King of the Southern Rhone

CNdPworkshop“For nearly 20 years I have been advocating the best wines of this appellation as something of an insider’s secret – decadent, hedonistic, complex and full wines that are frightfully under-priced and underestimated.”
Robert Parker, Wines of the Rhone Valley 1987

While the wines of the Rhone may not be so much of an ‘insiders secret’ anymore, the top wines of the region are still relatively under-priced compared to Bordeaux. The Rhone is also an important region in terms of sales for us, coming in third behind Bordeaux and Burgundy. Because of this, we recently had a workshop which focussed on Chateauneuf du Pape, the King of the southern Rhone.

A Unique Region
Chateauneuf is quite a unique region, being known for blending both between varieties (13 are permitted) and across the appellation. This gives several stylistic differences, but the general flavour profile is one of low acidity with a full body. The terroir is also unique for its Galets, or ‘pudding stones’, which retain the heat of the sun throughout the night. Chateauneuf was the first geographically delimited area for table wine and was also the first AC in France.

Another characteristic that Chateauneuf is known for is Brett. Brettanomyces is a yeast found in many parts of the wine world, but it is associated particularly with the Rhone. The low acid, high sugar musts and the prevalence of old oak – the traditional style – create ideal growing conditions for Brett. The resultant characteristics can be described as ‘smokey’, ‘gamey’ and even ‘dirt-like’ and the amount of these compounds varies between producers. For instance, Chateau Beaucastel’s wines are notoriously high in Brett compounds, yet their wines are widely considered as some of the best in the Rhone.

Many of the top wines in Chateauneuf are produced in minute quantities. Whether the estate produces a single cuvee like Clos des Papes, or a few luxury micro cuvees, production is often only around 500 to 1,000 cases per vintage. To put this into context, Petrus produces an average of 2,500 cases, while Le Pin produces roughly 700 cases. With such small production and a growing following in Europe, Asia and the US, they are increasingly difficult to get hold of.

The Tasting
We tasted four brilliant wines from the stunning 2010 vintage showed us why Chateauneuf du Pape is the king of the southern Rhone.


– A relatively new estate – established 1973, now run by brother and sister team Christophe and Isabelle Sabon
– Own 80ha
– Proved themselves as one of the best, consistently producing wines of exceptional quality: Robert Parker calls them “one of the great winemaking estates of not only France, but of the world.”
Fairly traditional vinification using concrete tanks for Grenache and oak for Syrah and Mourvedre
– Produce a couple of luxury cuvees: XXL – a huge, incredibly rich, concentrated wine, New World in style or even Amarone-like. Cuvee Prestige Blanc – one of the rarest wines with only – 75 cases made and described by Parker as: “as good as it gets for Southern Rhone white.”

2010 Janasse Chateauneuf du Pape
“Beautiful rich but fresh nose with black fruits, raspberry, kirsch, smoked gamey meat and spice. No discernable oak on the nose. Lovely and chewy with good grip and a fresh acidity. Alcohol well integrated. Brilliant, long finish.”
(94 Points, Robert Parker, Wine Advocate)

Clos St Jean

– Wine has been bottled by the mame Clos Saint Jean since 1910
– Own 44ha
– Winemakers Pascal and Vincent Maurel took over from their father and have elevated the domaine to produce some of the most sought-after wines in the Rhone
– Vinification: Complete de-stemming, long macerations, Grenache isn’t aged in wood (to retain freshness), but other varietals are aged for 1 year in one year old French oak
– Produce several micro luxury cuvees: Deus Ex Machina (60% Grenache and 40% Mourvedre 500 cases produced); Combe des Fous (60% old vine Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Cinsault and 10% Vaccarese – 500 cases produced); Sanctus Sanctorum (100% Grenache old vine – available only in magnum, circa 350 produced); Blanc (Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Clairette – 350 cases produced)

2010 Clos St Jean Cheateauneuf du Pape
“More oak and Brett on nose – heavier, more dense – herbs, cassis and smoked meat. Ripe black cherry dominates with more spice and perfume than the Janasse and overall more complexity. Grippier tannins and softer acidity – needs time to come into its own. Brilliant length and finish.”
(93 Points, Robert Parker, Wine Advocate)

Clos des Papes

– A historic domaine harking back to the 17th Century, but officially registered in 1902
– Father and son team Paul and Vincent Avril are already established as one of the finest wine-making partnerships in the southern Rhone
– Own several plots throughout the area, enabling them to spread the length of harvesting over a long period of time
– Produce one cuvee which is predominantly Grenache with the remaining blend made up of Mourvedre, Syrah and a tiny amount of Counoise
– Circa 1,000 cases produced
– Top vintages enjoy steep price increases when they can be found on the market

2010 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape
“Exuberant, open nose with plenty of depth. Pure blackcurrant, raspberry and kirsch with a stunning fresh floral perfume. A lovely, round palate again with lots of depth and delineation: masses of ripe black fruit, spices and liquorice, but beautifully fresh and pure. Smooth tannins and a stunning length.”
(99 Points, Robert Parker, Wine Advocate)

Chateau Beaucastel

– One of the largest estates in Chateauneuf with 200ha managed by the Perrin family
– One of the first to practice organic viticulture
– Grow all 13 permitted varieties; although, Mourvedre is their signature grape, often making a third of the blend
– Renowned for taking its time to mature, but when it does it is recognised as one of the best Chateauneufs
– Produce a couple of micro luxury cuvees: Hommage a Jacques Perrin – 500 cases produced; Roussanne VV which has been described by Parker as “Montrachet of southern France”; Esprit Beaucastel, Tablas Creek – their US operation

2010 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape
“Dark, ripe fruit and green woody herbs dominate with Brett characteristics giving a more rustic feel to the wine. Fresh acidity and lifted fruit with a touch of green coming through – needs time to ripen and balance.”
(95 Points, Robert Parker, Wine Advocate)

Vintage Reference:

  • 2007 – outstanding – ripe and concentrated wines
  • 2008 – cool year – unusually elegant wines
  • 2009 – a hot year – sweet-fruited, high abv wines
  • 2010 – outstanding – arguably better than 2007; ripeness combined with lots of structure
  • 2011 – elegant wines – much more weight than 2008
  • 2012 – classic – coulure in Grenache meant low yields and some qualitative variation

If you are interested in any of the wines from our tasting, or would like to speak to us about other producers, please email us or call: +44(0)20 7089 7400 or view our current Chateauneuf du Pape listings online.