WINE O’CLOCK: A papal favourite but it’s not infallible
MOST of us know it as the name of a wine, but Chateauneuf du Pape is also a village near Avignon, the southern French city that housed the papacy when it moved from Rome for much of the fourteenth century.
It is a pretty village of stone walls and cobbled streets, spread around the foot of a ruined castle. Once it was the summer residence of the popes (‘the pope’s new chateau’), the equivalent of Castel Gandolfo, near Rome. Today it is largely a tourist village, given over to promoting and selling the wine that carries its name.
Avignon also trades on its papal past and the wine is on sale everywhere along with all sorts of church-related tack.
Many believe it to be the wine the popes drank. Maybe it is – but not under that name. Until the nineteenth century the local red wine was simply known as Vin d’Avignon. Then the growers had the bright idea of marketing it under its present grandiose title and later they took a step further by putting it in a bottle embossed with the crossed-key crest of Vatican City.
For a time, any wine could be marketed under that name but now the grapes used are restricted, although the restrictions seem quite lax. The main grape used is grenache, but at least a dozen others can end up in the blend, so, despite the papal designation, this wine is far from infallible. Some can be thick, soupy and very tannic. Others are rich and full of flavour – perfect with any strong, meaty dish.
They tend to be expensive, but that’s the way with popes. You can pay hundreds for some labels but Spar. Londis and Mace have a nice Cellier des Princes 2015 for €16.95 and Dunnes have Clos du Roi 2014 at €24.50.