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Châteauneuf du Pape

PKF lawyers aren’t just known for their brilliant legal minds. They are active members of our communities and enthusiasts of the arts, culture, sports, local foods, wines and music.

Vincent J. Bueti, a respected lawyer with PKF since 2008 is extensively involved in the local community, has interests in politics, education and the Italian community. What many people aren’t aware of is Vincent is also an aficionado of fine wines. He enjoys exploring and tasting wines from all over the world and has written two articles for Mixology magazine, published by the Winnipeg Sun. The magazine includes tips on dining at home and dining out, along with recipes, and stories on restaurants and wines.

Here is his latest article, Châteauneuf du Pape, “The Wine of Popes”.

Of all of France’s famous wine growing areas, Provence is one of the most picturesque, charming and dare I say it – intoxicating. Here you will find the Côtes du Rhône, an appellation of red, rosé and white wines within the Rhône Valley in Southeastern France. It includes more than 170 villages following the Rhône River southwards from the Alps to the beautiful city of Avignon. The ideal time to visit is September and you must treat yourself to at least one week.

Glass of red wine on the terrace vineyard in Lavaux region, Switzerland

As in most things, Greeks love to claim their influence in viticulture, but it was actually the Romans who properly established vineyards as they used the Rhône as their pathway through France. The Catholic Church was the next main influence when in 1309 Pope Clement V moved the papacy from Rome to Avignon and built Châteauneuf du Pape (“the Pope’s New Castle”). From here he and his successors governed for the next 69 years while enjoying “Vin du Pape”.

The wines of the Rhône Valley are divided into four quality classifications: Côtes du Rhône AOC (entry level); Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC; Côtes du Rhône (named) Villages AOC; and the Crus (highest quality).

The Northern Rhône is merely 40 miles long and is responsible for a tiny 5% of the wines of the region. Here the climate is continental: hot summers and cold winters. This is the birthplace of Syrah, a full-bodied savoury and elegant grape.

The Southern Rhône is distinctly more Mediterranean. The summers are dry and hot while the winters are mild. Here, the fierce Mistral wind is a major player along with the influence of the “Garrigue” resinous herbs of Southern France (juniper, thyme and rosemary). While Syrah is dominant in the North, Grenache is the king of the South and forms the foundation of the delicious blends which include Mourvedre, Carignan, and Cinsault.

Côtes du Rhône AOC accounts for two-thirds of Rhône production. Full-bodied reds dominate for export purposes but the luscious whites and thirst quenching rosé’s are lovely when you are in Provence enjoying an apéritif at an outside café.

Châteauneuf du Pape is clearly the most famous of the AOC’s of the Rhône Valley. It is governed by France’s wine laws. For example, only 15 different grape varieties are allowed to be planted and all growers must harvest their fruit by hand.

The terroir found in Châteauneuf du Pape with its rocks, limestone, sand and clay would be disastrous for most living things. But it is perfect for wine growing. The ancient “Galet Roule” stones left by the glaciers play an integral part in the development of the grapes. They reflect light to the vines and leaves, absorb heat during the day and radiate that heat at night. This blesses the fruit.

Another important factor in the uniqueness of these wines is the proliferation of old vines. In the Southern Rhône there are numerous vineyards that are more than 100 years old. They deliver intense levels of concentration which gives flavor and complexity to the wine.

While the reds of Châteauneuf du Pape are produced in an array of styles, they share the characteristics of being aromatic with spicy dark fruits balanced with Old World acidity and minerality. Perfect to serve with everything from grilled beef, duck, lamb and sausage, to French Cassoulet (pork or duck stew with white beans).

The city of Avignon is an excellent base from which to explore the wines and scenery of the surrounding regions. Within an hour you can be in the tiny hilltop village of Gigondas with its magnificent view and tranquil pace. An excellent venue from which to sample wines is Caveau du Gigondas in the village square. After, linger over a yummy lunch under the trees and watch the harvesting of the grapes in the vineyard below.

Also a fabulous experience is a visit to the village of Châteauneuf du Pape itself where the Popes sought refuge from palace life in Avignon. A unique wine tasting experience can be enjoyed at Le Verger des Papes, an underground cave originally established by the Romans and now a wine cellar of superb quality for both wine lovers and photographers. The restaurant above meanwhile stands at the top of the village in the fragrant shade of pines, olive and almond trees and overlooks the Rhône River. Magical!

For those that prefer a more rustic experience of a wine village in operation, travel to Vacqueyras. Then, if you are driving your own vehicle, do not miss the spectacular beauty of two more villages: Gordes for the sunset shot and dinner on the Ochre cliffs of Roussillon.

À votre santé!