What do you look for in a Châteauneuf-du-Pape? Should it be bright and lively, should it taste of dried fruits and spices, of liquorice and blackcurrants, or be rich and opulent? Or possibly all of these together?
Châteauneuf can be all these things, as I learned on a trip to Avignon and Châteauneuf-du-Pape to visit Les Caves Ogier, one of the most effective producer-merchants in the Rhône. They showed me four different styles of 2009 Châteauneuf, from four different types of soil. Each has the same grape blend (90% Grenache) and has been vinified in the same way. The difference is pure terroir. And the terroirs from which they come are the four types of soil in Châteauneuf, broken-up limestone (éclats calcaires), finely-compressed sand (safres), red sandstone (grès rouges) and the famous 'pudding stones' (galets roulés).
Visit the Ogier cellars in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and you can see these terroirs for yourself. Just outside their tasting room they have four patches of vineyard, each with a different soil. You can also taste (and buy) the four resulting ‘Expression de Terroirs’ wines, to show the effect of soil with no other variables.
Better still is the sum of the parts, the Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a blend of 80% Grenache, 8% Syrah, 7% Mourvèdre, 5% Cinsault (and bits and pieces of other varieties, particularly in the older vineyards). If you want to buy the super-cuvée, this is Les Chorégies du Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes. The 2009 is 65% very old Grenache and 35% 30 year-old Syrah (with about 15% Mourvèdre somewhere in the blend, apparently). It’s young, spicy, malty and rather flashier than the normal Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes.
And if you go to Châteauneuf, try to fit in one of the summer performances in the wonderful Roman amphitheatre at Orange. The posh cuvée, Les Chorégies, is named after the summer series of operas and concerts held in the Roman amphitheatre in Orange. I was taken to Verdi’s Aida, and had a wonderful evening. Seating is steeply raked and tightly packed. The back wall towers above the stage, illuminated by vast banks of lights. Screams of swifts gave way to Verdi’s evocation of the Nile river-bank, the magnificent antiphonal trumpets in the Triumphal March, and Radames and Aida’s final duet as they prepare to die, entombed alive.
Prices for seats ranged in 2011 from €53 to €243 on full tariff (disabled, student and under-18 tickets are about half-price). Take a cushion and bottles of water. Or maybe of Châteauneuf-du-Pape…