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When not in Rome: wine with a higher calling

In 1305 a Frenchman was elected as Pope Clement V and decided to settle in Avignon, France rather than Rome. He built a new home, which of course became known as The New Chateau of the Pope, although the Romans had planted vineyards in this area many hundreds of years before. The recently named Chateauneuf-du-Pape really put this area in the limelight. A further seven popes lived in Avignon until 1377, when the papacy moved back to Rome.

The very first laws of appellation controlee were established in Chateauneuf-du-Pape in 1923. Uniquely, they allow the blending of up to 18 grape varieties in a single wine. Seventy-five per cent of the planted area is taken up by grenache, with the next most popular being probably syrah and mourvedre, but there are also little known varieties such as terret noir and counoise.

As I was getting involved with wine in the 1970s interest was spreading and folks on our side of the ocean added chateauneuf-du-pape and pouilly fuisse to their French vocabulary. Exports grew by leaps and bounds as they became very “in” libations.

Back in 1954 the mayor of Avignon became concerned about the potential for damage to their precious vineyards so the town council in its wisdom passed a law that, as far as I know, has not been broken to this day. It became illegal for “cigare volant” (what we call flying saucers in English) to land in, take off from, or even fly over their vineyards. It also states that if any alien life forms are captured by the local constables they will be carted off to the town lock-up.

Chateauneuf-du-pape bottles are embossed with the keys of St Peter, or the triple-tiered papal tiara, and these are reminders of turmoil in Rome and a time when popes sought the calm of Avignon in the south of France.

In 1793 Claude Chappe built a communications tower on one of the highest points in Chateauneuf-du-Pape so that it could help transmit messages between Marseilles and Paris. Standing atop the plateau called “Crau” you can see the stones of the ruined papal residence that gives its name to the village below and on this high point the same family has been making wine since 1900.

Today Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe “La Crau” chateauneuf-du-pape is one of the most iconic of them all and we presently have the 2012 in stock. Wine Spectator rates it 94/100 and says: “Bright ruby. Intense raspberry and cherry aromas are complicated by hints of lavender, spice-cake and blood orange. Juicy and fruit-driven, with palate-coating flavours of sweet, spice-tinged red fruits and candied flowers. Quite suave and seamless, boasting striking purity to its red fruit and mineral-driven finish.” This wine would be happy to partner with beef, veal, pork, game, duck, Asian dishes and even rich seafood as such is the nature of chateauneuf-du-pape. The vineyard is farmed organically. $98.50

Chapoutier farms all their vineyards biodynamically and for their “La Bernadine” 2013 chateauneuf-du-pape only uses grenache and syrah in the blend. The result is an intense crimson-red colour and a complex but subtle nose with blackcurrant and plum layered with roasted coffee, cinnamon and cherry. You will also find liquorice and both dark and red fruits. $45.90.

Our Calvet 2013 chateauneuf-du-pape is a blend of 60 per cent grenache, ten per cent mourvedre, ten per cent syrah and the rest, cinsault. It is deep ruby with purple highlights and elegant with a nose of black cherry and cinnamon. $41.55.

• This column is a paid-for advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. Michael Robinson is Director of Wine at Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. He can be contacted at mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George’s (York Street, 297-0409). A selection of their wines, beers and spirits is available online at www.wineonline.bm.