Rusty Sly on Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc

Here it is in the month of October and the California weather is scorching.  Though it was extremely hot the dedicated GOTN (Grape of the Night) group met at Valencia Wine Company to explore a wine known as Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc which originated in a village in the Rhone region of South eastern France.  For some miraculous reason I selected a white wine varietal for this GOTN and it was a perfect choice for this warm evening.  It also made a few of my white wine drinkers very happy.  The terroir in where the  Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc vines are grown is very unique.  The soil around the vines are covered with smooth stones or pebbles known as galets.  These stones retain heat up during the day and radiates at night acting like an oven which causes the grapes to ripen faster. The stones also help retain moisture in the soil during the summer months.

We have explored the red version from this region where a total of 15 varietals are allowed to be used in the blend.  The white version only allows 6 varietals according to the appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) guidelines.  The six grapes are Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Picpoul, and Picardan.  The interesting thing about this wine is that the AOC allows this wine to use one or up to all six varietals in its blend.  The 2007 Chateau Beaucastel Vielles Vignes is made with 100% Roussanne.  Chateau Beaucastel is also one of only two wineries that use all 15 of the red varietals in their red Chateauneuf du Pape.  Guess they love the extremes.  The two grape varietals that are primarily used as the base in the blends are Grenache Blanc and Roussanne.  These grape varietals impart fruitiness and body to the wine.  I love Roussanne because of this full body and great mouth feel along with its fantastic fruit profile.  If you have not tried a Roussanne, I recommend it.  Clairette, Bourboulenc, and Picpoul add acidity as well as floral and mineral notes.

All of the wines selected for the GOTN were French.  The American version of this wine style add Marsanne and Viognier which are not approved for  Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc under the French AOC guidelines.

Here are the wines and what the members found during our tasting:

2011 Picpoul de Pinet Moulin de Gassac
Aroma:  Floral
Taste:  Creamy on the tongue and tasted like a sophisticated Pinot Grigio

2008  Lieu dit Les Combes d’Arnevel
Aroma:  Subtle
Taste:  Essence of honey, well balanced, minerally, creamy on the tongue

2010 Chateau Unang Ventoux Blanc
Aroma:  Paint thinner that slowly softens over time
Taste:  Grapefruit, minerals

2009 Clos Saint Michel
Aroma:  Honey, floral (honeysuckle)
Taste:  Dry cocoa powder (unsweetened), cold sake at the end of the palate, tinny, dry finish

2010 Chante Cigale
Aroma:  Pineapple, stone
Taste:  Honey, stone, some creaminess

2010 Pierre Henri Morel Cotes du Rhone Villages Laudun
Aroma:  Subtle floral, honey
Taste:  Light citrus on the finish, buttery, light toast, mineral finish

2010 Domaine de Nalys
Aroma:  Floral, light honey, crisp citrus
Taste:  Buttery finish, Light citrus, chalky, and mineral on the finish, apricots, yellow plums

As I stated earlier, we had a nice selection of Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc wines from the South of France.  As you can see from the aroma and tasting notes that there are certain commonalities that appear.  The key one is the minerality of these wines.  This flavor is a reflection of the terror or soil where these vines are grown.  We know the soil profile in much of France consists of limestone, slate, etc.  This soil imparts the mineral characteristic into the wine.  This type of soil may also provide another benefit.  For years I have been searching for an answer on why French wines (Bordeaux, Burgundy, etc.) can age for so many years.  French Bordeaux and Burgundy wines can be cellared for 20, 30, 40 years or more and not go bad.  Rather, they get better.  California wines do not have this aging capability.  Jamie Goode in Harpers Weekly dated Sept 12, 2003 stated, ” In any event, I am utterly convinced that minerality is the one true key to ageability in wines and that everything else—tannin, acidity, sulphur dioxide—plays a far more secondary role.”  Is this the answer that I have been searching for on French wine longevity?  What do you think?  Another topic for another day.

In conclusion, thank you everyone that attended the October GOTN.  It was a great evening.  As always, thank you Valencia Wine Company for all of your support in the name of wine education.  Having cut my teeth at Valencia Wine Company on wines and wine education, I hold them in high regard.  I attended their classes, flight tastings and events for many years and that has led me to search for more answers.  Wines for me as an engineer is a science.  The more I learn, the more I realize that I have only scratched the surface.  Keep tasting, reading and learning there is nothing better than wine and wine education.

Cheers,
Rusty Sly

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