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M. Chapoutier Chateauneuf-du-Pape La Bernardine Blanc 2015
The history of the Chapoutier family stretches back to the early nineteenth century when current owner Michel Chapoutier’s great-, great-, great-grandfather Marius purchased an estate and some vineyards in the now famous village of Tain l’Hermitage in the Northern Rhône Valley. Marius Chapoutier made history in the region when he became the first grape grower there to vinify his own fruit. Marius had tasted wines other winemakers produced using his fruit and he realized that something was lost in translation, so to speak. He knew that he owned some of the best growing sites in the appellation and he believed — rightly — that the grapes grown in his vineyards could produce long-lived world-class wines. In a move unusual at the time, he decided that he should make the wine himself. Not only did the quality of the wines increase greatly, but this move provided the capital to expand the Chapoutiers’ already legendary estate.
A visionary and pioneer in biodynamic winemaking, his restless energy and unconditional commitment to quality have produced tremendous success, with the most 90+ point ratings of all Rhône producers and 16 "100 point" rated wines.
Famous for its full-bodied, seductive and spicy reds with flavor and aroma characteristics reminiscent of black cherry, baked raspberry, garrigue, olive tapenade, lavender and baking spice, Chateauneuf-du-Pape is the leading sub-appellation of the southern Rhône River Valley. Large pebbles resembling river rocks, called "galets" in French, dominate most of the terrain. The stones hold heat and reflect it back up to the low-lying gobelet-trained vines. Though the galets are typical, they are not prominent in every vineyard. Chateau Rayas is the most obvious deviation with very sandy soil.
According to law, eighteen grape varieties are allowed in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and most wines are blends of some mix of these. For reds, Grenache is the star player with Mourvedre and Syrah coming typically second. Others used include Cinsault, Counoise and occasionally Muscardin, Vaccarèse, Picquepoul Noir and Terret Noir.
Only about 6-7% of wine from Chateauneuf-du-Pape is white. Blends and single-varietal bottlings are typically based on the soft and floral Grenache Blanc but Clairette, Bourboulenc and Roussanne are grown with some significance.
The wine of Chateauneuf-du-Pape takes its name from the relocation of the papal court to Avignon. The lore says that after moving in 1309, Pope Clément V (after whom Chateau Pape-Clément in Pessac-Léognan is named) ordered that vines were planted. But it was actually his successor, John XXII, who established the vineyards. The name however, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, translated as "the pope's new castle," didn’t really stick until the 19th century.
Producing full-bodied white wines, Grenache blanc can be unctuous and soft or floral and fresh. Some of the finest examples are terroir-driven, age-worthy wines. It is a key ingredient in white Châteauneuf-du-Pape and is a significant variety in Roussillon’s Vins Doux Naturels. For delicious and approachable table whites popular in France, Grenache blanc blends well with other indigenous grapes. But it doesn’t always have to be blended. Single-varietal Grenache blanc wines are becoming more popular in California and can occasionally be found in South Africa. In Spain it plays a significant role in northeastern whites from Priorat, Tarragona, Rioja and Navarra.
In the Glass
Grenache blanc wines have mango, white peach, lime and pear flavors and often smell of sweet honeysuckle and fennel. The wine can be plump and rich with a brioche quality if aged in oak, or leaner with herbal notes if not.
Grenache blanc goes with spicy poultry or fish dishes like Chinese Five Spice Sea Bass, Moroccan Tagine and Satay. It can hold its own against lemon and lime zest, garlic, allspice, capers, and cilantro.
Whites from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation of the Rhône are often rich, oak-aged blends of Grenache blanc and Roussanne.