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2013 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Clos de Beauvenir, Château La Nerthe
Château La Nerthe has a history stretching back to 1560. The Château itself is one of Châteauneuf`s most elegant buildings and was built in 1760. This large property, with over 90 hectares of vines, has had a chequered history and it has been only since its purchase in 1985 by the Ricard family that its true potential has come to be realised.
In the capable hands of Alain Dugas the Estate has been making wines that are fully worthy of such a grandiose setting. With a focus on organic viticulture and a winemaking regime which juxtaposes modern stainless steel and very old cement, the wines are made with great skill and attention to detail. In 2008, Alain Dugas retired, and Christian Voeux took over from him.
La Nerthe's wine is firmly in the modernist camp of accessible Châteauneufs; softer tannins than in Beaucastel or Vieux Télégraphe, and ready to drink earlier. Almost all La Nerthe wines are vinified in wood, many in small barrels, which is rare in Châteauneuf. No filtering takes place. The white wines are richer in fruit than most other white Châteauneufs.
In the north, the white wines of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St-Joseph, and St-Péray are produced from blends of Marsanne and Roussanne. Generally Marsanne is the dominant partner and it lends colour, body and weight to the blend, as well as richly scented fruit. Roussanne, a notoriously low yielder and pernickety to grow, produces intensely aromatic wines which contribute bouquet, delicacy and finesse to the blend.
Until about 15 years ago there was very little interest in southern Rhône whites as it was widely believed that the combination of dull non aromatic grapes and the baking summer heat meant quality wine production was nigh impossible. Since then the quality has improved markedly through the introduction of cool fermentation techniques and increased plantings of northern Rhône white grapes.
The base of many blends is still Grenache Blanc, a widely planted variety producing fresh wines with apple-like fruits, often with hints of aniseed. Ugni Blanc is still found in many blends, as is Clairette though their general lack of character and definition has led to a reduction in plantings. The future for southern Rhône whites appears to lie with Roussanne, Marsanne, and, increasingly, Viognier.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the largest and most important wine appellation in the southern Rhône. It is home to more than 3,200 hectares of vineyards and over 80 growers; more wine is produced in Châteauneuf than the whole of the northern Rhône put together. The vineyards are bounded to the west by the Rhône river and to the east by the A7 autoroute.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape was the first ever Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée established in France, in 1932. Small, rounded rocks from the ancient river bed known as galets roulés are a key aspect of what makes Châteauneuf -du-Pape wines so distinctive, with the rocks reflecting heat back into the vines at night, thus increasing ripeness and reducing acidity.
The gloriously rich red wines, redolent of the heat and herbs of the south, are enhanced by the complexity which comes from blending several grape varieties. Fourteen are permitted for reds: Grenache, Mouvedre, Syrah, Cinsault, Vaccarese, Counoise, Teret Noir, Muscadin, Picpoul Noir, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Rousanne, Picpoul Gris and Picardin. With red Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Grenache typically dominates with Syrah and Mourvèdre in support.
White Châteauneuf-du-Pape is becoming increasingly sought-after, even though it represents less than 10 percent of the total production. Here, five grapes are permitted: Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Roussanne, Bourboulenc and Picardin.
Recommended Producers: Château de Beaucastel, Clos de Papes, Vieux Télégraphe, Château Rayas,, Domaine de la Charbonnière, Sabon, Château La Nerthe, Domaine Perrin
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