Jeb Dunnuck - 31/10/2013
About this WINE
Chateau la Nerthe
Records at Château la Nerthe date back to at least 1560, when the property was founded by the Tulle de Villefranche family. It has been in the Richard family since 1985, headed up today by Corinne Richard.
The 92-hectare vineyard is a patchwork of 57 different plots, representing each of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s soil types, including the signature galet stones. All 13 of the appellation’s permitted grape varieties are grown here, with Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre dominating.
The Richard family have invested heavily in both the vineyard and the winery. For now, around half of the red-wine volume is vinified at the individual parcel level. The introduction of more small vats is planned to accommodate ever-more-precise vinification.
Ch. la Nerthe has been farmed organically since 1998. Biodiversity is a key focus: there are woodlands around the vineyard, and the team encourage birds and bats as a natural way to defend against insects, reducing the need for treatments.
The most celebrated village of the Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the birthplace of the now indispensable French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system – imperfect though it may be. Compared to the Northern Rhône, the vineyards here are relatively flat and often feature the iconic galet pebbles – the precise benefits of which are a source of much debate. Minimum alcohol levels required by the AOC are the highest in France, but at 12.5% it is well below the natural generosity of Grenache, which only achieves its full aromatic potential when it is fully ripe and laden with the resultant high sugars. Syrah and Mourvèdre contribute the other defining elements in the blend, adding pepper, savoury spice and structure to the decadent Grenache. There are a further 10 permitted red grape varieties which can be used to adjust the “seasoning”. Of the five white varieties permitted, it is Grenache Noir’s sibling – predictably perhaps – Grenache Blanc, which dominates, though Roussanne shows a great deal of promise when handled well, notably at Château de Beaucastel.
White Rhône Blend
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.