2019 Les Cassagnes de La Nerthe, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, Ch. la Nerthe, Rhône

2019 Les Cassagnes de La Nerthe, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, Ch. la Nerthe, Rhône

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2019 Les Cassagnes de La Nerthe, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, Ch. la Nerthe, Rhône

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Chateau la Nerthe

Chateau la Nerthe

Ch. la Nerthe is a stunning, 500-year-old property that has become one to watch over the past few years. Working organically since 1998, its impressive range of 57 parcels on various soil types and expositions helps to produce wines which are not only a seamless and complete expression of Châteauneuf-du-Pape but also have wonderful complexity. The noticeable care and attention taken in both the vineyards and cellar has, over the past few years, resulted in seriously impressive wines here. This property is, in every way, a worthy rival to the likes of Ch. de Beaucastel.

The 2019 vintage was challenging here, as it was across the Rhône Valley, given the multiple heatwaves in the summer months and the extreme drought between May and September. But these tricky conditions have revealed the true magic of vines which are so perfectly adapted to manage the majority of nature’s whims; 2019 ended up becoming an exceptional vintage here.

Key to its success this year is the remarkable terroir at Ch. la Nerthe. The mix of rocky, clay and sandy soils, as well as the natural springs at the property, bring a wonderful freshness and minerality to the wines. The very special top white cuvée, Clos de Beauvenir, comes from a single, walled plot – an old castle garden, right in front of the historic château.

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Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape

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.

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Southern Rhône Blend

Southern Rhône Blend

The vast majority of wines from the Southern Rhône are blends. There are 5 main black varieties, although others are used and the most famous wine of the region, Châteauneuf du Pape, can be made from as many as 13 different varieties. Grenache is the most important grape in the southern Rhône - it contributes alcohol, warmth and gentle juicy fruit and is an ideal base wine in the blend. Plantings of Syrah in the southern Rhône have risen dramatically in the last decade and it is an increasingly important component in blends. It rarely attains the heights that it does in the North but adds colour, backbone, tannins and soft ripe fruit to the blend.

The much-maligned Carignan has been on the retreat recently but is still included in many blends - the best old vines can add colour, body and spicy fruits. Cinsault is also backtracking but, if yields are restricted, can produce moderately well-coloured wines adding pleasant-light fruit to red and rosé blends. Finally, Mourvèdre, a grape from Bandol on the Mediterranean coast, has recently become an increasingly significant component of Southern Rhône blends - it often struggles to ripen fully but can add acidity, ripe spicy berry fruits and hints of tobacco to blends.

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