OK, it’s time to come clean. I get asked a dozen times each week about my favorite wine. I usually dodge the question because the wine I’m drinking depends on the food I’m eating (or not eating), the company I’m with, price, location, time, temperature and about a gazillion other factors. I don’t really have a “favorite wine.” Rather, I have lots of favorites. But I said I’d come clean, and so I’ll confess: In the dog days of August, my favorite summer wine is ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape.
But of course, I’m talking about the other ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape. Not the racy, dense, earthy red wines of ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape that I adore so much in winter. In the summertime, I just love to get my tongue around a lesser-known little tart of the Southern RhÃ´ne: ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape Blanc.
White ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape is always made from some of the following six grape varieties: Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Picpoul, and Picardan. But let’s back up just a bit. This strange-sounding French wine translates as “new castle/Chateau of the Pope” and is named for the time in the 14th century when the walled-in city of Avignon, in the south of France, was the popes’ residence, not Rome. The town of ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape is only about 15 minutes or so from Avignon and the region of ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape'the southernmost of the important RhÃ´ne wine appellations'boasts the world’s best producers of this extraordinary wine: Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateau Rayas, Chateau La Nerthe, Domaine de la CharbonniÃ¨re and the like.
Unfortunely, white ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape tends to be as pricy as red ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape, if not more so. Less than 10 percent of all ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape wine produced in France is ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape Blanc. And very little of that finds its way to America. But it can be found'at a price. Here in Utah, grand vin Chateau de Beaucastel Blanc will run you about $60 a bottle; the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me Beaucastel ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape Roussanne Vieilles Vignes cuvee will set you back about $133. Hey, if you have that kind of money lying around and can afford to spend it on wine, buy either of these fine Beaucastel wines before summer ends and invite me over!
Beaucastel Blanc is made from 80 percent Roussanne and 20 percent Grenache Blanc and the Beaucastel Roussanne Vieilles Vignes is a very rare 100 percent Roussanne. Roussanne'which is a primary varietal of much high-end ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape'is an aromatic, stylish and elegant grape: Think the scent of Coco Chanel as opposed to Charley. It’s frequently blended with Marsanne to take the edge off of that grape.
A good ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (and there are plenty of insipid ones in the south of France) is a very dry wine that’s loaded with mineral flavors, along with ripe peach, pear and melon. The Chateau de Beaucastel ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape Blanc is typically a “fat” wine that will age well in the cellar. I can’t imagine a better match for a simple roast chicken with lemon and thyme or rosemary.
Well, I’m still coming clean: I can’t often afford real ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape'red, white or pink. But this summer, I’ve become very fond of a poor man’s substitute for ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape Blanc. It’s La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Luberon Blanc, and you can’t beat the price: $5.95 for a 750 ml bottle, or $11.95 for a 1500 ml. I’ve found the wine to be somewhat variable from bottle to bottle, but all pretty good and some outstanding. La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Luberon Blanc is a blend of equal parts (30 percent each) Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Ugni Blanc, and 10 percent Roussanne. Pour it into a decanter and serve it to your guests as Chateau Beaucastel, saying that you recently inherited some unexpected cash.