2012 Louis Bernard Domaine La Crau des Papes
During the Great Occidental Schism of the late 14th century, the Catholic church had two Popes.
Now I’m not a Pope but if I were, I’d definitely have a hard time sharing my town with another Pope. So it was that there was a Pope in Rome – with his wine country vacation home of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (so named because of the Pope) and a Pope in Avignon, France – with his pile of, well, rocks: the galet stones of the plateau La Crau.
Now you don’t need to be Catholic (or a Pope) to understand that if you’re going to run a church properly, you need wine. And not just any wine, but really, really good wine. So it was that the pile of rocks out back of Avignon began to be thought about, and considered in viticultural ways.
A million years before the Great Schism, a great flood created what would eventually become the Rhone River. For most of this time, the future-Rhone rushed up onto a plateau and then spilled into the Mediterranean. And on that plateau, called La Crau, these river-washed galet stones settled.
Popes aren’t dumb, and once this one in Avignon finished moving in, he quickly realized that this plateau with its stones was something vey special. The plateau gets complete sun exposure, which is great for the grapes Grenache and Syrah. The galet are also exposed to the sun, much of which they reflect back to the underside of the grape leaves. Thus vines planted in La Crau get double sunlight. Further, the sun-bathed galet stones hold their heat. Which means at night, the vines are still warmed. All of this adds up to wines that are concentrated—doubly rich if you will—with a warm, rounded fruit character.
So the new Pope quickly found a wine worthy of his house and church, naming it after, of course, himself – the new house of the Pope. Or, in short, Chateauneuf du Pape. It’s now the most famous wine-growing region in the southern Rhone. Our example today is Louis Bernard’s Chateauneuf du Pape, straight from the plateau of La Crau and its famous galet stones:
The glass opens with a profound expression of blackberries, ripe plums, and currants. Full-bodied on the palate, this wine is right in the prime of its maturity: the fruit flavors seamlessly integrate with touch of savoriness – black pepper, baking spices, and just a hint of bitter chocolate. It’s got enough power that it will stand up to a robust French country dish such as cassoulet or andouiettes with garlic aioli, yet it also is rounded and mature enough to build and complement the meal rather than overwhelm it.
It’s no wonder Chateanuef du Pape is such a celebrated place for making delicious wines. If communion wine were this good, we’d all be Catholic!