A religious wine

Written by Magandeep Singh | Updated: Dec 2 2012, 06:25am hrs
For many of us, the idea of alcohol and religion may be blatant blasphemysacrilege for the sacredand yet, in a world beyond our god-fearing limitations, the two mingle and associate often in forms holier than any. But today is not a rant about the ecclesiastical associations of spirit and well, fermented spirit. Instead, this piece comes straight to you from the reaches of a region whose history is stained a deep hue of red with wine. I am travelling through the vine-lands of Chteauneuf-du-Pape and this is the story of this land. Somewhere in the late medieval era, as Renaissance was catching on in Europe, the Popes office came under attack from the local Roman emperor. So serious was this threat that he had to flee and establish himself in France. He chose the city of Avignon, a small town on the banks of the river Rhone, safely nestled behind ramparts that also served to prevent floodwaters entering the city. The church has always made wine for their own use and so it was here, too, that the Pope acquired land and planted vines. He didnt have much work to do for vines had already existed in the region for centuries. In fact, it was the wines of the Rhone valley, which were used to infuse some colour and vigour (and perhaps also flavour and balance) into the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, so much so that they came to be known as the medicine winethe one that cured other feeble, lacking wines.

The vineyards were always important but they only gained true rise in status once the Pope left (at the behest of Santa Catarina) who travelled all the way from Italy (Tuscany it was, if Im not mistaken) to request the Pope to move the seat of the Catholic church back to the Vatican. The Pope acquiesced, but even after he left, his legacy lived on in his adopted abode.

Today, the region of Chteauneuf-du-Pape (roughly translated to mean the Popes new castle) is among the most popular wine-producing regions from the reaches of the Southern Rhone valley.

It is quite a peculiar region, allowing almost 13 different varieties to be used to make the final red blend, and many of these grapes are actually white! For this reason, Chteauneuf also has a tiny production of white wines. Ross are not permitted and that is perhaps the outcome of some pact that they probably signed with the neighbouring region of Tavel, which then went on to be counted among the most popular ros wine regions of the world.

The 13 grapes may be grown in a field side by side, in mixed fashion, or, as is becoming the norm nowadays, in separate parcels. The local soil is marked by these white pebbles aka Galet Roul and these contribute significantly to the elegance that these wines come to possess in spite of their high alcohol.

Not all producers of the region make exceptional winesthere are always those who exploit the name for all the wrong reasons but the local syndicate ensures that standards are upheld and maintained. These wines have an ageing potential to match any other region, but they are also becoming expensive. That elusive net of reverence is scarcely a good place to be in for too long else it risks becoming a museum piece, that is, stuff that is spoken about but rarely used or consumed. We all talk about Barolo and Bordeaux but how many of us can really afford the good ones regularly Chteauneuf, I hope, manages to remain accessible and yet not lose out on its aspirational value. Meanwhile, my train is pulling into Bordeaux and therell be more to report from here. Till next time...

The writer is a sommelier