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Wine Wednesday


Chateauneufduwhatnow? Du Pape! Aka The Pope. Chances are the name sounds familiar, but did you know this wine was named after Pope John XXII, who regularly drank wine from the vineyards to the north of Avignon and did much to improve viticultural practices there. Under John XXII, the wines of this area came to be known as “Vin du Pape”, which later turned into “Châteauneuf-du-Pape.” John XXII also built the castle which is the symbol of the appellation and gave the name to both the French Town and this famous wine. A wine worthy to be highlighted for our Wine Wednesday:

Cellar Pick of the Week: 2016 Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils
Origin: Châteauneuf-du-pape, Bourdeaux, France
Grape varietal: Grenache 80 %, Syrah 10 %, Cinsault 5%, Mourvedre 5%

Châteauneuf-du-Pape sits towards the bottom of the Rhône Valley, close to the border of Provence in the South of France. As mentioned above, the name refers to a time when the seat of the Roman Catholic Church was still in Avignon (between 1309–1377). The region has written records of vineyards dating back to the 1100s, but winemaking has been around here even longer than that! Châteauneuf-du-Pape is one of 19 official crus that represent Côtes du Rhône’s top wine-growing zones. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is considered –by most– to be the benchmark of the Southern Rhône.

Different from the Chablis last week, Châteauneuf-du-Pape traditionally has not one but had eighteen grape varieties growing in the region. In the previous version of the appellation rules, this was only thirteen. Red varieties allowed are Cinsault, Counoise, Grenache noir, Mourvèdre (remember Margan Wines from the Hunter Valley?), Muscardin, Piquepoul noir, Syrah, Terret noir, and Vaccarèse (Brun Argenté). Even though almost 90% of the wines from Chateauneuf-du-pape are red, both red and white varieties are allowed in both red and white Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines (are you still with us?). There are no restrictions as to the proportion of grape varieties to be used, and unlike the case with other appellations, the allowed grape varieties are not differentiated into principal varieties and accessory varieties. Thus, it is theoretically possible to produce varietal Châteauneuf-du-Pape from any of the eighteen allowed varieties. In reality, most Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are blends dominated by Grenache, including our wine of the week!

A great bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge bursts with rich raspberry and plummy fruit flavors. As it evolves, you’ll taste notes of dusted leather, game, and herbs. The French, (and us wanna be Francophiles), call this herbal play “garrigue,” after the region’s scrubland of sage, rosemary, and lavender. Chateauneuf-du-Pape often finishes on a sweet-strawberry tingle that glows in the back of your throat from elevated alcohol. The finish ranges from sweet to savory, depending on the vintage.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are often high in alcohol, typically 13-15%, and must be minimum 12.5% under the appellation rules with no chaptalization allowed. Winemaking in the region tends to focus on balancing the high sugar levels in the grape with the tannins and phenols that are common in red Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The common technique of using small barrel oak is not widely used in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape area, partly due to the fact that the principal grape Grenache is prone to oxidation in the porous wooden barrels. Instead, Grenache is vinified in large cement tanks, while the other grape varieties are made in large old barrels called foudres that do not impart the same “oaky” characteristics as the smaller oak barrels.

Which brings us to Domaine Pierre Usseglio et Fils, where we’ll find our Cellar Pick of the Week. Domaine Usseglio dates back to 1948. It was founded by Francis Usseglio, who left Italy to come and work at Chateauneuf-Du-Pape as a wine worker. Its very first harvest came out of the press one year later, in 1949. Later, his son Pierre took over and increased the surface area of ​​Domaine Pierre Usseglio. Today it covers 39 hectares, 24 hectares of which growing grapes for their Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Their red Châteauneuf-du-Pape is made in the traditional way. The vines are between 35 and 75 years old, and the grapes are harvested manually and 60% destemmed. The fermentation is followed by thermoregulation, it lasts from 25 to 35 days. Then, the wines are aged in a combination of oak barrels, in half barrels, in concrete vats and barrels over a period of 12 months.

Their traditional Chateauneuf-Du-Pape is very deep dark red black core with a bright dark red hue. It has aromas of black raspberry, black cherry and liquorice which intermix with earthy incense, provincial herb and spicy pepper notes along the way. Engulfing the decadently rich palates are black raspberry and kirsch liqueur-like flavours which boast monumental power and concentration. Liquorice, infusions of incense, provincial herbs, subtle scorched earth, spice and pepper elements also chime in. Firm yet very polished tannins give the otherwise opulent mouthfeel a slight sense of chewiness. Finishes magnificently with an epically long aftertaste that seemingly sails on forever. It is a concentrated and structured wine, which makes it a wine to keep. They recommend tasting it in 6-8 years, so patience is key!

The wine pairs best with classic meat dishes like veal, pork, beef, lamb, duck, game, roast chicken, roasted, braised, stewed dishes, sausage, grilled meats, barbecue and cassoulet. Domaine Pierre Usseglio is also good with Asian dishes, hearty fish courses like tuna, salmon, mushrooms pasta, eggplant and tomatoes.

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