Situated in southern France, the Rhone Valley is among France’s most important wine regions, producing more quality (AOC) wine than any other with the exception of Bordeaux. Covering a large area (the region runs 125 miles long), the Rhone produces a wide range of wine styles from full-bodied, aromatic whites and deep-colored roses to powerful reds.
Among the best known appellations in the region is Chateauneuf-du-Pape, named for the Pope’s castle when the papacy was centered in Avignon. Producers of Chateauneuf-du-Pape are permitted to select from 13 different grape varieties, with the reds mostly focused on Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and, to a lesser extent, Cinsault. Although not as well known (since they account for only 5% of production within the AOC), the white Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines are also produced from a blend of varieties, notably Grenache Blanc and Clairette.
This diverse selection of grape varieties is partially attributed to Joseph Ducos, a local winegrower who was instrumental in replanting the area’s vineyards in the wake of phylloxera. Ducos was owner of Château La Nerthe, one of the region’s oldest estates (dating to the 12th century).
Situated within the heart of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, wine production at Château La Nerthe has been documented since 1560. Originally under the aegis of the Tulle de Villefranche family, Ducos purchased Chateau La Nerthe in 1870. Since 1985, the property has been owned by the Richard family and it is presently managed by Christian Voeux. The Chateau’s vineyards are 40 years old, on average, and have been certified as organic since 1998.
Chateau La Nerthe produces four wines: Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Clos de Beauvenir and Cuvée des Cadettes, the latter being a name first used by Joseph Ducos and revived in 1986.
Chateau La Nerthe Clos de Beauvenir Chateauneuf du Pape 2010, Rhone Valley, France, $130.00
A beautiful blend of Roussanne, Clairette (along with a bit of white Grenache and Bourboulenc), this small special cuvee is produced from a small (2.5 ha) single vineyard. Fermented in used barrels, with 8-9 months on the lees, the wine is dry with medium+ acidity and full body; aromas and flavors of waxy, peach, floral, musk, oak linger in the wine’s long length. Chateau La Nerthe has been certified organic since 1998. Previous vintages of this wine could easily age 10-12 years, but with a shift to fermenting a percentage of the wine in oak (in addition to aging it in oak), it is expected that the wine can age for 15 years.
Chateau La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2010, Rhone Valley, France, $48.00
With a majority of the blend given over to Grenache Noir, the wine is rounded out with Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault and aged in a combination of oak barrels, casks and wooden vats. The oak is well integrated on both the nose and palate, offering notes of vanilla, wood and spice, along with black cherry, smoke and leather. Beautiful and complex, this wine can certainly age for a decade or more.