BKWine Travel Stories: Is Robert Parker honorary citizen of Chateauneuf

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I wonder if Robert Parker is honorary citizen of Châteauneuf-du-Pape?

If he’s not (and I imagine that’s the case), then perhaps he should be. He has probably done more than anyone else to revive the fortunes of Chateauneuf (at least according to some growers). A few decades ago (or even less, before Parker ‘discovered’ it) it was considered a rather old-fashioned wine that dad (or granddad) drank. Today it is on the height of fashion. As Marie Giraud said: “when our wines arrive in New York it takes three hours and then they’re sold out!”

But that is perhaps not fair to Parker, nor to the growers. What has really made a difference and made Chateauneuf (again) famous for top quality wines is a new wave of winemakers, ambitious and quality conscious. In the last decade (or perhaps two decades) we’ve really seen a renaissance of the appellation – the very first one to be defined in France. In 1935, I think it was, as the first AOC.

We started this morning with a visit to Domaine Giraud in the village of Chateauneuf itself. Today it is run by brother & sister Marie and François Giraud who have taken over the daily management from their father. (He’s still in the background but lets M&F run the show, but he is obviously and deservedly very proud of the children.) We tasted the range of their wines, starting with the (rare) white before going on to the reds. They have three reds, with increasing concentration, increasing portion of Grenache and increasingly old vines. Domaine Giraud makes a modern concentrated and very extracted Chateauneuf but they have not fallen in the trap of using too much oak aging which would mask the originality of the terroir and the fruit (albeit they do use a bit new oak). Excellent (and of course not cheap) wines.

Domaine Roger Sabon is a bit more traditional. They too are part of the “new wave” of winemakers who have taken Chateauneuf to a new level, but their style is more classic. The colour is less intense and their wines are closer to what you think of when you think of Grenache or a classic Chateauneuf. Depending on the cuvée they use up to 80% (or even more) of Grenache. Very nice, clean and fresh wines. Quite demanding and with a fair bit austerity. Wines more for the long run.

What one should also keep in mind is that both Giraud and Sabon (as well as many other producers in the area) also make “simpler” wines: Côtes du Rhône, Lirac, Vin de Pays and others. They can often be excellent value for money (with prices of good Chateauneuf being what they are) since they are generally made with just as much care and attention to detail.

It has indeed been a grey and rainy day, but with two memorable producer visits – and a delicious lunch at Chateau Fines Roches (half a lobster with curry sauce, dorade à l’unilateral, some local cheese and a moooooelleux au chocolat…) we’re quite a happy bunch, now on our way back to Antibes!

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