Avignon was the first stop on our three-city tour of Provence. It’s a city that’s bursting with Roman history and significance. The Papal palace holds dominance over the historic district and during the 12th century, under a blistering Mediterranean sun, the Avignon papacy ruled the Catholic Church (and much of Europe) for seventy years. The first Pope under this relocated regime, Pope Clement V, was a wine drinker and the ideal climes of the Rhone region were perfectly suited to bear his favorite fruit. Thus, the gorgeous Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine was born.
Naturally, a wine tasting and procuring a bottle of this fabulous wine was a top priority for our stop in Avignon. The gentleman who served us described the thirteen grape varietals that go into chateauneuf-du-pape: mainly a grenache, but with syrah, mourverde, and others in the mix. Whites are produced as well; the grenache blanc we tried went down cool and easy after a day of taking babies all over the city strapped to our bodies.
What surprised me most about this wine is the color. I’ve had grenache and syrah before; they have impressed me as being heartier and fuller wines. Provence itself has a cuisine that’s rather rugged–think of plump, bursting sausages and tangy, herb-studded chevre cheeses. The color of the red variety we tried was a lovely, clear garnet color. Despite its long and storied regional legacy, the taste was fresh and young and sassy. It was refreshing in a way I don’t normally consider red wines to be but strong enough to handle rich meats and cheeses.
My husband’s friend says that this wine in particular tastes best when you drink it in Provence, which I have to heartily agree with. It certainly wasn’t quite the same when we got it at home from the wine importer down the street. However, I think that’s true of any wine–a California chardonnay tastes best under the Napa sun, and a Virginia Norton is perfect on a crisp mid-Atlantic September day. It’s the experience of the place itself that makes it special. And so on our third evening in Avignon, we poured a glass of papal tradition and history, bought a bottle of our own, and toasted to the health and good fortune that brought us to this storied region of France. Every time we see the Chateauneuf-du-Pape, we’ll always remember this trip.
Are there any wines (or other regional specialties) that bring back fond memories of your travels? What are they?