Sunday, September 01, 2019

The popes of French wine

Grape cultivation or viticulture is almost as old as civilisation and the Phoenicians of the East Mediterranean carried the grape into France about 600 BCE. This year an archaeologist at the University Of York, UK, disclosed in a paper where he is the lead author, that grapes from the Jura region in Eastern France, near the border with Switzerland, which are used to produce Savagnin blanc (a white wine not to be confused with Sauvignon blanc), are the exact same grape, down to the genetic level, which have been grown there for at least 900 years.

About 770 years ago in 1249, a vineyard was planted south of the city of Bordeaux in Pessac-Léognan, an area in the Graves wine-growing region. The first harvest was in 1252.

King Edward I of England (1239-1307) was also the Duke of Gascony and was therefore the ruler of the Bordeaux wine-growing area that is now in modern southwestern France.

Béraud de Got, the lord of Villandraut and surrounding areas near Sauternes in Graves, typically as a noble/ aristocrat had one of his younger sons enter the Catholic priesthood. Raymond Bertrand de Got who was born sometime in 1260-1264 had become archbishop of the city of Bordeaux in 1299 when the population was about 30,000. His eldest brother bought the vineyard in Pessac-Léognan and gave it as a gift to the new prelate.

In 1294 the new Italian pope Boniface VIII began a war against his enemies on capturing the papacy and he imprisoned his ascetic (a rare attribute in medieval popes) predecessor Saint Celestine V (1215-1296) in a remote castle. Celestine had resigned 5 months after his election.

Boniface angered the royal rulers of Europe, King Philippe IV (1268-1314) of France in particular, by claiming to be their temporal superior, and by stating that taxes could not be levied on the clergy without the ascent of Rome. In 1302 a papal bull was issued decreeing it "absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman pontiff." 

Boniface was injured in an abortive attempt by Philippe to kidnap him and the pope died a month later in October 1303. The new pope Benedict XI died in July 1304 and a year later the French king's candidate, Archbishop de Got, became Pope Clement V.

The new pope decided to build an English-style castle in his home commune and following his coronation in Lyon with Phillipe IV (who was known as Philippe Le Bel/the fair or handsome) in attendance, the king had a big favour to ask.

Philippe had large war debts owed to the wealthy monastic military order, the Knights Templar which had been founded in Jerusalem in 1119 to protect pilgrims to the Christain Holy Land. Clement endorsed charges of heresy and a catalogue of other trumped-crimes. Executions began from 1307 and most of the order's assets are believed to have been confiscated by the kings of France and England.

In March 1314, Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, was slowly burned to death in front of Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, which the order had financed. Before the year-end, the pope and king of France would also be dead.

Château de Villandraut, built in 1305-1314 — at a third of normal time

Dante Alighieri's (1265-1321) epic poem Divine Comedy (La commedia, later named La divina commedia) written in Italian circa 1308–21, has 3 parts,  Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. In Inferno (Italian for Hell), Dante accompanied by Virgil (70-19 BCE), the Roman poet, encounter the soul of Celestine V, a coward to Dante who had paved the way for Boniface VIII, just inside the gates of Hell. However, in the Eight Circle reside the souls of Nicholas III who reigned in 1277-1280 when it was good to be a relative; Boniface VIII, and Clement V who was viewed as a pawn of the king of France. Dante called Clement “a shepherd without law, of uglier deed” and a “new Jason” — Jason, the ancient Greek, had purchased a priestly position for his brother from the king of Syria.

The coronation of Pope Clement V at Lyon, Nov 1305 with King Philippe on the pope's right

Château Pape Clément

What became known as Château Pape Clément, was passed to the archdiocese of Bordeaux after the election of the new pope in 1305 and it would continue as an ecclesiastical property until the French Revolution in 1789.

In 1939 the vineyard was bought by Paul Montagne, wine grower, poet and author.

The Bordeaux region is called the department of Gironde and crus classés (“classified growths”) classifications began in 1855.

Château Haut-Brion is the only Bordeaux wine to be classified twice and it appears in both the Graves classification and the Grands Crus Classés en 1855.

The Graves classification began in 1953 and 16 crus, including Château Pape Clément, all belong to the AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée — certification of the geographic area of the growth) Pessac-Léognan.

There are several classifications in Gironde, listed in order of seniority: 

The 1855 classification

The Graves classification

The Saint-Émilion classification

The Crus Bourgeois du Médoc classification

The Crus Artisans classification

The Premier Crus are typically the among most expensive wines on a menu but Pétrus, a Merlot wine (all production from 2010) with no classification as it comes from the AOC Pomerol, is often the most expensive.  

Château Haut-Brion, Pessac, AOC Pessac-Léognan

Château Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac, AOC Pauillac

Château Latour, Pauillac, AOC Pauillac

Château Margaux, Margaux, AOC Margaux

Château Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac, AOC Pauillac (added in 1973).

At Château Pape Clément the red wine planting (30 ha/hectares) consists of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) and Merlot (40%). White (2.5 ha) and Semillon Sauvignon white (45% each) supplemented with Muscadelle (10%). The average age of the vines is 40 years in red and white 18 years.

AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée) Châteauneuf du Pape, AOC Côtes du Rhône & Côtes du Rhône Villages

Châteauneuf du Pape

The papacy was moved from Rome to Avignon on the River Rhône in 1309. There would be 7 Avignon popes to 1377 and from 1378-1417, there would be rival popes and antipopes operating from the city and Rome.

All 7 Avignon popes were French and as were 111 of the 134 cardinals created.

In 1309 there was a population of about 5,000 and it rose to about 30,000 by the 1370s. The town belonged to King Robert of Naples who was also count of Provence and Forcalquier while the papacy owned land in the area (later in modern France). The king's granddaughter Johanna 1 sold Avignon to Pope Clement VI in 1348 for 80,000 florins.

The second Avignon pope John XX11 (1244-1334) who was 72 when he was elected pope in 1316, had the biggest influence on wine.

John XX11 had a summer castle built on a hill between the cities of Avignon and Orange in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in southeastern France.

Châteauneuf du Pape & below after Germans dynamited an explosives cache in the dungeons in 1944

Châteauneuf Calcernier was the name of the commune/village, in the Vaucluse department and it is located about 3 kilometres to the east of the Rhône and 12 kilometres north of Avignon.

John XXII brought wine experts from his hometown of Cahors, in southwest France, to restore the vineyards and the 19th century Provençal poet Frederic Mistral, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1904, called the local wine a “royal, majestic, pontifical wine.”

From 1893 the commune has been known as Châteauneuf (new castle) du Pape.

In 1935 the French government created Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO) and from 1936 the creations of appellations (appellation d'origine contrôlée: AOC) all over France could start. One of the first to be approved was Appellation Châteauneuf-du-Pape Contrôlée .

The vineyards today include 3,200 hectares of vines spread over 5 villages/communes: Châteauneuf du Pape, Courthézon, Bédarrides, Orange and Sorgues.

The local industry association says, "When Châteauneuf-du-Pape became the first French appellation contrôlée wine in 1936, 13 different grape varieties were authorised each contributing its characteristics to: colour, structure, fragrance, freshness and longevity.

The permitted red and white grape varities are: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Clairette, vaccarèse, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul, Picardan and Terret noir."

Tom Barton (1695-1774) was Irish & this is my favourite Châteauneuf. Glenfiddich is my single malt!

Grenache Noir, is the main grape variety and it suits Châteauneuf-du-Pape with its limited dry soils, hot summers with severe, long periods of drought, and mistral (a gentle breeze blowing through French vineyardswhich protects against coulure (shot berries) and vine diseases. 

Popes were both religious and temporal rulers and as members of powerful wealthy families, they did not typically have much in common with the poor. The Franciscan Spiritualists who were located in Tuscany and Provence believed in absolute and total poverty but Pope John declared them heretical. They were ordered to return to their order but when 4 of them refused they were burned at the stake.

Eric Asimov is the New York Times’s wine critic and he says,"From grape to glass, wine is a wonderfully expansive topic. It hurts me to see it reduced so often to tasting notes, those comically over-specific efforts to capture aromas and flavours in a phrase. If you want to know whether a wine smells more like guava or jackfruit, I’m afraid I’m not your guy. Frankly, wine is greater and more interesting than that."

Asimov writes on a panel's view of the leading Châteauneuf du Pape wines from vintage 2016:

"Our consensus favourite was the Chante le Merle Vieilles Vignes from Bosquet des Papes, a cuvée made from old-vine grapes that were not destemmed before they were crushed. (Leaving the stems on is an old-fashioned technique that can add savoury elements to the wine.) We found it to be intense and complex, powerful yet balanced.

The Beaucastel, our No. 2, was savoury, with an old-school leathery element that we liked. No. 3 was the Cuvée Renaissance from Domaine de Cristia, a rustic, chewy wine, with flavours of dark fruit and liquorice. Both of these wines have higher-than-typical percentages of mourvèdre in the blend, 30%t for Beaucastel and 40% for Cristia. As climate change takes hold, more producers are increasing their mourvèdre components, as it tends not to get as jammy and alcoholic as grenache does.

No. 4 was La Dame Voyageuse from Domaine de la Mordorée, a more typical blend with 75%, too, offered complexity and dimension. It was followed by the Clos St. Antonin, a powerful, fruity wine, 100% grenache, that nonetheless offered some complex herbal flavours, and the Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, a tannic wine with flavours of red fruits and flowers.

The Télégraphe, another historic name of Châteauneuf, was the most expensive wine in the tasting at $90. The domaine makes a second wine, Télégramme, which is generally excellent and about half the price.

Others in our tasting well worth seeking out are the earthy, powerful Domaine de Ferrand; the velvety, intense Tradition from Domaine de la Janasse; the chunky, liquorice-flavoured Domaine de Marcoux; and the bright, raspberry-scented Boisrenard from Domaine de Beaurenard."

The Palais des Papes (Papal Palace) is the largest Gothic building in existence

UNESCO World Heritage Site