Dear Wine Master,
Where is Avignon? Also what role did it play in the area’s wine?
The medieval city of Avignon is the chief city of Vaucluse and gateway to Provence in France. During the 14th century, driven by church and national politics, Pope Clement V moved the seat of the papacy from its traditional home in Rome to the village of Avignon in the southern reaches of France’s Rhone Valley. And naturally enough, one of the first things the papal court did in Avignon was to plant vineyards to make wine for the Pope’s table.
The Papacy stayed in Avignon for less than 70 years before returning to Rome in 1377, but the vines they planted there began a tradition that has come down to wine lovers today as Chateauneuf du Pape, ”The New Castle of the Pope.”
The vineyards were planted in an unusually stony, rocky soil, a happy geological coincidence that catches and stores summer heat and thus fosters full ripeness in the grapes, creating the circumstances for red wine that’s characteristically robust and full-bodied. Because of the region’s long tradition, many varieties of grapes were used there, and modern law permits Chateauneuf to be made from any of a shopping list of 13 kinds of grape. In practice, though, most wineries limit their blend to a critical few: Grenache, with its bold, ripe fruit, is predominant, with earthy Mourv?dre, peppery Syrah and sturdy Cinsaut usually included.
For more information on these grape types have a look Grape Varieties and to put the Rhone Valley into a geographical context you might enjoy Wine Regions of the World.