Keith Van SickleTasteWines and Spirits of Provence

The Salon des Vins at Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Want to taste some of the world’s greatest wines for just 10 euro?  Then come to the Salon des Vins in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The 8th annual Salon takes place on on Saturday and Sunday, April 8 and 9, 2017.  It’s an opportunity to taste some fabulous wines in a relaxed setting.

The Salon will run from 10am to 6pm each day at the Salle Dufays on the Place de la Renaissance, just down the street from the tourist office, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Tickets can be purchased online or at the door, though buying ahead of time is recommended.

There will also be special tastings, like one on wine and chocolate and another on the famous 2007 vintage.  Spots for these need to be reserved in advance and carry an additional price tag.

The vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape were originally planted for the Pope’s wines in the 14th century (Châteauneuf-du-Pape means “new house of the Pope.”) The remains of his summer palace still dominate the countryside.

Remains of the original Chateauneuf du Pape castle

Like many French wines, Châteauneuf-du-Papes are blends of different types of grapes.  But unlike other wines, which might use two or three different grapes, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape a whopping total of 13 are allowed.  Some are well known, like Grenache and Syrah, while others are more obscure – Bourboulanc or Vaccarèse, anyone?

Because each winemaker chooses his or her own blend, the wines can vary significantly from one winery to the next.  That’s what makes the Salon so special.

When you get to the Salle Dufays, they hand you a wine glass and away you go.  Inside the Salle are table after table of wines.  All 90 of the domaines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are represented, often by the owner or winemaker (who might be the same person.)   And while they might not pour their most expensive wines, trust me – they are pouring good stuff.

The Salon is a rare opportunity to taste these wines side by side.  Do you prefer a wine dominated by Grenache?  Or is a healthy dose of Mourvèdre more to your liking?  And how does one vintage stack up against another?

Along with tasting the wines, you can discuss them with the person pouring, who is usually an expert.  Some of the staff speaks English, though knowing a little French will definitely help.

When I went to last year’s Salon, I was fortunate not only to enjoy the wines at the Salon, but also to experience a private tour and tasting at Domaine Mayard, one of the rising stars of the region.

I had been introduced to Françoise Roumieux, the owner and winemaker, by a mutual friend.  She is the seventh generation of the family to run Domaine Mayard and also the president of the local women’s winemaker’s association.  She kindly spent several hours with my wife and two friends and me.

Vignobles Mayard Chateauneuf du Pape vines

Françoise drove us through the vineyards and then took us to see the winemaking operation, full of wine presses and other equipment.  Everything is laid out in a way that allows gravity to move the juice along, rather than pumps that can cause harm.  It’s all about the wine!

Then came the best part – we went downstairs to the cave.

Francoise Roumieux of Vignobles Mayard

The cave was lined with large wooden barrels where the young wines were resting.  That’s where the magic happens and Françoise gave us a peek – we got to taste the wines directly from barrel.  They were delicious and I can say with conviction that the 2015 Grenache from La Crau (one of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s legendary vineyards) is going to be phenomenal!

Besides the tastings, Françoise gave us some insight into the wine business.  She explained how she has invested in land and equipment, what it takes to break into markets like the US, how she manages costs, etc.  It was impressive to talk to someone so talented at both winemaking and business management.

Vignobles Mayard Tasting room

After the barrel tastings, we went back to the main tasting room on Rue Baron le Roy, near the Salle Dufays.  There we sampled older vintages and could taste how different, and more complex, they were from the baby wines still in the barrels.

Vignobles Mayard Wine bottles

While the prices of some Châteauneuf-du-Papes have skyrocketed in the last decade or so, Mayard’s are still reasonable, which explains why my friends and I stocked up at the end of our visit.  With exceptional value like theirs, it’s easy to see a bright future ahead.

Learn more about the Salon des Vins here.

Learn more about Vignobles Mayard here.

Keith Van Sickle is the author of One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence available from Amazon here.

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Keith Van Sickle

Keith Van Sickle

Keith and Val Van Sickle made their first trip to Provence decades ago, and it was love at first sight. After that, they came back every year until 2008, when they began a part-time life there, splitting their time between Provence and California.

Over the years, they’ve travelled all over Provence, seeing sights both well-known and obscure. Their French friends have introduced them to favourite restaurants and wineries and picnic spots and taught them funny local expressions (not all for polite company).

Keith now shares this local knowledge in his new book, An Insider’s Guide to Provence. Packed with the Van Sickles’ favourite things to see and do, it’s a must-have for anyone travelling to this glorious corner of France.

Keith previously published two books about the couple's experiences in Provence. One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, and Are We French Yet?, both are available from Amazon.

You can see all of Keith’s blog posts at Life in Provence.

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