A delightful variety act in the southern Rhone

Châteauneuf-du-Pape makes the most of its many, many grape varieties, writes Jonathan Ray

Wines are a blend. Even most so-called single varietal wines are a blend of different clones, say, different parcels and – most likely – different vineyards. A wine might also be a blend of wines fermented or matured in stainless steel and those fermented or matured in oak. In some cases – especially in Australia – a single varietal wine might even be a blend of grapes drawn from different regions.

I know I’m stating the obvious when I say that wines blended from different grape varieties take all this a bit further, but it’s only when one gets one’s feet dirty in a vineyard that one realises quite how much further. The vineyard in which I’ve just got my feet dirty is that of Ogier, owner of some prime sites in Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhône.

I’ve always loved the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. They are astonishingly varied – 18 different grape varieties might officially be used in the blends, making them potentially the most complex wines in France, if not the world. Its finest wines are pricey and long-lived, perfect for collectors and connoisseurs alike. They are mighty, full-flavoured wines of high alcohol and make perfect alternatives to Burgundy and Bordeaux for canny buyers.

There are four major soil types in Châteauneuf-du-Pape: limestone, red iron-rich sandstone, sand and the famous galets roulés or large, round pebbles. Ogier’s head winemaker, Edouard Guerin, takes me to the vineyards to show me. He brings with him four bottles of wine, each made from 100 per cent Grenache from the same vintage, each vinified in exactly the same way and matured for exactly 12 months in large oak foudres. The only thing that differentiates the wines is the soil upon which the grapes were grown.

The one grown on limestone is masculine and full with robust tannins; the one grown on sandstone is ripe, spicy, peppery and herbal; the one grown on sand is elegant, rounded and supple with notes of plums, damsons and briary fruit, and the one grown on galets roulés is headily alcoholic (15.5 per cent vol) and full-flavoured, with hints of chocolate. They are all so darn different!

Ogier uses only four grape varieties in its Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault) and just three in ‘Les Chorégies’ (as above, minus Cinsault), and they’re spectacularly complex and rewarding, needing nothing else to improve them. Just imagine the permutations, though, if they used all 18!