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Love at First Taste: Chateauneuf du Pape

The wine of dark, joyous reveries. A delicate superpower in a bottle, capable of turning desperation into soulful navigation of stormy seas. In the constellation of astrological signs, the red iteration of Chateauneuf du Pape would be a strong and sexy Scorpio. I still remember my first bottle back in 2007 in those beginner days, almost 10 years ago. I had heard about this wine from the Chateauneuf du Pape region in the southern Rhone Valley (as French wines are classified by their region of origin, versus Italy for example, where wines are named after the variety of grape) — including its sought-after reputation for breaking the bank wide open.

So imagine my intrigue when I found a 2003 vintage from Les Closiers at the old Monoprix for a mere 12EUR, its silver badge of honor gleaming under the supermarket flourescents. You’re coming home with me, baby.

Located in the southern Rhone Valley

You never know when is the right time, until it’s the right time. I had lugged home a few bottles of wine on my last trip to Paris, fretting all the way across the Atlantic to New York, wondering if the bottles were still intact in my suitcase. Most baggage attendants are not kind to the fragile life of suitcases, as you may know. To my relief, the bottles were fine, wrapped in sweaters as they were, including that bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

I noticed, too, the embossed logo on the bottle: the papal tiara above the keys of St. Peter. All bottles exported from the region are embossed in this way. Very Vatican-chic, indeed.

At home it sat resting in its cool, dark place for weeks on end. I knew my first bottle wasn’t going to be one for aging, but the opportunity to cork didn’t present itself until Jeannine invited me over for beef stew, à la Dijon. Perfect, I said. Time to cork. And cork we did.

The glasses sat on the beechwood dining table, and we were already one bottle of Lamoureaux and appetizers into our meal. I watched the air take flight as the cup filled with a dark rubinescence. I held up the glass. After I took my first pull of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, waiting on the beef stew to cook soon turned into “what beef stew?”. Though darkly brooding, this wine certainly breathes on the palate. Its spiciness on the tip of the tongue reminded me of a Graves, which was another recent find in those beginner days, but this one breathes. Not like the gales of a stormy sea, but the billowing sighs of a heaving ocean. I felt as if touched by an angel, bells ringing morning in my head.

We could have enjoyed the rest of the wine on its own, but the beef stew was singing from its crock pot cauldron. The pairing shone as an added bonus to this night of nights, made complete by crusty hand-torn pieces of french bread. Oh-la-la, where is my palate taking me? This beautiful meal of rustic, thyme-infused stew, wine and giddy conversation is transporting me to the place where Chateauneuf-du-Pape and dreams are born from the gritty earth under heaving blue skies.

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