One of my French neighbours calls her mobile phone her “twayoo”, after the phrase she most frequently uses on it: “tu es où?” Well, this month, nearing the end of the wine harvest, we are in Châteauneuf-du-Pape - the most famous vineyard in Provence.
It’s an incredibly pretty medieval village, sadly threatened in season by traffic jams and tourists – so this is a good time of year to visit, when it’s a bit emptier. But be prepared to be blasted by the mistral, which whips down the Rhône and sweeps over the flapping vines up through the shell of the chateau, shivering, at the top. They’ve even named one of this windy cité’s many tiny sidestreets le Passage du vent hurlant.
If you discount the snooty Château des Fines Roches, there are three good places to choose to eat whilst you are here. La Mère Germaine is a busy bustling brasserie in the centre of town by the fountain, much frequented by local vignerons who enjoy the brightly coloured, sunny dining rooms and great views over their vineyards. This is the one to choose on a cold winter’s day, or a windy one – its warm, Provençal €30 menu welcomes you with heaps of aubergines and garlic, easily washed down by the papal nectar.
Le Verger des Papes is more touristy, but cheaper (menus at €19 and €28), and boasts a great location, built into the castle ramparts, with a shady (but not windproof) terrace with accompanying panoramic views. Again, here you get typically Provençal food, and the wines you order, are brought up from ancient Roman cellars cut into the rock.
4 k’s outside the village, on the road to Roquemaure, far from the madding crowd, lies La Sommellerie. There is an attractive, tiled dining room, and an inviting shady terrace beside the virginia-creeper-clad 17th century bergerie, overlooking the pool and the adjacent vineyards. Pierre Paumel, a maitre cuisinier de France, turns out really superb, refined, pretty dishes full of exquisite local flavours (menus €30 & €44), with talent, imagination and a lightness of touch that extends even as far as his melt-in-the-mouth bread rolls. My favourite, certainly in summer.
The restaurant abuts the vineyard of Château Mont-Redon, and, if you are rich enough to order a Châteauneuf wine to authenticate your meal, this is a good one to choose, as it comes from the leader of a small group of modernist producers, turning out more approachable wines, which don’t need so much ageing. Otherwise stick to the excellent local Côtes du Rhônes, which work out some 25 euros cheaper than their esteemed big brothers. If you want to buy wine on your visit, Mont Redon is a good bet too. Just a couple of minutes away, up the well signed road.
As to whether the fruits of this 2007 harvest will create one of the great Châteauneuf vintages (like 1964 or 2005,) we have yet to discover. I suggest the answer, my friends, is blowing in the Châteauneuf wind.Juliet Young