This means that, in addition to dégustations on every corner, the whole town steps back five hundred years. Medieval knights joust and do battle; jugglers and tumblers, magicians and minstrels are everywhere; mules process through the crowded streets bearing barrels of Chateauneuf-du-Pape: buy a specially engraved tasting glass for €5 and top yourself up as they pass. No, I didn’t need to be asked twice. The repetitive rhythms of medieval music may grate after a while, but this does not matter. We are meeting Nigel and Abigail at Le Verger des Papes for lunch.
Le Verger is located just short of the summit of a four hundred step climb. Continue to the top and you arrive at the chateauneuf itself. One assumes that the Pope was carried, because it is very steep indeed, leaving one in serious need of a glass of chilled rosé before one can even attempt to read through the wine list and the celebratory Véraison menu.
The food is good – the smoked duck and foie gras salad especially so today. But it is the wine menu to which you should devote your attention. It runs to a dozen pages of closely typed listings of all the great Chateauneuf names and all the great vintages, and if you happen upon the wrong page, your bank balance may be severely diminished.
But we’ve been here before. We know that Le Verger also has a cave. What’s more, we know that it has its own cuvée of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, exclusively available from them. At €49, it is not inexpensive, but in this town, it is remarkable value. It is the classic GSM – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre. It is ripe and rich, lush and luscious. It is also very powerful, admitting to 15%ABV, but probably more. We drank the 2011: the Grenache was big and fruity; the Syrah was nuanced and spicy; the Mourvèdre was gamey and full on, its notoriously tough tannins already softened and fully integrated.
We managed another glass.
We walked off our lunch on the way back to the car, parked in the vineyards a kilometre or two from the centre of the village. The internal combustion engine has no place in a medieval village and the route was barrée some distance away. But it was a good walk in every sense, taken in company with others who had enjoyed similar experiences, and – indeed – were still doing so, having topped up their special glass from the final mule at the edge of the village.
Ripeness is all.
Today from the everysmith vaults: There is a brilliant piece in the current Boston Magazine about Van Morrison’s time in the city and the writing and recording of Astral Weeks. So I’ve been listening to that important album, which was loved by almost everyone whose opinion I valued, but not by me. Maybe they knew something I didn’t.