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2000 Chateau Cabrieres Chateauneuf du Pape, Rhone, France

Say the word Chateauneuf and some wine drinkers will simply swoon. I don't know what it is about this stuff, but it drives some people mad, like Joseph Fiennes walking into a girls school gymnasium. It's tasty stuff, I'll give them that, and when it's well made, you will have a hard time finding a better wine to go with food of all sorts.

Part of Chateauneuf du Pape's mystery is due to the alchemy of its blending, closely guarded secrets by Southern Rhone producers, who are allowed to use something like 14 different varietals according to the rules of the appellation. Most common, and in order of their usual proportion (greatest to least): Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul and Terret Noir.

Chateau Cabrieres is located on higher ground, just to the north of the town which gives this appellation its name, and has stood there for the better part of five centuries, making it one of the oldest estates in the region. Amazingly, the property itself is predated by the use of the land to grow grapes, which apparently have been planted in this soil since 1344, shortly after the Pope moved into town for a while, resulting in everything being named "the new chateau of the pope" (and the rest is history). Cabrieres' current vines are around 40 to 60 years old, and continue to thrive in the flint-rich soil that housed their predecessors.

Cabrieres makes relatively small quantities of their wines, bottling two wines classified as Chateauneuf du Papes and using the remainder to produce a Cotes Du Rhone. They are also one of the few producers of white Chateauneuf du Pape, which they make from Bourboulenc, Clairette, Picpoul (again), and Rousanne. The latter is the only one that most folks (including myself) have ever heard of.

This wine, like most fine Chateauneuf du Papes is blended after each of the grapes have been separately fermented, and the final product is then aged in French oak barrels for 12 months before being transferred to a larger oak barrel for another 18 to 24 months before bottling.

Tasting Notes:
A fine medium ruby in the glass this wine has a rich nose of earth, black tea, and bacon fat, wile on the palate it is dominated by herbal, black cherry, and raspberry flavors and tannins so velvety smooth that you almost don't want to swallow. The wine is nicely balanced and seems to shift its flavors, making it hard to pin down - at one moment redcurrant, at another rosehips. The finish is very nice.

Food Pairing:
Dominated by Grenache, this wine sits in a good middle ground that can easily accompany lighter fare as well as more substantial foods. I think it would be fabulous with a simple tomato and onion tart.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $40

This wine isn't that easy to find, but if you search around you can locate some. In the Bay Area (of over the Internet), Premier Cru carries the stuff.

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