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A pontifical libation

A pontifical libation

17 Dec 2013 BY Tim Wells

The sun-drenched vineyards of the northern Rhône have been cultivated since Roman times, and several AOC vintages produced here are often considered to be among the most delectable in France. Côtes-du-Rhône, Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages, and a number of fine cru vintages named after the villages where they are produced, among them Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage, are perennial favourites, produced mainly from the Syrah grape, and can often be laid down for decades. The Avignon popes were early enthusiasts, especially John XXII. Elected in contentious circumstances, the Pope was a sickly man, and the numerous pretenders to the papacy were counting the days until he would have “bought the farm” (i.e., snuffed it). Instead, he purchased the estate: John discovered and developed such a strong liking for the local wine from Valréas that he acquired the region “for the Church”. The wine was blamed for keeping him hale and hearty for nearly a couple of decades. His successor Clement VI also knew a good thing when he drank it, and added several more villages (and their vineyards) to what became known as the Enclave des Papes. Visan, home of an especially fine Cotes-du-Rhône-Villages, was sold to Clement in 1344 by the heavily-indebted Dauphin Humbert II, and Grillon and Richerenches were both commanderies of the 12th century Knights Templar.

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