By Alan J. Wax
Our day of touring Avignon and its Palais des Papes had drawn to an end. What else to do with just a few hours of daylight remaining?
Visit a winery, of course. Which one? I turned to my GPS, hit points of interest, attractions and then wineries. A list displayed with the wineries closest to our position, along the Rhone River, near the Pont d’Avignon. With traffic in every direction, a spot decision was required. With a quick glance while stopped for light, I instantly recognized Château La Nerthe, just 20 minutes away. Off we went.
La Nerthe is one of the historic estates of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appelation with 225 acres of vineyards in the stony southeastern portion of the region. Château La Nerthe, whose origins trace back to the 12th Century, has been owned by the Richard family since 1985. Their vineyards are all organic. The annual production is about 290,000 bottles of red and 40,000 bottles of white.
The estate’s well-lit, modern tasting room was reached by driving up a narrow, gravel lane through the stony vineyards. The classic chateauneuf terroir of the famous galettes, or large, round stones, dominates the vineyard, where vines on average are 40 years old. La Nerthe grows 13 different grape varieties.
Château La Nerthe, whose origins trace back to the 12th Century, has been owned by the Richard family since 1985. Their vineyards are all organic. The annual production is about 290,000 bottles of red and 40,000 bottles of white.
The tasting room was abuzz as we arrived late in the afternoon. A group of American tourists from Southern California on a winery tour was busy sampling Le Nerthe’s wares.
Soon, I would, too. And later be joined by a group from Pennsylvania. What is it with all these Americans?
The wines, poured from a dispenser built into a wall behind a tasting bar, was a step up from some of the rustic tasting rooms we’d visited during our travels.
I was especially eager to try La Nerthe’s CdP Blanc. White Cdps—and numerous whites from other Rhone appelations are hard to find in the U.S. and I’ve enjoyed them immensely when offered the opportunity.
La Nerthe’s white is made predominately from Roussanne along with Grenache, Clairette and Bouboulenc. The 2013 vintage was being poured. Pale gold, it offered an intense it was fresh and round with a nose of peach, citrus and flowers and lively acidity and mineral notes on the palate followed to a lengthy finish.
Three CdP Rouge followed, the 2011, 2010 and the 1996. The 2011, a blend of blend of syrah, grenache noir andmourvedre, was soft with notes of red fruit and spice. The 2010, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault, was for me a perfect CdP with its plush body and complex notes of ripe cherries and plums, spice and earthiness. The 1996 offered a raisiny, stewed red fruit notes and earth, but left an impression that it had peaked.
Finally, a surprise. Fine de Châteauneuf-du- Pape, a brandy, labeled an eau-de-vie, a rarity in the appellation. Made from a white wine base distilled three times and aged in large oak barrels, it reminded me of a lightly hued cognac, quite aromatic, fruity, smooth and flavorful with a bit of an alcohol bite in the finish.
Not wanting to weigh down my suitcases, I bought only a bottle of the ‘13 blanc and the ’10 rouge., though it was temping to buy the brandy. Only the prospect of a credit card bill that I could not pay put the brakes on that.
The spur of the moment decision to visit Le Nerthe provided a welcome respite from playing tourist and terrific dividends from tasting such terrific wines.