The Rhone's Chateauneuf du Pape has been one of the hottest categories of the new millennium in the American market, thanks in equal part to the nearly candied ripeness and full-bodied, chewy texture of these wines and to an unprecedented string of four consecutive very good to outstanding vintages between 1998 and 2001. Chateauneuf du Pape comes in a variety of styles, from restrained midweights to extravagantly rich, roasted, low-acid head-spinners with alcohol commonly in the 15+% range. The most rabid buying interest is concentrated on the latter category. Look for bold, liqueur-like aromas and flavors of cherry and raspberry complicated by game, leather, chocolate, earth, and roasted herbs and spices; lush, tactile mouth feel; and ripe, sweet tannins.
Although 13 grape varieties, including five white grapes, are permitted to go into Chateauneuf blends, the typical wine is based on 75% to 80% Grenache, a classic hot-climate grape that produces robust, full-bodied wines with high alcohol, low acidity, and a tendency to oxidize quickly. Small but increasing percentages of Syrah and Mourvedre are frequently included to add color, aromatic complexity, spiciness, acidity, and structure.