When I visited the Rhone region for the first and only time in 2008 I discovered something that I did not know existed: cheap Chateauneuf du Pape. This commune, a short distance from the historic town of Avignon features American style wine tastings in many of its wineries, and also has tasting rooms in the central village where multiple labels can be sampled. Plenty of affordable labels I had previously never heard of appeared during the visit. Probably the best value find from the visit however was Chateau du Vaudieu.
This wine was recommended to me by a friendly sommellier who tended to the restaurant of a hotel we were staying in. The price there was around $30 (pretty reasonable with a restaurant mark-up), and the wine quite good, as judged against others in its species. One thing that immediately caught my attention about the wine was the embossing on its bottle (note picture to the right above). Instead of the usual papal coat of arms, it was a stylized tree. When I inquired about this I learned a key to value wines in this appellation.
The traditional coat of arms embossing on the neck of Ch. du Pape bottles refers to the origins of this storied appellation back to the 13th century when it hosted the Popes fleeing Rome for around 80 years. They were the ones who precipitated the vineyard plantings that come down to our day (to be sure, there were vineyards here since Roman times). It turns out that only a select group of producers are allowed to put this embossing on their bottles. In other words the coat of arms, like an appellation label, or the word “champagne”, is actually a trademark.
Most newcomers, or outsiders who get excluded, still put an embossing on their bottles because consumers expect this from this region. Not all, by the way. Guigal, a well known negociant sells his Chateauneufs in clean necked bottles. He doesn’t need to, because his reputation is already established. In any case, if you are looking for value prices, look for non-traditional embossings on Chateaneuf bottles. After all a vintner still has to adhere to strict appellation rules to place a Chateauneuf label on its bottles. Thus the quality will be there.
Located directly across from the famed. and horribly expensive Chateau Rayas, Vaudieu delivers the same terroir at affordable prices. I found it abundantly at K & L a San Francisco wine shop, previously at around $ 30-35 per bottle. Recently it has risen to around $ 45, although you can get discounts as wine club members. This of course is both the heartbreak, and excitement of exploring the wine world. Any good bargain find is eventually likely to be discovered and priced out of your range. The excitement is to then move on to the next.