By Cristal Guiet on May 22nd, 2023

For centuries the French wine regions of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Southern Rhône Valley and Bordeaux on the Atlantic Ocean have been producing blended wines of exceptional quality wine for centuries.

Their reputation for excellent quality as well as high price tags has made them famous internationally. Always in short supply, most of them are sold on allocation even before being bottled. 

They are favored by serious wine drinkers and investors who are happy to pay top dollars to own wines on the “most wanted list”.

If you would rather support your local winery, experience the best of the old and new world, then look no further than the Texas Hill Country AVA.

It has been seriously producing small lot wines for around twenty-five years, but is only lately beginning to gain international acclaim.

Some very successful blends have been made from grapes that originate in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Bordeaux.

These have some of the old world characteristics but at the same time express their own unique qualities that come from the Texan terroir and youch of its local winemakers.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wines

The Southern Rhône Valley is one of the hottest wine regions in France and is the home of the legendary appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

There are around 320 different growers spread over 3200 hectares (8,000 acres) of land. Wines were first made during the 14th century for the Popes that fled Rome and lived in the area for 70 years (1309-1378) in a massive palace in Avignon.

A second summer palace was constructed in Châteuneuf-du-Pape (the Pope's new Castle) twenty kilometers to the north. The Papalcy enjoyed drinking wine and in 1308, Pope Clement V established the first vineyards and was likely the first Pope winemaker.

Wine production continued after the clergy returned to Rome. Through the centuries winemakers began to realize the value of the wines that they were making and have continued to produce very high-quality wines ever since.

The new generation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape winemakers now use a combination of traditional and modern techniques in their vineyards and wineries.

Vineyards and WineriesPhoto by Forbes

The blend of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation permits the use of thirteen different grape varieties. Many of those have an additional red, white, or pink variant, so in 2019 the official number recognized is now 18 (Grenache has 3 alone: Noir, Blanc, & Gris).

The majority of wines that are produced are red and are made using a GSM (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre) blend. Though only a limited production (7%), there are some outstanding whites as well.

There is no legal requirement for all of the thirteen grapes to be used in the blend and only a few wineries actually do. Château de Beaucastel, an important producer in Châteauneuf-du-Pape does use all thirteen.

Beaucastel also is famous for ensuring the continuity of some local grape varieties that were nearing extinction due to bine unpopular with local winemakers.

The Perrin family also used their influence to raise awareness of the value of these varieties thus ensuring their continued survival and subsequently, these varieties are used more often in winemaking than before.

Galet Stones

Galet stones in the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (photo by Texans Paul V. and Merrill Bonarrigo).

Bordeaux Wines

Romans occupied Bordeaux beginning around 43 A.D. The first production of Bordeaux wine was documented around 71 A.D. In 1152 the British gained control of Bordeaux when Eleanor de Aquitaine married the future king of England, Henry Plantagenet.

Saint-Emilion was the first wine to be exported from the region as it already had an established trade and reputation for being a wine of quality. At this time, Médoc wines were virtually unknown.

The three-hundred years of British occupation in Bordeaux helped to establish the region's reputation for fine wines. Wines were exported to Britain as early as 1302.

The British felt that the wine was good enough for the king then it was good enough for them.

By the late 1600’s the demand for Bordeaux wines began to increase, and the large port in Bordeaux facilitated exportation. The reputation of Bordeaux wines continued to grow.

In 1855 the wines were officially classified so that customers could more easily understand the quality of the wines that they were buying as well as how much they should pay for them.

Bordeaux wines come in a variety of different styles according to which terroir they are grown in. The secret to the grape quality in Bordeaux is its maritime climate that keeps the vineyards cool throughout the summer growing season as well as its poor well-drained limestone, gravel, and clay soils (Poor soil creates great grapes as the vines have to be strong to survive).

Viticulture and wine production have always been a challenge and a great deal of skill is required to make excellent wines.

Winemakers have embraced the use of modern technology in combination with traditional methods to produce their famous “Bordeaux Blends”.

A red Bordeaux Blend contains two or more grape varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Carmenère, and Malbec). A white Bordeaux Blend has two or more of the following (Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Sémillon, and Muscadelle).

How do Texas Hill Country wines compared to those of Bordeaux and Châteuneuf-du-Pape?

The semi-arid climate in the Texas Hill Country (the biggest AVA in Texas), is a combination of Bordeaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s climate and terroir.

There is not a cool coastal influence like Bordeaux’s maritime climate, the soil composition is similar. All three regions have a large percentage of limestone which is absolutely essential for successful water retention during the drier periods of the growing season and also aids in supplying essential nutrients to the growing grapes.

The terroir of the Texas Hill AVA varies from vineyard to vineyard and is a mix of granite, limestone, and clay with different vineyards having higher percentages of one particular soil type depending on their location within the appellation.

This variation in terroir produces many different kinds of wines and local winemakers have been inspired to experiment with several different grape varieties from Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley.

The Bordeaux varietals in Texas do well in the mild winters and no doubt thrive in hot summers, producing wines that are more fruit-driven and bigger than their old-world counterparts.

The long hot Texan summers tend to create wines that are more robust, reminiscent more of wines that are produced in Southern France than those produced in Bordeaux.

At the same time, the typically continental climate in the Southern Rhône Valley is very similar to that of Texas Hill Country with its rolling hills and valleys.

Both regions become very hot during the summer months, and most of the grapes do not require cool nights to maintain their acidity. Texas wines produced from Rhône varietals tend to be more French than those that are produced from Bordeaux varieties

The secret to success is using the right grape varieties and winemaking techniques

There are over twenty different grape varieties that are cultivated in the Rhône Valley and Bordeaux, each blend is unique in its own right and magnificent wines have been produced in these two regions for centuries.

 Grape Variety Color French Wine Region
Grenache Rouge Red Southern Rhône
Grenache Gris White Southern Rhône
Grenache Blanc White Southern Rhône
Syrah Red Southern Rhône
Mourvèdre Red Southern Rhône
Cinsault or Cinsaut Red Southern Rhône
Counoise Red Southern Rhône
Muscardin Red Southern Rhône
Vaccarèse Red Southern Rhône
Terret Noir Red Southern Rhône
Piquepoul Noir Red Southern Rhône
Piquepoul Blanc White Southern Rhône
Picardan White Southern Rhône
Clairette Blanche White Southern Rhône
Muscat White Southern Rhône
Bourboulenc White Southern Rhône
Marsanne White Northern Rhône
Roussanne White Northern Rhône
Cabernet Sauvignon Red Bordeaux
Merlot Red Bordeaux
Petit Verdot Red Bordeaux
Cabernet Franc Red Bordeaux
Malbec Red Bordeaux
Carmenèré Red Bordeaux
Sauvignon Blanc White Bordeaux
Sémillon White Bordeaux
Sauvignon Gris White Bordeaux
Muscadelle White Bordeaux


Marsanne and Roussanne are more commonly used in other areas of the Rhône Valley (Condrieu at the top of the Northern Rhône Valley is made up of 100% viognier and can also make up 20% of the blend of Red Côte-Rôtie wines) and are not part of the famous 13 variety Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend, however, these two varieties are commonly used throughout southern France and they are very successful in Texas Hill Country.

There are some winemakers in the Texas Hill Country with an appreciation for the use of traditional concrete amphorae tanks during the fermentation process, and practice many of the same fermenting techniques that are used by their Bordelaise and Châteauneuf-du-Pape winemaking colleagues (which includes the use of the lighter Galileo tanks that are made in Bordeaux).

Fermentation in oak barrels can sometimes produce unwanted flavors when the juice is oxygenated. Concrete tanks though expensive to acquire initially can be used long term and therefore have a positive impact from a sustainable perspective as they do not need to be replaced very often. Juice that is fermented in concrete tanks also usually produces fresher-tasting wines.

The Texas Hill Country is making some amazing white wine blends using grapes that are usually found in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but also adding some Marsanne for honied nuances or Roussane to give the wine more body and aromatics, giving a great base layer to a good white wine blend.


The GSM blend has been particularly successful for red blends as the grape varieties thrive in the hot Texas climate.

One advantage that winemakers have in the Texas Hill Country is that they do not have to adhere to the strict appellation rules of the Bordeaux or Châteauneuf-du-Pape and therefore can be adventurous as they create new and exciting blends and are experimenting with new and innovative methods both in the vineyard and winery.

Thanks to the adventurous innovative spirit of winemakers in the Texas Hill Country, it is no longer necessary to look towards France to find your favorite Bordeaux or Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine.

Your local winery or wine merchant will be able to help you find an excellent locally produced GSM, Châteuneuf-du- Pape, or Bordeaux-style blend.

So support your local winemaking community and discover just how well they have transported a little bit of Bordeaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the old world to your doorstep.


Author: Cristal Guiet

Cristal has more than twenty three years of experience in the wine industry. In addition to creating wine lists in Michelin three-star restaurants, working with prestigious London wine merchants, and starting her own wine tourism company in France, Cristal has been writing about wine for over fifteen years. She holds the Advanced degree from Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and resides in London.

Texas Wines V Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Bordeaux

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