A patchwork of rolling vineyards, of green-and-black furrows striping the landscape in endless, retreating perspective welcome you to one of France's great wine regions. Once the source of the table wine of the Avignon popes, who kept a fortified summer house here (hence the name of the town, which means "new castle of the pope"), these vineyards had the good fortune to be wiped out by phylloxera in the 19th century. The wine’s revival as a muscular and resilient mix of up to 13 varieties with an almost portlike intensity (it can reach 15% alcohol content) moved it to the forefront of French wines. The whites, though less known, are also to be reckoned with.
There are caves de dégustation (wine-tasting cellars) on nearly every street; get a free map from the tourist office. Also head to the discreet vignobles (vineyards) at the edge of town. Some of the top Châteauneufs (and the oldest) come from Château la Nerthe, Château de Vaudieu, and Château Fortia, and are priced accordingly. If you’re not armed with the names of a few great houses, look for medaille d’or (gold medal) ratings from prestigious wine fairs; these are usually indicated by a gold sticker on the bottle. Better yet, for the best selection of wines in one place as well as expertise to match, go with Vinadea, the official maison des vins of Châteauneuf.