Grapevine Archive for Provence
We shouldn’t need fine summer weather to enjoy good rosé wine; and of the myriad rosé being produced today, nothing quite matches the glamour and elegance of pink wine from Provence.Our latest offering of rosé from the region aims to prove this.
Provence has always been about pink wine, and today it represents 88% of the region’s entire production.
It used to be sold mainly in skittle-shaped clear-glass bottles and to be honest was rarely that good. Often mass produced from high yielding grapes and with little technology to improve quality, rosé de Provence was often a serious disappointment. That is changing and more and more, I’ve been enjoying my forays into the pink-tinted world of Provence.
Provence has always about mass and about a few beacons of brilliance. The beacons have become brighter of late and every year they grow in number.
Why the change?
1. Better technology used to make cleaner wines.
2. Real investment, often from outside the region. Louis Roederer and Perrin are two names to have invested here.
3. Climate change.
4. Competition from elsewhere.
5. Genuine desire to improve quality with lower yields, better husbandry, and better choice of grape varieties.
As growers try to make better wines by reducing yields and using better grape varieties such as mourvèdre, the wines have suddenly become more flavourful, characterful and even better to be drunk with food.
Not so long ago, I had the great pleasure and honour of taking a small group of Wine Society members to the Rhône. One lunchtime we were in Cairanne where there is an excellent bar à vin with, not surprisingly, an excellent wine list. Of course we had an impressive Cairanne from the equally impressive 2010 vintage. This was a brilliant red but actually not quite what was needed with lunch during June.
However, the other wine we had was just the ticket and something wonderful to show off, particularly as it is only its second vintage. This was Miraval, a Côtes de Provence made by the Perrin family but owned by Hollywood stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
It was perfect: a wine with charm and ease and coping well with all the food that was put before us. And in came in a magnum. Magnums have become the in thing for top Provence wines and they do indeed make a real impact at the table.
On rosé and food
I drink rosé throughout the year. It is just a very easy wine to serve. It refreshes and it goes unerringly well with everything, and Provence rosé from good estates not only keeps well but improves in bottle and is often better after the summer is over.
Eggs and tomatoes are a real ‘no’ for most wines, and yet rosé wines work really well, unperturbed by the strong flavours even of salad dressing. With fish, especially grilled or fried, there is little better and likewise simply prepared meats including all manner of charcuterie.
So how to serve rosé?
Simplicity itself. There is no need to decant or to open hours before. Light chilling suffices but not so cold as to erase all the flavours.
1. Lighter styles
• Côtes de Provence, Domaine Houchart Rosé, 2014 (£7.50): very round tasting, easy, no hard edges. Versatile. Best drunk very young.
• Côtes de Provence Rosé, Château Barbanau 2014 (£9.25) & Coteaux Varois Saint-Qvinis Rosé, Domaine de Fontlade 2014 (£7.50): two crisp and bone-dry thirst quenchers that can be enjoyed with or without food and ideally now and over the next three or four months.
2. Mid-weight pinks
These all have more concentration and much more flavour. While remaining versatile, they come into their own with food. Lovely now but all will continue improving over the next few months.
Examples of this style:
• Sainte-Victoire-Côtes de Provence Rosé, Domaine Houchart 2014 (£8.25)
• Mas de Romanin, IGP Alpilles 2014 (£8.75)
• Côtes de Provence Rosé, Château Riotor 2014 (£8.95)
• Côtes de Provence Rosé, Château de Galoupet Cru Classé, 2014 (£9.95)
• Coteaux d’Aix en Provence Rosé, Château Vignelaure 2014 (£12.50)
• Domaine Richeaume, IGP Méditerranée Rosé 2014 (£14.95)
• Côtes de Provence, Miraval Rosé 2014 (£14.95)
3. More weight still
Bandol and Palette, with two wines represented in this offer:
Both will again work even better with food and better still with quite big dishes such as lobster or crab.
I was very fortunate enough to have enjoyed a bouillabaisse prepared by Lulu Peyraud of Bandol’s Domaine Tempier and reputed to have been one of the best interpreters of Provençal cooking. Both white and rosé were served alongside, with the rosé edging it and perhaps coping best with all the flavours of crab, garlic and saffron.
Replicating the dish is not easy. The fish markets in Marseille are hardly next door though these days there is Eurostar service from Saint Pancras. So maybe it can be done…!
Celebrity culture is huge in our society today (not The Wine Society, but society as a whole…). One area of particular interest is celebs’ business ventures outside of their usual expertise, be it founding a cheese farm, developing a signature metal detector or a foray into the drinks industry.
Like the rest of us mere mortals, many celebs have a love of wine and as such make the jump in founding their own wineries, or investing in pre-existing establishments.
Of course there is often little winemaking input from these famed owners themselves – we can’t be expected to think that Antonio Banderas is out in the vineyards at the height of summer picking his grapes or monitoring sugar ripeness and deciding on the use of natural vs cultured yeasts – but you can assume that the wines produced are at the very least made in the style that they might like to drink themselves.Like ‘normal’ wineries the quality among celeb wines is hugely variable. However, at the risk of generalising, they are often at least quite good: the owners have the capital to invest in the best technology for the cellars and this in itself offers a great advantage.
Indeed, the glitz and glam of Hollywood is visiting The Wine Society in the form of Brangelina’s (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s for the uninitiated) Provence rosé from Miraval.
Their arrival is fairly recent to the pantheon of celeb winemakers, which also includes Drew Barrymore, Ernie Els, Nick Faldo, David Ginola, Cliff Richard and Sting to name but a few.
However, don’t let the youth of the winery colour your impressions: Miraval won many plaudits for the first vintage last year, and being the only rose to make Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year places it among esteemed company. The wine is made in conjunction with the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and as such quality is a top priority… with just a touch of added glamour.
Miraval 2014 is available now for £14.95 per bottle (plus a small quantity of magnums at £34.95 each), and forms part of our current Discover Provence offer alongside 11 other wonderful rosés from the region.
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Not quite a year ago, I reported on the calamitous hail storms that blighted so much of Provence. Most of my news came from Domaine de Fontlade in the Varois but many were hit.
One of the worst-affected places was the town of Roquefort, a little inland from the port of Cassis in Provence. The devastation was almost complete as the hailstones ripped through the vines, knocking out in one fell swoop any chance of getting a crop.
But there is a good story which I think goes some way to cancel out the miserable fate that led to Katie Jones losing her production of white wine.
In Roquefort, two neighbouring properties faced real difficulties. It was worse for Château Roquefort but what happened here was remarkable as producer after producer donated the odd ton or so of grapes.Donations came from all over the south, from the Rhône to Bandol, including Domaine Tempier. ‘But for the grace of God go I,’ was the response. No harvest is ever guaranteed, not least when it concerns soft fruit but the reaction from so many was no less extraordinary.
Next door to Roquefort is Château Barbanau, owned by Sophie Cerciello and Didier Simonini. They suffered just as badly though didn’t make quite same fuss! Moreover, they insisted that everything that came to them had to be certified organic and only from AOC Cotes de Provence. But apart from that the story was the same with vignerons friends and neighbours donating crop and even help out in the hail-damaged vineyards.
The results are spectacular as members will find when we ship the 2012 white, rosé and red for the summer.
A thousand hectares of vineyard in Provence was literally shredded by hail stones, sometimes the size of golf balls. Among our suppliers was Domaine de Fontlade near Brignoles in the Coteaux Varois.The pictures show vividly the effects of hail damage. There is now little chance for the estate to get a harvest this year and there is every chance that even next year’s crop will be affected.
We wish them luck and hopefully they will get aid from the government; meanwhile their 2011 rosé is gorgeous, just waiting for a glimpse of summer.
Sadly we have to announce that Romain Bouchard passed away on July 17th.He was a son of the Bouchard family in Beaune and started his professional life there among the bottles of the best and the greatest that Burgundy had to offer. He was not there long but moved to North Africa where he would meet Nancy, his wife of 60 years. In Morocco, which he loved, he cultivated oranges and had some input in the creation of the tangerine.
Eventually he returned to France and settled in a delightful Provençal Mas, Le Val des Rois, surrounded by vines and fields of lavender. His first vintage was 1964, which was 100% grenache and is still good today. Thereafter he began to change the makeup of his vineyard, planting syrah (one of the first to do so) and more controversially gamay, which he felt would do well in this northern corner of Provence.
And so he continued to make vintage after vintage of exceptional wine that, possibly thanks to its input of gamay, always ended up tasting like rather fine old Burgundy. The pragmatism of the citrus farmer remained however, and in an age when it was considered correct to only pick by hand, Romain harvested by machine. As a result, Romain saved potentially dreadful vintages like 1987 and 2002 when incessant rain all but destroyed the crop. In 2003 on the other hand, a vintage marked by both drought and extreme heat, Romain was able to intervene early and pick quickly and made one of the loveliest wines of the vintage.
Romain and his wife Nancy were hosts to a memorable visit of The Wine Society’s Dining Club in 1992 which included the following vintages:
1991: Underrated vintage but here soft, fruity and delicious.
1990: Grander and splendidly full.
1988: Elegant and refined.
1987: A little mushroomy, like old pinot.
1983: Vigorous, full, figgy and full of life.
1978: One of the greatest Rhône vintages, complex, weighty, full-bodied, wonderful.
1971: Made from 100% grenache and tasting like old Sauternes: pale garnet, butterscotch and sweet.
Romain Bouchard was an important figure in the development of Rhône wine. But while some of his colleagues were sometimes tempted by the benefits of overripe grapes, extraction and barrel ageing, Romain kept to his path, which was of beauty, poise and finesse. To itinerant wine buyers like Sebastian and myself, he provided tiny bottles of lavender essence to help us remember his delightful part of Provence. We shall miss him.
May sees London’s wine trade fair, which in truth means different things to different people. At its best, it brings together the wine trade from across the world, and for some growers the fair kicks off in style on the Monday with The Wine Society.
The fair itself does not add up to much and this year, it seemed noticably smaller. The Beaujolais region is one of the sponsors and the Beaujolais stand, well positioned in the middle, was very busy with people falling over to taste 2009. There were smiles everywhere and with good reason. This is such a good vintage.
Less frequented but just as pleasurable was the Provence stand and a rare chance to taste the wines of 30-odd producers. For many years I’ve had a gut feeling that Provence would come good, and my word did these 2009s show it!