Tasting the wines of Provence has been a bit erratic this year. While Côtes de Provence had a stand at both WineParis (11-13 February) and Prowein (17-19 March), the 2018 vintage had often only just been bottled and were still quite young and closed. My preferred time for tasting the new vintage rosés is later in the spring, often at the generic appellation tastings, usually in April. However, for various reasons, the appellations of Côtes de Provence and Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, have chosen not to hold their annual tasting in 2019, leaving only Coteaux Varois to present their wines.
The appellation of Coteaux Varois
The Coteaux Varois annual tasting is always held in the gardens of the Alain Ducasse restaurant at La Celle in Brignoles, due to the fact that the Maison des Vins is in part of the same old monastic building. In past years, the tasting has fitted neatly into the small garden in the corner of the old monastery, giving it a neat back drop and a certain elegance, with colour co-ordinated ice bags and bunches of flowers, giving the tasting fantastic visual appeal. See earlier posts. Continue reading
Last month I had the exciting – and rare – opportunity of tasting an amazing selection of 353 still rosés from around the world. This proved a glorious spectacle of the most amazing shades of pink – forget 50 – this was far more dazzling. The range of colours was an easy reason why this sector of the wine market has so attracted the consumer; who is not enchanted by a glass of shell-like pink or glowing ruby wine, lit up by sun- or candle-light?
Jonathan Pedley MW tasting Rosés at The Drinks Business Rosé Masters
On a cold grey blustery day in early April, I made my way to the Salon du Millesime 2015 Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence held at the Hotel Renaissance in Aix-en-Provence. This is the only one of the repertoire of Provence tastings which takes place in the evening, from 4 to 9pm.
In my post last year of the rosé 2014 vintage, I summed up the different regions of Coteaux d’Aix and noted how the four different terroirs had an impact on the styles of Coteaux d’Aix rosés. This year, the tasting table clearly indicated from which region each wine came from, which help tasters recognise regional styles. Sommelier Nadine Rosier was on hand to discuss the wines.
The rosé tasting table with colour-coded labels to indicate regions
Mid April saw the round of tastings introducing the new 2015 Provence wine vintage came to a close with that for Coteaux Varois en Provence. Held in a beautiful location, it is the prettiest and most enjoyable of all the tastings.
Student sommeliers ready before the start of the tasting
In 2013, the 4th sub-appellation of Côtes de Provence, Côtes de Provence Pierrefeu, was announced for red and rosé wines, adding to La Londe, Ste Victoire and Fréjus.
Cotes de Provence Pierrefeu in darker purple
Launching a new appellation is no easy process. This took some ten years, which is not atypical. In 2003 some 30 producers (including 4 co-operatives) in the triangular region of Pierrefeu-Cuers-Puget-Ville came together to promote their belief that the largest area of production within the larger Côtes de Provence appellation had a distinctive character worthy of a sub-appellation.
Tibouren is regarded by many in Provence as the traditional variety for making rosé, unique to the area. Tibouren is a pale-skinned grape, suited to making rosé, as it allows for fuller fruity character to be developed without extracting lots of colour. An early ripening variety, it seems to do best in sunnier sites, usually the hotter coastal regions which also benefit from damper maritime winds. Plantings have never been extensive (currently around 450ha), as it is regarded as slightly temperamental, with susceptibility to coulure (poor fruit-set after flowering), and irregular yields. Most Tibouren is from old vines. DNA analysis suggests a close connection with the equally rare Rossese which makes red wine in Dolceacqua, just over the border from Nice in western Liguria, Italy. Continue reading
Wine writers and wine buyers so often only see a region briefly when visiting a specific vineyard, two or three vineyards in a region, sometimes a local restaurant. Invariably we see small snapshots of an area, out of context of its history, people and dynamics.
For thirty years I have toured the vineyards of the Var. In the beginning there was a greater sense of adventure as vineyards were often reached down windy country lanes, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. In other places the little villages we drove through tempted us with cafés and village bistros. The roads have slowly been straightened and widened, avoiding many of the villages with by-passes. Provence has speeded up.
Sometimes serendipity plays an important role. Last week, at short notice, I planned a weekend in the central Var. Everywhere was full, but I managed to find a cancellation for the weekend in the small village of St Antonin du Var. Continue reading
New vineyards at Château de Bellet
At the beginning of June I happened to go to Château de Bellet to collect some wine for a tasting I was giving in Monaco.
This was the first time I had been to the new cellar, driving through an impressive new gateway and past rows of newly planted vines.
Amidst fears that the appellation of Bellet would slowly disappear under the threat of new suburban villas, seeing new vineyards is very encouraging. How many hectares, and which varieties (possibly Rolle) has not yet been announced. Château de Bellet’s premium wine La Chapelle sells out quickly, so more wines from this estate is always good.
Changing coloured lights around the display stands in the Chapel de Bellet
The scene was a hive of activity – with only two days to go before the opening of the new cellar and tasting room there were carpenters, painters and electricians tying up loose ends.
To be honest, I am not sure I really liked the ultra-modern displays in the very beautiful 19th century gothic chapel, but its location, in the middle of the vineyards with a spectacular view of the city of Nice and the Mediterranean, will hopefully encourage more people to visit the Château de Bellet as well as the other large domaines of Bellet, Chateau de Crémat and Domaine Toasc to taste and buy the wine of this very small appellation. Other smaller domaines are open for tasting by appointment. See here for contact details.
Sadly I was unable to go to the opening event as it clashed with my giving a tasting of Bellet wines, but Chrissie McClatchie, of Riviera Grapevine, did go and wrote about the opening ceremony, which you can read about on my Bellet website.
The tasting table for Coteaux Varois 2014 rosés
At the annual Coteaux Varois tasting (13 April 2015), set in the beautiful gardens of a former monastery, at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant at the Abbaye de la Celle in Brignoles, and next door to the Maison des Vins de Coteaux Varois, 45 local domaines had their stands set out showing their wines.
The 2014 rosés were presented at a central table, showing the importance of rosé wine to the Coteaux Varois-en-Provence (to give the appellation its official title).
This is one of the most beautiful, and enjoyable tastings that I attend during the year – Coteaux Varois excel in presenting their wines in style, often with a coloured theme. In past years there has been a floral colour theme of pink, purple and green used in the ice bags and for their 20th anniversary it was white, silver grey and golden yellow. This year it was all white and looked very pretty in the bright sunshine with fresh late spring greenery.
Sunhats and parasols in the afternoon sun
This very elegant style gives a garden party atmosphere, further emphasised by the delicious canapés from the Ducasse restaurant. This year a more substantial lunch was also served on the terrace, away from the tasting area which prevented too big a distraction.
Most importantly of all, despite the fact that Coteaux Varois often appears to be in the shadow of the larger Cotes de Provence, it includes a very good range of wines and some interesting surprises.
I tasted 53 rosé wines, from 45 domaines (in some cases several rosés from one estate). As the appellation includes 75 private domains and 10 cooperatives, this tasting included around half of all Coteaux Varois rosés.
Medieval gateway in Trets
Provence is divided by ranges of mountains running parallel to the sea and by the valleys which cut through these mountains, taking rivers to the sea. In historic times these valleys served as corridors of communication. The valley to the east of Aix is no exception as the medieval walled town of Trets, the cathedral town of St Maximin de Ste Baume, the castles of Pourcieux and a scattering of old picturesque villages testify. Wealthy Aixois citizens owned country estates with large bastides in the neighbouring countryside.
Today the region is bisected by train, motorway and the N7, but turning off these routes, going north and south, reveals the vineyard region of Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire. Drive north to the beautiful and dominating Mont Sainte Victoire (also known as Montagne Sainte Victoire), immortalised by the painter Cézanne, and explore the foothills of the mountain through the Parc Roques Hautes.
Or go south and explore the Massif de Ste Baume, high enough to have enough snow in winter to feed the ice houses supplying ice to Toulon and Marseille in the summer. Just to the south east of the region lies the ice museum in Mauzaugues. Continue reading