The sub-appellations of Côtes de Provence: Sainte Victoire

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Gateway in Trets

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

2014 Rosé Wines from Coteaux-de-Aix

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Coteaux d’Aix tasting

On 30th March I went to the official 2014 vintage tasting of the wines of Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence in the town of Aix-en-Provence at the Hotel Renaissance, a new five star hotel in a modern business district of central Aix.

The appellation covers 4000ha, a quarter of the size of the appellation of Côtes de Provence. There are 67 domaines and 12 cooperatives. 34 producers came together to show their wines.

Map of the regions of Coteaux d'Aix

Map of the sub-regions of Coteaux d’Aix

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2014 Rosé Wines from Provence in 2015 – part 1

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Rosé Cotes de Provence Tasting, Mandelieu, March 2015

Rosé Cotes de Provence Tasting, Mandelieu, March 2015

I am often asked which rosé wines from Provence I would recommend, so I have put together some which I liked at recent tastings.

The wines were tasted at various domaines, the large trade fair Prowein in Dusseldorf and the annual Côtes de Provence tasting in Mandelieu, both this month, March 2015.

I tasted 77 rosés released for 2015 (almost all from the 2014 vintage); 46 stood out as being of interest.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I did not taste all of the wines available at either Prowein or at Mandelieu. With over 600 rosés made in Provence (and making up 90% of the region’s wine production), this survey barely scratches the surface.

The range of colour ran from very pale creamy white with a hint of pink to slightly darker shell pink. The rosés I tasted fell into broadly five groups, all dry:

  1. Fresh, crisp red fruit, and good acidity. This group was the largest.
  2. Red fruit with rounder more complex structure.
  3. Black and red fruit, rounder, balanced acidity.
  4. Softer peachy, apricot fruit, creamy body and good acidity (interestingly all including Cinsault and all but one from the hotter central Valley).
  5. More mineral, salty, structured, austere and mouth-watering.

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Provençal Carignan

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Following on from the successful Israeli Carignan tasting, I decided to look more closely at Provencal wines made from Carignan.

Until the 1970s, Carignan was one of the main grapes of Provence, blended with Grenache and Cinsault to make classic Provençal red and rosé wines. Grenache provided the fruit and sugar, Cinsault the charm and floral notes, Carignan the tannin and acidity.

However, Carignan’s main claim to fame was its potential for high yields. It was regarded as a poor quality grape – tough, unyielding and lacking in charm, a cash crop. Efforts to raise the quality of wine in Provence led to changes in the appellation regulations in the 1970s and restrictions in planting Carignan. As a result, much of the Carignan vines in Provence date from the 1970s or earlier. Continue reading

Christmas in Provence: Vin Cuit and the 13 Desserts

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Vin cuit and the 13 desserts are a traditional combination served at Christmas in Provence. Today, however, the 13 desserts are often only symbolically represented – with baskets filled with a selection of dried and glacé fruits and nuts, available in most food shops around Christmas – and few people know of vin cuit.

Cooking Vin Cuit at Ch Beaulieu

Cooking Vin Cuit at Ch Beaulieu

Vin cuit, meaning “cooked wine”, has a tradition going back to antiquity, with the method for making this largely unchanged for over 2000 years. Vin cuit wine is made by slowly heating the grape must over a direct fire in a cauldron, and allowing it to simmer, sometimes over two days. Care must be taken not to overcook it, to avoid a burnt or strong caramelised taste. Some 30 to 55% of the juice will evaporate. After cooking, the boiled must is encouraged to ferment. Traditionally fermentation was allowed to continue to a level of 20% alcohol. Now this rarely exceeds 14.5%, where the wine can be considered a table wine, with a lower level of tax. Fermentation can be long, usually 2 weeks to 3 months, but may take up to a year. Continue reading

Tasting of IGP Alpes Maritimes wines

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The tasting, hosted by ASNCAP at Chateau de Crémat had been a year in the planning, sourcing some of the more obscure and often private domaines which make up the patchwork of burgeoning wine culture in the Alpes Maritimes. There were some domaines missing – but all in all it was a good introduction to the wines of the region and hopefully this will become an annual event – maybe to one day include all the wines produced in the department.

The tasting was finished with a lunch served by La Kitchenette.

Of the seven domains showing their wines, only one producer was from the Bellet appellation, the remaining six domains, one came from Menton and five came from west of the Var river, from St Jeannet, Tourettes sur Loup, St Paul de Vence, Mougins and Mandelieu. Of these, only the vineyards of Les Vignobles des Hautes Collines de Cote d’Azur, were long established. The others were showing wines made from either young vines or vines outside the limits of the appellation.

The youth of the vines on the rest of the domaines (apart from a small amount of ‘old vines’ included in blends) showed their immaturity in the wines with a generally light fruit character and fresh acidity. But, judging by the enthusiasm of the winemakers and vineyard owners, these are definitely vineyards to watch as the wines of the Alpes Maritimes develop.

No clear regional style has yet been developed, with vineyards being planted with a wide range of grapes including classic Provencal varieties (Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan, Mourvedre, Tibouren, Rolle, Clairette, Ugni Blanc) Rhone varieties (Syrah and Viognier); Bellet varieties (Folle Noir and Braquet) and other varieties (Chasan (Listan x Chardonnay), Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat à Petits Grains, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Marselan (Cabernet Sauvignon x Grenache) and the unknown Grassenc (possibly a synonym for Folle Noir) and Malunvern.

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Winter Blues, Provençal Reds

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Even in Provence winter. Days, weeks, even months of cold weather. Admittedly the sky is also often a bright blue, making the bitter chill more bearable. But, on days like today, when the clouds are low and heavy, the rain incessant and the mountain peaks of northern Provence are tipped with snow, we are more likely to think of a roaring fire and a glass of full bodied red wine than the swimming pool and a glass of chilled rosé.

So I thought I would made a quick review of my favourite Provençal red wines over the past year. The four dominant varieties in the red wines of Provence are Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon. Good examples are full of fruit ranging from red berries (when there is a high percentage of Grenache) through to black fruit, cassis and plums. For winter drinking I thought of those wines which also have big fruit and tannic structure, so I have not included some of the fresher, more floral wines here. In Bellet red wines with a high percentage of Folle Noir tend to be more tannic and structural, while those with a higher percentage of Braquet are lighter and aromatic.

Here is part 1 of my favourite reds:

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Pierrefeu-Côtes-de-Provence – a new sub-appellation

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The fourth sub-appellation for Côtes de Provence, has now been officially launched: Côtes de Provence Pierrefeu.

Here’s a video discussing the new appellation, released by the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence (CIVP).

The next sub-appellation planned is Côtes de Provence Notre Dames des Anges, covering the area from Carnoules to Taradeau, from le Luc to les Arcs, expected in 2017.

The plains around AC Cotes de Provence- Pierrefeu

The plains around AC Côtes de Provence Pierrefeu

Roman Wine at Mas de Tourelles and Glanum

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It was a particularly interesting visit to Mas de Tourelles. Compared to most vineyard visits, where I talk about varieties, terroir, temperature control, yeasts and filtration, this tasting concentrated on how the Roman recipes were followed in an attempt to re-create the style of wines made during Roman times.

The domaine has been a wine producing domaine since Roman times. It lies along the Roman road, via Domitia, which connected Italy to Spain and was once upon a time part of a thriving commerce.

In 1991, when Herve Durand, a wine maker and archaeologist, discovered a Roman cellar in the south of France. He then met up with Andre Tchernia, a research director from the prestigious Social Studies High School, who is familiar with all that Roman authors have written on this subject and Jean-Pierre Lebrun who manages the French Archaeology Centre of Napoli, and has excavated many Roman villas with wine cellars.

tourelles pressing grapesArchaeological excavations at Tourelles have found evidence of the Roman villa and cellar and the domaine has whole-heartedly thrown itself into the Roman world. They have re-created a Roman press and have a Roman wine press day with volunteers dressed in white tunics pressing the grapes.

 

 

Vines trained on pergolas, Mas de Tourelles

Vines trained on pergolas, Mas de Tourelles

Vines trained up trees, Mas de Tourelles

Vines trained up trees, Mas de Tourelles

 

It is possible to walk around the vineyards and see the different forms of trellising being trialled. Vines climbing up the trees looks very picturesque but maybe less practical. Vines trailed high on trellis was an Etruscan method. The grapes hanging down below the leaves were sheltered from the burning sun and there was space below for other crops, making as much use of the land as possible.

 

 

 

 

Roman press and amphorae at Mas de Tourelles

Roman press and amphorae at Mas de Tourelles

After ten years of research, they studied the recipes and the methods for making Roman wine. Work was done to re-create a Roman vineyard and wine cellar and to apply the vinification recipes found in Roman works including those of ApiciusCato the Elder and Columella. Three different wines are made, Turriculae, Carenum and Muslum.

One of Cato’s recipes includes the additions of sea water, but if the vineyard is too far from the sea, he suggests making up a brine to mix with the wine and then letting the wine age in amphorae placed in the sun for two years. The resulting wine will taste like the wine of ‘Coan’. Tourelle use a similar recipe from Columelle which also includes fenugreek and iris root. The resulting wine, Turriculae, tastes similar to a fino sherry or vin jaune.

Carenum, a white wine blended with defrutum (grape must, with the addition of a few quince, boiled down to a third of its original volume, like vin cuit), is rich and sweet.

Muslum is wine sweetened with honey and spices.

 

Fumarium at Glanum

Fumarium at Glanum

 

At the Roman town of Glanum, east along the via Domitia, on the other side of the Rhone river, we saw evidence of another style of Roman wine making, with the remaining pillars which supported the floor of the fumarium. Wine would be stored in amphorae in the room above the smokers and smoked to create a mellow, mature tasting wine.