Southern French Carignan Revival

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Hiding away in southern French blends, Carignan is often unnoticed by wine drinkers. However, an enthusiastic trend amongst a few growers in southern France, Spain, Chile, California and Israel to produce this variety in all its glory, has captured my imagination. The more I taste this variety, the more I enjoy it – from the fresh zippy bramble wines to wines which are deep, black and velvety – this is a variety well worth looking out for. If you see it bottled as a single variety, the chances are it was made by a true lover of this grape.

An almost finished bottle of Carignan!

An almost finished bottle of Carignan!

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Wine, Films, Action!

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The world of film has had a long connection with Provence, so while the cinema industry focuses on Cannes for the next two weeks for the 69th Cannes Festival of Film (11-22 May 2016), I thought I would do a fun round up of a few film and wine connections in Provence.

*** STOP PRESS **** Jean-Baptiste Pacioselli (whose parents run Domaine St Jean in Bellet) and Kyrian Rouvet of WellKy Films won three awards: ‘Best Original Screenplay of a Foreign Language Film’,’Best Crime Film’ and the ‘Audience Choice Award’ in the short films category on Friday 13th May 2016 for ‘The Last One.’ Congratulations!

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A Tasting of International Rosés

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As most of the rosés I taste are from Provence, it is always interesting to look further afield to compare those from other countries and in other styles.

So, in August I organised a group of wine professionals to meet at Domaine le Grand Cros in Carnoules, to taste a range of rosé wines, to see which styles we liked and to create an atmosphere in which to challenge accepted ideas. Especially as rosé styles are fast evolving.

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We had an eclectic mix of 19 rosés from Hungary, Italy, Spain, USA and Lebanon. Some were received as samples from producers. Others we chose as being easily available in France, and were bought from Metro, the nationwide food and wine wholesalers.

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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