Category Archives: France – Provence

Minuty, Côtes de Provence (Provence, France) “Prestige” 2019

($27, Vintus):  Readers of my recommendations recognize that I am not enthralled with most still rosé wines on the market, preferring to chill a light red.  This one stopped me in my tracks.  Its pale pink color suggested an innocuous wine.  As the saying goes, don’t chose a book by its cover.  Vibrant acidity amplifies the wild strawberry-like flavors that leap from the glass.  It has real character, which distinguishes it from many other rosés on the market.  This invigorating rosé will stand up to hearty salads you might be serving during quarantine.
93 Michael Apstein Apr 7, 2020

Mas de Gourgonnier, Les Baux de Provence (France) 2016

($17):  A blend of the usual Mediterranean grapes, Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan, and Mourvèdre, this charming wine has more finesse than you might expect from wines from this sun-soaked part of France.  It delivers a winning combination of bright red fruit-like notes, herbal nuances and spice.  The tannins are mild, but add needed structure.  Its suaveness sets it apart.   It’s another excellent choice this summer with virtually anything you throw on the grill.
89 Michael Apstein May 28, 2019

Mas de la Dame, Alpilles IGP (Provence, France) “La Gourmande” Rouge 2017

($15):  Sitting at the base of the Alpilles (little Alps) in Provence, practically adjacent to Les Baux de Provence, the vineyards of Mas de la Dame are some of the most beautifully situated ones in all of France.  The near constant “mistral” wind makes organic viticulture there easier, which explains why this wine is made from organically grown grapes.  A 50/50 blend of Grenache and Syrah, it delivers spicy red fruit-like flavors wrapped in mild tannins.  It has sufficient oomph for roast duck breast, but the mild tannins allow you to chill it as well.  It’s a great bargain.
88 Michael Apstein May 28, 2019

Domaine Sainte Marie, Côtes de Provence (France) “VieVité” 2017

($19, Turquoise Life):  VieVité uses a rectangular-shaped bottle to distinguish it from a the even increasing array of other pink wines that line retailers’ shelves.  A blend of equal parts of the usual Mediterranean grapes, Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah with Carignan accounting for the remaining 10 percent, this pale pink wine delivers delicate, yet persistent notes of strawberries buttressed by enlivening freshness.
88 Michael Apstein Aug 7, 2018

Alternatives to Rosé, Even in Provence

With apologies to Alfred Lord Tennyson, rosé to the left of us, rosé to the right of us, rosé in front of us, and there we were, drinking white wine in the heart of Provence.  The sommelier at La Presque’îe, a spectacularly situated restaurant–with food to match–on the outskirts of Cassis overlooking the Mediterranean coast, told me that they sell a lot of rosé, but that, like us, many diners order white wine.

After all, this is Cassis, a village and appellation just east of Marseille, where roughly three-fourths of the wine produced is white, unlike the rest of Provence where 85 percent of the wine produced is pink.  (Much to my surprise, the town and wine, is pronounced, “ca-see,” whereas the fruit and the liqueur made from it, neither of which have any connection to the town, is pronounced, “ca-cease.”) The terraced vineyards are squeezed between expensive residential real estate on steep hills–limestone calanques–that plunge into the Mediterranean.

The small, roughly 500-acre, Cassis appellation was one of the first created in France, in 1936, along with Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Only a dozen producers make wines here from the usual blend of Mediterranean white grapes, primarily Marsanne and Clairette, along with Ugni Blanc, Bourboulenc and Sauvignon Blanc to fill out the blend. In general, none of the wines see any oak either during fermentation or aging.  Producers opt to capture and highlight the freshness and fruity vibrancy of the wines by using stainless steel vats.  Despite such a small cadre of producers, there is a range of styles of Cassis, from steely and riveting to more tropical and lush, while still retaining vibrancy.  But there are constant characteristics despite the stylistic differences.  Citrus notes, especially in the finish, are a common thread as are alcohol levels that hover between 12 and 13 percent.

Two of my favorites actually fall at either end of the stylistic spectrum.  The 2017 Domaine du Bagnol ($26, 89 points), crisp with an almost steely edge and a citrus-tinged finish, is perfect for the brine-y seafood of the region.  The 2017 Clos Sainte Magdeleine ($25, 90 points), a more full-bodied wine, manages to combine a beguiling subtle tropical character with bracing acidity.  It could easily do double duty as an aperitif while watching the boats or to accompany grilled sardines.

Les Baux de Provence, like Cassis, is another small appellation in the heart of rosé country.  While producers there do make significant amounts of rosé, the real stars of the show are the reds and of course, the olive oil, which has its own appellation, Vallée des Baux de Provence.  (Be sure to try the oils from Moulin Cornille, the very fine co-operative in Mausanne-lès-Alpilles.)  As in Cassis, there are only a dozen wine producers in the AOC.  Another highly regarded producer in the delimited area, Domaine Trévallon, uses the IGP designation because they traditionally incorporate more Cabernet Sauvignon (50%) than prescribed by the regulations.

The 620 acres of this appellation extend around one of France’s most visited tourist sites, the 10th century ruined Château des Baux-de-Provence, just south of St. Rémy de Provence.  The entire appellation is farmed organically, a practice that is aided by the legendary mistral wine that descends, sometimes for days at a time, from the north.  The wind blows more than 100 days a year, helping to keep the vineyards free of disease.  The wind is so omnipresent and fierce that the north side of all the houses (mas, in the local dialect) have either no or very small windows.   The mistral has been blamed for causing insanity among the local inhabitants and, I have been told, but cannot verify, that it can be used as a mitigating defense in a murder trial in Provence.

The modern era of winemaking in the area began in the 1950s after a severe frost in 1956 destroyed over 80 percent of the olive trees and sent farmers scurrying to diversify.  Their focus was to distinguish themselves from Côte de Provence, the vast and often anonymous appellation that was associated with innocuous pink wine.  They finally succeeded with the French wine authorities granting their own appellation, Les Baux de Provence, in 1995.

Although the primary grapes allowed are the usual Mediterranean reds, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon can comprise up to 20 percent of the blend.  The inclusion of Cabernet is explained by its presence in the region prior to the phylloxera devastation of the 19th century.  Not surprisingly given the blend and its proximity to the southern Rhône–Châteauneuf-du-Pape is only about 30 miles to the north–the wines have a Rhône-like robustness coupled with the herbal and spiced flavors of Provence.  The tannins are usually fine, except when Cabernet’s thumb print is overly obvious, which means they can take a brief chill without gaining unpleasant astringency. Despite its southern location and potential for super-ripe grapes, the stated alcohol of these wines rarely exceeds 13.5%

Domaine Hauvette, founded only in 1988 and run by Dominique Hauvette, makes an extraordinary range of wines.  Their 2011 “Cornaline,” the current vintage, is a blend of Grenache (50%), Syrah (30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is stunning, delivering an engaging and balanced combination of bright red fruit flavors intermingled with herbal notes.  It has fine tannins that amplify its finesse, and a surprisingly light body given the power it packs.  It has that Burgundy-like sensibility of flavor without weight ($42, 94 points).  Their cuvée “Le Roucas,” has more Grenache (60%) in the blend and is meant for earlier consumption.  The 2015 “Le Roucas” is light in body, but not in enjoyment ($30, 90 points).

Domaine de la Vallongue also has multiple bottlings.  The 2015 “Garrigues,” true to its namesake, has a healthy dollop of herbal flavors that complement it bright fruitiness.  It, too, has captivating elegance ($20, 90 points).  Their “Pierres Cassés” screams “importance” with its heavy bottle engraved with a Châteauneuf-du-Pape-like crest.  A blend of Syrah and Grenache, it’s a hefty wine.  I’d suggest drinking the 2015 “Garrigues” now and leaving the 2014 “Pierres Cassés” in the cellar for a few more years to let it come together.

Two wines that are widely available in the U.S., Mas de Gourgonnier and Mas de la Dame are both good examples of what the appellation has to offer.   The 2015 Mas de Gourgonnier delivers an engaging and thoroughly enjoyable combination of light red fruit, earth and herbal notes.  Non-intrusive tannins make it easy to enjoy this summer when food calls for a lighter and lively red ($16, 90 points).  The 2015 Mas de la Dame has a similar profile with perhaps a touch more weight. ($17, 90 points).

So, who knew…wine from Provence that’s not pink, but that’s perfect for summer drinking!

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E-mail me your thoughts about Provence wines in general or Cassis and Les Baux de Provence in specific at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

July 18, 2018

Domaine des Terres Blanches, Les Baux de Provence (France) 2016

($15):  Les Baux de Provence, a small appellation in Provence that is entirely organic, is an outlier because it is known best for its red wines.  That said, it’s home to some satisfying whites, such as this one.  A blend primarily of Rolle (a.k.a. Vermentino), it delivers crisp freshness and vivacity.  It’s an ideal choice for a sticky summer evening.
88 Michael Apstein Jul 3, 2018

Mas de Gourgonnier, Les Baux de Provence (France) 2015

($16, North Berkeley Imports; Skurnik Wines):  Though located in the heart of Provence, Les Baux de Provence, an appellation of barely 600 acres, is known for its reds, rather than its rosés.  The allowed grapes include the usual Mediterranean suspects, Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan, among others, and, perhaps surprisingly, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cabernet in this blend can easily overwhelm, but Mas de Gourgonnier consistently gets it right, making fresh and lively reds.  The 2015, weighing in at only 13 percent stated alcohol, delivers an engaging and thoroughly enjoyable combination of light red fruit, earth and herbal notes.  Non-intrusive tannins make it easy to enjoy this summer when food calls for a lighter and lively red.
90 Michael Apstein Jul 3, 2018

Maison Belle Claire, Côtes de Provence (France) 2015

($18, Romano Brands Fine wines): Regular readers of WineReviewOnline.com know I’m not a great fan of rosé — except when it has bubbles — often preferring a chilled light red wine instead.  But Maison Belle Claire’s 2015 caught my attention because it delivers more complexity than most rosé.  It may be the blend — roughly equal parts Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault — that imparts complexity and makes it come across like a light red wine.  Whatever it is, here is a rosé with substance and the invigorating acidity that keeps it bright and fresh.  It’s a perfect choice for the classic salad Niçoise this summer.
90 Michael Apstein Jul 12, 2016

Hecht & Bannier, Bandol (Provence, France) 2009

($34, Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd): Juicy and succulent, this weighty Bandol is surprisingly user-friendly now with just enough tannic-acid structure to frame the black fruit-like flavors without being aggressive or intrusive.  Hints of earth complement its dark fruitiness.  It carries its intensity and concentration with grace.  It’s a good choice for hearty grilled fare.
87 Michael Apstein Aug 27, 2013

Hecht & Bannier, Côtes de Provence Rosé (Provence, France) 2012

($18, Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd): The foil disc on top hides the closure so it’s not quite clear whether you need a corkscrew.  You don’t.  Once you remove the plastic neck label, which takes the foil disc with it, an easy-to-remove glass stopper twists off.  What’s in the bottle is more than worth the confusion involved in getting to its contents.  This refreshing rosé has real character.  A zippy spiciness harmonizes with wild strawberries-like nuances.  It would be a good match for causal summer time fare such as a salad Niçoise.
88 Michael Apstein Jul 9, 2013

La Bastide Blanche, Bandol (Provence, France) Rosé 2012

($21, Weygandt Metzler): Bandol, a small, but important, appellation in Provence on the Mediterranean just east of Marseille, produces mostly robust red wines primarily from Mourvèdre.  The appellation allows production of Rosé as well.  This one, a blend of Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Grenache, combines the refreshing aspect of rosé with real substance that comes from Mourvèdre.  It cuts through the humidity of summer like a hot knife through butter and is an ideal choice for things like a Niçoise salad or other summery light fare.
91 Michael Apstein Jun 4, 2013

Domaine de la Tour du Bon, Bandol (Provence, France) Rosé 2011

($20, Kermit Lynch):  This serious rosé, a Mourvèdre dominant (55%) blend that includes other typical Mediterranean varieties of Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan, will convert those few remaining people (myself included) who believe rosés are inherently insipid.  This one certainly is not–it’s real wine with herbal notes that complement the berry flavors.  A vibrantly drying finish refreshes the palate.  Drink it with a hearty salad. 89 Michael Apstein Aug 21, 2012

Domaine du Gros’Noré, Bandol Blanc (Provence, France) 2009

($30, Kermit Lynch):  Bandol, a small appellation bordering the Mediterranean, is well known for its sturdy Mourvedre-based red wines.  But growers also make a tiny amount of white wine from the usual Mediterranean varieties, Bourboulenc, Clairette, and Ugni Blanc, as well as Sauvignon Blanc.  This one, a classy blend of Clairette and Ugni Blanc, delivers subtle peach flavors floating atop a mouth-coating lanolin-like texture.  Unlike many southern French whites, it’s fresh and lively.  The combination–richness and vibrancy–makes it a good choice for well-seasoned seafood. 91 Michael Apstein May 22, 2012

Château d’Esclans, Côtes de Provence (Provence, France) Rosé “Whispering Angel” 2009

($21, Shaw Ross):  Sacha Lichine, son of renowned Alexis Lichine, the larger than life wine-merchant, author and Bordeaux château owner, has forsaken the family’s traditional home base (Bordeaux) for sunny Provence where he aims to make the best rosé in the world at Château d’Esclans.  The Whispering Angel, a remarkably sophisticated “entry” level wine, is a blend of mostly Grenache and Rolle, with small amounts of Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvedre.  Fermentation is performed entirely in stainless steel vats to preserve the inherent red fruit flavors of the grapes.  He performs a temperature-controlled bâtonage (stirring of the lees), which helps impart an unusual–and welcome–intensity while preserving freshness.  Persistent, yet delicate, wild strawberry and other red fruit-like flavors harmonize with a zippy freshness.  Most amazingly, the wine holds its own even after tasting his more expensive rosés. 90 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2010

Château d’Esclans, Côtes de Provence (Provence, France) Rosé “Garrus” 2008

($109, Shaw Ross):  You read it correctly, over $100 a bottle for rosé.  At Château d’Esclans, Sacha Lichine is aiming to take rosé to a new quality–and price–level.  A blend of roughly 2/3rds Grenache, exclusively from 80-year-old vines, and Rolle from similarly aged vines, the Garrus is a selection from the very best vineyards on the estate.  The winemaking is Burgundian: grapes are harvested by hand, de-stemmed and sorted twice.  Free run juice is vinified to dryness and aged in temperature controlled 500-liter casks for 8 months, where it undergoes bâtonage (stirring of the lees).  The result is a lively wine with an impeccable balance of wild red fruit-like flavors, nuances of spice, bright acidity and a subtle, but enveloping creaminess.  The wine’s elegance–it’s definitely not a hit-in the-face kind of wine–is most apparent in the lengthy finish.  Just when you think it’s gone, another wave of flavors wash over your palate.  Is it worth 100 bucks?  Only you and your banker know for sure. 92 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2010

Domaine Tempier, Bandol (Provence, France) “La Tourtine” 2007

($75, Kermit Lynch):  The only question I have about this wine is whether it’s their best ever.  Domaine Tempier is on everyone’s short list of Bandol’s finest producers.  Their La Tourtine bottling comes from a vineyard on the slopes of the property.  Wonderfully exotic with a marvelous combination of spice and fruit, it remains beautifully balanced.  It’s long and intense without being overdone.  Its polish and elegance is all the more remarkable given the wine’s power.   It’s quite engaging now, although I suspect it will close down in a year or so and go into hibernation for five to ten years.  So pop the cork now or be prepared to wait.  If you wait, you’ll be rewarded. 95 Michael Apstein Jul 20, 2010

Prieure de Montezargues, Tavel (France) 2007

($19, Henriot): Tavel, a lovely village in the south of France, is one of the few places in the world  that makes only rosé.  Not a by-product of a process to beef-up a red wine, this serious rosé has more substance than most.  A mouth-coating texture and a ghost of tannins complement the usual array of bright red fruit—strawberry and raspberry—flavors in this dry, zippy wine. 88 Michael Apstein Aug 18, 2009

Domaine de Triennes, Vin de Pays du Var (Provence, France) Rosé 2008

($16, The Sorting Table): Readers of this website know that I am not a fan of rosé (except for Rosé Champagne, of course) because it’s usually a byproduct of a technique-bleeding–to strengthen a red wine.  Less commonly, some producers–such as those in Tavel in southern France–actually aim to produce rosé.  Domaine de Triennes, a joint venture of two Burgundians, Aubert de Villaine, who manages Domaine Romanée Conti and Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac, is another producer who sets out to make a rosé.   And they make an excellent one.  A blend of Cinsault, Grenache, and Syrah, it delivers a lovely combination of dried red fruit, spice and alluring floral elements.  This fresh and vibrant wine is a wonderful way to welcome spring. 90 Michael Apstein Apr 14, 2009

Château Romassan, Bandol (Provence, France) 2002

($48, Maisons Marques & Domaines): Domaines Ott, perhaps the leading producer of Provence wines, acquired Château Romassan in the 1950s.  In Bandol, as in the Rhone Valley, 2002 was a disaster for wines.  Nonetheless, Château Romassan made an admirable Bandol that year, reminding us that vintage reputation alone never tells the entire story.  Not the typical earthy, intense Bandol, the 2002 Château is a touch lighter with more refinement and grace.  It has none of the hardness that characterizes many southern French wines in 2002.  Ready now, it would be a good choice for robust fare as we enter colder weather. 88 Michael Apstein Dec 9, 2008

Château Romassan, Bandol (Provence, France) 2002

($48, Maisons Marques and Domaines): Domaines Ott, perhaps the leading producer of Provence wines, acquired Château Romassan in the 1950s.  In Bandol, as in the Rhone Valley, 2002 was a disaster for wines.  Nonetheless, Château Romassan made an admirable Bandol that year, reminding us that vintage reputation alone never tells the entire story.  Not the typical earthy, intense Bandol, the 2002 Château is a touch lighter with more refinement and grace.  It has none of the hardness that characterizes many southern French wines in 2002.  Ready now, it would be a good choice for robust fare as we enter colder weather. 88 Michael Apstein Nov 4, 2008

Domaine de Gros Noré, Bandol (Provence, France) 2006

($44, Kermit Lynch): Bandol, a small appellation in the south of France where the Mourvedre grape is king, is known for ripe intense red wines, such as this one.  This robust wine, with deep black fruit character and herbal touches, is nicely balanced except for the noticeable heat–that’s the 15% stated alcohol speaking–in the finish. 86 Michael Apstein Oct 28, 2008

Domaine Tempier, Bandol (Provence, France) “Cuvée La Migoua” 2006

($75, Kermit Lynch): This bottling comes from a separate, horseshoe-shaped hillside parcel separate from the Domaine that they acquired recently.  Riper, with more punch, it is quite closed at this stage and seemingly lacks the complexity of their Cuvée Classique.  It needs considerable time to unfold, as I’m sure it will given Domaine Tempier’s track record.   At this stage, it’s a burly wine, lacking the immediate appealing finesse of the Cuvée Classique (also reviewed this week) and is more appropriate for the cellar as opposed to the dinner table. 87 Michael Apstein Oct 28, 2008

Domaine Tempier, Bandol (Provence, France) “Cuvée Classique” 2006

($50, Kermit Lynch): Domaine Tempier, arguably the best property in Bandol, is certainly responsible for introducing that appellation to American consumers.  They produce this cuvée from several parcels spread around the appellation.  Their Cuvée Classique has everything you’d want in Bandol, including layers of robust flavors tempered by fine tannins.  Not overdone, nuances of herbs and earth add to the enjoyment.  A fine choice for this autumn’s fare, it will continue to develop and evolve so you can safely put some in the cellar. 91 Michael Apstein Oct 28, 2008

Chateau Minuty, Cotes de Provence (France) “Cuvee Prestige” 2004

($30, Romano Brands): Château Minuty, one of the cru classé of the Côtes de Provence, is rightly known for its vibrant and stylish Rosé. But they make red wine, an easy drinking one and this, their Prestige bottling made entirely from Mourvedre. Thick, ripe and intense, it is layered and powerful but amazingly supple without astringent tannins. Not a summer sipping wine; pull the cork this fall as the temperature drops. 90 Michael Apstein Sep 5, 2006