Off the Beaten Path in Provence #Winophiles

Ahhh, wouldn’t it be nice to really be off the beaten path in Provence? Sun, lavender, the Côte d’Azure. But alas, here we are, entering into our second year of a global pandemic that has the entire world drinking, eating, and working from home.

Provence is known for many things, but like most regions of France, wine is not far from the top of the list. You may not think of red wine when you think Provence, and rightly so, in 2017 the percentage of red wine produced in the region was a mere 6%. It is the world’s benchmark region for Rosé, and the majority of the wine production (90% in 2017) is the dry, crisp, esthetically appealing wine that Instagram-able moments are made of.

If you’re like me, and you are immediately curious about that incredibly small percentage, then you’ll want to join the French Winophiles this month as we travel through our wine glasses and explore the red wines of the Provence region.

Stretching about 150 miles along the Mediterranean Sea, and nearly 100 miles inland, the region is incredibly diverse spanning from mountains to the sea. Provence has the distinction of being France’s oldest wine region, having been founded by the Phoenicians some 2,600 years ago.

Home to 9 AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) regions, just three of these regions account for nearly 96% of the wine produced. Bandol is probably the best known AOC for red wine production, however, nearly all of the regions produce a miniscule amount of red. Receiving about 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, with little rain, it is a happy home for more than 30 grape varietals. It is interesting to note that white wines are even more rare than red, with only about 4% of the region’s total wine production.

http://map courtesy of www.winefolly.com
  • Cotes de Provence (75% of the region’s production)
  • Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence (15% of the region’s production)
  • Coteaux Varois en Provence (10% of the region’s production)
  • Les Baux de Provence
  • Bandol (known for red wines)
  • Cassis (white wines – even rarer than red from this region)
  • Palette (where my red wine is from)
  • Bellet (the rosés from this region have rose petal aromas)
  • Pierrevert (the newest – 1998, and the most northern region)

Provence is home to the Mistral winds which is actually great for the grapes, making Provence one of France’s leading regions for organic and sustainable production. These same winds can drive humans to the brink of insanity because they are so strong and noisy. Farmhouses are built in positions that take the winds into consideration for door and window placement.

Another thing that makes Provence unique is the vegetation, shrubby, drought tolerant plants -lavender, thyme, juniper, and rosemary – grow throughout and are collectively known as garrigue. Garrigue is often noted in the flavor profile of wines form the region. If we discuss this in food terms rather than wine, the same mixture might be called Herbes de Provence.

Finding a red wine from Provence may not be the easiest thing, as I am sure you can imagine which such low productions numbers. I ordered mine online from Wine.com but I was later able to locate the same bottle at an Atlanta wine shop.

Chateau Simone|Palette|2014|13.5% ABV|$19.99

Chateau Simone has been in the hands of the Rougier family since 1830, and is now run by the fourth generation of Rougiers, The tiny AOC truly encompasses a unique terroir , with a microclimate surrounded by pine forest, Mont Sainte Victoire, and the Arc river.

The Palette AOC was created in 1948, through the effort of Jean Rougier, the owner and winemaker of Cheateau Simone. In his original application to the INAO, he asked for recognition of the Chateau Simone AOC because they were the only property in the 42 hectacres (100 acres) region. The Chateau Simone AOC was granted in 1946, but was renamed to Palette two years later. Palette now boasts three wineries in its region, however, Chateau Simone accounts for 20 hectacres of vineyards nearly half of the region’s total land.

The wine is comprised of Grenache 45%, Mourvèdre 30%, Cinsaut 5%, with the remaining 20% a mix of Syrah, Castet, Manosquin, Carignan, various Muscatel. All of the grapes are hand harvested, and are grown without the use of pesticides. It is interesting to me that all of the vines grow on NORTH facing slopes, and average more than 50 years of age.

The wine is fermented using all native yeasts in small tanks, with maceration lasting anywhere from 15 to 21 days. It is then aged in small casks for 8 months before being moved to wood barrels of varying ages, for about a year. The wine is blended and bottled without filtration, but I found absolutely 0 sediment in my bottle.

I did however, find mold on the outside of my cork – I am including this only to show that it in no way means that there is anything wrong with the wine. I am showing the rest of the cork – despite my having hacked the opening completely – so that you can see the interior of the cork was absolutely sound.

My notes have aromas of black cherry, garrigue, minerality, and vanilla, which were also reflected on the palate. This wine was luscious and juicy, with medium plus acidity, silky tannins and slight hint of tobacco spice on the finish. This a fantastic food wine. On it’s own it might not be for everyone, but with food, it really is beautiful.

I paired this wine with a southern-fied versin of a Cassoulet – you may have seen this recipe from me previously – it is an absolute favorite. The top is actually a crust of cornbread – that’s right y’all;).

I hope this has peaked your interest in trying red wines from Provence. Please join the French Winophiles this Saturday, February 20th at 11 a.m. EST on Twitter by following the #winophiles hashtag. Also, make sure you check out these articles from the rest of the Winophiles on the subject – it makes for some delicious reading.

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  • Jane of Always Ravenous showcases Provencal Braised Beef with Bandol Rouge.
  • Lynn over at Savor the Harvest offers Winning Red Wines from Provence with Lamb Meatballs: Domaine Hauvette and Clos Cibonne.
  • Susannah from Avviranre tells us how Beef Stew and A Glass of Bandol Rouge Warms the Heart.
  • Jeff of Food Wine Click! shares Provençal Memories and Mas de Gourgonnier Rouge.
  • Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles writes Bandol Rouge – An Elegant and Wild Provençe Red Wine from Château Ste. Anne.

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. culinarycam says:

    Southern cassoulet! Genius, Cathie. Thanks for joining in the fun this month. I’ve added your post to mine and will include it in the final HMTL, if Payal needs me to post that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lynn says:

    Love the garrigue notes of many of these wines. North facing… interesting to me as well. I started to dive into that but pulled myself back. Perhaps a Q for the chat. Your version of Cassoulet, I need to try it, delicious!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so used to hearing South facing, the north really surprised me, I’d love to know more about that! Cheers Lynn!

      Like

  3. I just read about Chateau Simone in my French Wine Scholar book, how lucky are you to have found and tasted this wine. Love the pairing, so Southern!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. robincgc says:

    What a fascinating AOC! So tiny at just 40 or so hectares. And the North facing slopes and old vines. You have really piqued my interest in learning more about Chateau Simone and the Palette AOC.
    And I love that you made a Southern version of Cassoulet!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am really intrigued too Robin – this was a first for me and Is love to try more.

      Liked by 2 people

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