A Different Shade of Provençe

Provençe is known for rosé wine, which accounted for 90% of the region’s wine production in 2019. Ninety percent! You would think that since it takes red grapes (usually) to make rosé, there would be a healthy production of red, but there isn’t. Red wines represent only 6% of the wines produced in Provençe making red a rarity. You don’t have to be a math whiz to know where I’m going with this – the rarest wines from Provençe are white – a mere 4%.

Despite the miniscule percentage, I’ve somehow managed to enjoy several white wines from the region, and I feel like I’ve stumbled across one of the best kept secrets of the wine world.

Located on the southern border of France, running between the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, there is no denying the beauty of Provençe . I’ve only been to the south of France once, but I often daydream of returning. Usually I imagine a gloriously beautiful and Insta-worthy scene of my glass of rosé against the stunning Côte d’Azur backdrop. I’m definitely adding a glass of white wine to these daydream scenes now, which I am sure will be nearly as aesthetically pleasing.

Provençe has several wine making regions, but 96% of the wine production comes from the three largest: Cotes de Provence, Coteaux Varois, and Coteaux d’Aix. There are 5 distinct regions located within the Cotes de Provence: Sainte-Victoire, Fréjus, La Londe, Pierrefeu, and Notre-Dame des Anges. There are also the regions of Cassis, Bandol, Bellet, Pierrevert, and Pallete .

My wines are from Cassis, Coteaux Varois, and Coteaux d’Aix, so I will discuss these regions a little bit more below.

As always, Wine Folly provides the most clear and concise visual.

As always, Wine Folly provides the most clear and concise visual of these regions. See this map and more at www.winefolly.com

The climate is defined mostly by it’s sunshine – nearly 3,000 hours annually – it’s poor, rocky, limestone soils, and the Mistral winds. The Mistral winds are known for wreaking havoc on most living things, but they are actually beneficial to the vines, warding off pests and allowing for organic growing practices to be the norm.

Originally settled by the Phoenicians some 2600 years ago, Provence is the first wine region of France. It is thought that the first planted vines were of Ugni Blanc, in the region that is now know as Cassis.

So let’s get to the wines!

Clos Ste Magdeleine|2019 Cassis White Classic Wine|13.5%|$39.99

White wine may be rare for the Provençe region as a whole, but the Cassis AOC, is dedicated to it. The 215 hectacre region does make rosé and red wines, however, white wine represents nearly two-thirds of the wines produced in the region.

The region of Cassis was one of the first wine regions in France to gain AOC status, on May 15, 1936. For perspective, the Cotes de Provence region did not gain AOC status until 1977. Cassis is home to only 12 producers, and Clos Ste Magdeleine is the only one located completely within a national park, which might be reason enough to visit…. But. Lord. Have. Mercy. This wine has me completely enamored.

Clos Ste Magdeleine dates back to 1860, and holds the distinction of having won a Gold Medal at the 1900 World’s Fair. Today, Jonathan Sack, and his wife, represent the 4th generation of the Sack-Zafiropla family at the helm of this stunning property. The 9 hectares of vineyards are located on terraces that sprawl all the way down to the Mediterranean Sea on extremely poor stony, limestone soils. The average age of vines is 40 years and the property is certified organic.

This wine is fermented with only native yeasts in stainless steel tanks. It goes into two 500L demi-muids until late spring or early summer. It is then bottled unfined. This wine is comprised of 40% Marsanne, 30% Ugni Blanc, 25% Clairette, and 5% Bourboulenc. My notes on this wine are long because it kept evolving in my glass. There is so much going on here. I found aromas of hazelnuts, licorice, stone, crème fraiche, bread, honey, and some pear and subtle citrus. Maybe kiwi. On the palate I found smoke, tobacco spice, honey, and cheese rind. There is a delightful bitter note – like tonic water, and slight salinity. An elegant mouthfeel with perfectly balanced acidity.

If you can find this wine, I highly recommend the slight splurge. I was able to find this bottle at Perrine’s Wine Shop in Atlanta.

Chateau Des Annibals| La Jouvencelle| Coteaux Varois|13.5%|$27.99

This wine hails from the Coteaux Varois en Provençe AOC which was established in 1993. The white wine production numbers for this 2,885 hectare region were a mere 2% in 2019. The white wines from this AOC must be at least 30% Vermentino (Rolle) and have less than 4 grams of residual sugar.

Cheateau Des Annibals is located at the very northern end of the appellation. It is thought that during the Second Punic War, that the ancient conqueror Hannibal traveled with his elephants over the lands where the estate and vineyards sit. The name of the Chateau and the elephant label are a nod to this history.

Current owners, Henri and Nathalie Wulf Coquelle, are completely dedicated to the 40 hectare estate, practicing organic and environmentally responsible growing and production methods. I found this to be tres interessant:

We provide our vines with natural herbal teas: nettle, willow, horsetail, yarrow. . . This strengthens their natural defense system.

Chateau Des Annibals website

The website also tells me that “work in the cellar follows the lunar calendar…..and respects all living things” – I’m once again enamored. The grapes are harvested at night, and undergo battonage – which definitely shows up in the decadent mouthfeel of this wine.

The La Jouvencelle’s composition is 75% Vermentino (Rolle), 15% Grenache Blanc, and 10% Ugni Blanc. The 2 hectares of vineyards for this wine are surrounded by woods, scrubland, and streams. The seasons are extreme, with cold winters and hot summers, but the drastic diurnal shifts keeps the vines happy during growing season.

Aromas of anise, herb, stone fruit, melon, and I swear I could smell a slight salinity. I’ve tasted salinity in wine but I don’t think I’ve ever had it come up in the aromas! The fruit profile carried over onto the palate, where the salinity showed up as well. This wine had a rich, full mouthfeel, but with an excellent acidity that made it refreshing and completely delightful. I noted that quinine/tonic water note on the finish.

Truly a beautiful wine. This bottle was also purchased at Perrine’s Wine Shop in Atlanta.

Chateau Paradis|2017 White Wine|Coteaux d’Aix|13.5%|$14.99

Chateau Paradis is located in the northern part of the Coteaux d’Aix en Provence AOC which gained the designation in 1985. This is the largest of the three AOCs in this post at 4,288 hectares. White wine accounts for 6% of total annual production.

Following the Phoenicians, the Romans came, and they built Villa Regina on this property. The current owners still find remnants of the ancient Villa to this day. Modern history is that these vineyards became Cheateau Paradis in 1980, with the winery and cellar being built in 2003. The current owners, the Thieben family, have been at the helm since 2011. The property is 80 hectares, and a whopping 10% of their 400,000 bottle production are white wines.

The grapes are hand harvested, and undergo a cold water rinse – you don’t see that too often – followed by stainless steel fermentation. This wine has Sauvignon Blanc in the composition – 50% Vermentino (Rolle), 30% Sauvignon Blanc, and 20% Grenache Blanc, giving it the most familiar flavor profile in my opinion.

In full disclosure, this was the first Provencal white wine that I had and it was about a year ago. There were mineral notes, slight salinity, and that quinine/tonic note. The fruit was more prominent on this wine with citrus/grapefruit aromas from the Sauvignon Blanc. The wine was smooth, crisp, and so elegant on the tongue.

The price on this wine makes it an exceptional every day wine, and also an easy entry point to dip a toe into the white wines of Provence.

I’ve decided Provence will be the focus of my attention for August, so look for more to come here and on the socials.

Have you had a white wine from Provence? I’d love to hear about it.


Sources:

Vins de Provence

Vins de Cassis

Chateau des Annibals

Provence Wine Zine

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