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France - Provence Côte d’Azur: Time Out South of France guide - Provence wine touring Les Baux-de-Provence, Gigondas, Séguret, Rasteau, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cassis & Bandol, Costières de Nîmes. Côtes de Provence: 'Massif des Maures', Rosé road trip, Bellet, La Londe-les-Maures, Coteaux d'Aix, Coteaux Varois.

Time Out South of France guide 2009'Provence & Côte d'Azur wine touring'

PROVENCAL WINE
These words were published in distilled form in the smart and very thorough (I'm slightly biased of course although not getting commission for this shameless plug) 2009 edition of the Time Out South of France guide. All rights © Richard Mark James / Time Out.
When browsing through the many words written about the history of growing grapes and making wine in southeast France, you’ll no doubt come across plenty of that ‘since Roman’ and ‘Phoenician times’ or ‘Mediaeval monks’ stuff. However, it almost goes without saying that the region’s wine roots and culture are just as ingrained as its food and cuisine; as well as the way countless picturesque vine-scapes effortlessly mould its very varied terrain. As is happening in other vinous parts of France, Provence - Côte d’Azur winegrowers are striving to keep up with ‘les Martin’, let alone the Jones’ and Changs, and changing tastes at home and worldwide. The region has plenty to offer on the wine front with several quite different wine appellations, some of them household names and others hardly known beyond the borders of 'departments' 13, 83 or 84.
There’s the covert Bellet AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée*) hiding in the hills behind Nice, in contrast to the all-encompassing Côtes de Provence and Coteaux d’Aix regions. To the west, a gladiator’s throw from that ancient city (ah, those Romans again), Costières de Nîmes is just as happening as inland Provencal wine areas such as Côtes du Ventoux or Luberon. East of Nîmes, south of Avignon the almost entirely organic Baux-de-Provence appellation (see below) is just waiting to be explored, circling that spectacular historical village. Talking of hills, Gigondas and Rasteau (see below), snuggling up to the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains, are, unjustly, relatively undiscovered wine villages to a wider audience, compared to more-or-less established monarchy such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape on the way to Avignon, or Bandol (ditto below) overlooking the sea in the western Var.
[* What is AOC and does it mean a wine's better? A big topic! All it actually means is some kind of guarantee of origin but often in reality not quality, despite strict rules on paper (although they're trying to overhaul the system because of rampant self-interest and local politics inherent in each AOC). So, no, non-AOC isn't necessarily inferior just different or doesn't conform to outdated rules. Many French producers still make out it's the be-all-and-end-all (or more importantly wish it really was: I won't get into terroir and the 'taste of place' aspect here...), a lot of French consumers still appear to believe this (maybe not young people who are confused and not drinking wine), but most British wine drinkers probably don't know and don't care! And who can blame them.]
Up until now, the Provencal wine scene was perhaps characteristically more sedate, certainly less vociferous than their winegrowing neighbours in the more activist Languedoc and Catalan-hearted Roussillon. However, winemakers appear to have reacted quickly to ride the zeitgeist - especially the spiralling popularity of pink wine - while reminding people about the region’s natural assets as a great wine travel destination. Provence is after all the quintessential land of rosé, certainly in quantity but not always quality: this cosmopolitan wine style makes up three-quarters of some appellations’ production. The relatively hot and dry climate favours a wealth of red grape varieties, the key ingredient for rosé of course, although certain areas such as Cassis (read on below) are in the minority being better known for their white wines.
So, there’s a time-honoured tradition of making fruity and sometimes quite fine, dry rosés in southern France. Not just for summer drinking, many of them have the fruitiness of a red to go with Provencal dishes yet retain the crisp refreshing bite of a chilled white. Bouillabaisse with cheese-topped croutons and piquant rouille comes to mind; or fleshy seafood, red mullet, anchovies and monkfish; guinea fowl and chunky ratatouille… The best ones, and the dearest (mind you, a bit of a cheek charging the same price as their cask-aged reds), are often (although not always or exclusively) from Bandol, Les Baux, Tavel and parts of Côtes de Provence.
They are made from ‘free-run’ juice drained or ‘bled’ off (hence the French term saignée) from crushed red grapes (such as Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon or Tibouren), after steeping on the skins for a few hours to pick up a hint of colour. The juice is then fermented fairly cool to preserve fresh aromas and fruit – meaning the rest of the winemaking is done as for a white wine. Only the sturdier, more expensive rosé styles get better after, say, over a year in bottle; so make sure you buy the youngest vintage possible.
Having said that, Provence is of course home to some celebrated big-hearted reds. Châteauneuf-du-Pape needs little introduction; winemakers here have done a sterling job of creating an image of red wine nirvana revered around the globe. The words fame and fortune seem particularly appropriate, as most Châteauneuf starts at €10-€15 with much higher prices for top estates. However, these opulent warming reds can offer a lot of pleasure partnered with e.g. game, lamb, cured sausage or Gruyère. The central grape varieties are Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre (plus more obscure ones like Counoise), which usually get very ripe in the hot summers and dry pebbley soils this area is well known for. Interesting to see whether these heady reds with sometimes 14%+ alcohol will retain their popularity, at a time when people are talking about drinking lighter wines.
Enough of the pontificating (ho ho), here are a few esteemed Châteauneuf producers in or close to the village itself, which is in the middle of this surprisingly sprawling appellation: Domaine Chante Cigale, Domaine du Pégau, Château Fortia, Château Mont-Redon and Domaine La Roquète. Hard core enthusiasts should check out the ‘Maison des vins’, 8 Rue Maréchal Foch, 84232 Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Tel: 04 90 83 70 69. Difficult to get an invitation to cult names such as Château de Beaucastel, Château la Nerthe, Château Rayas and Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe; but you could try! That list was actually meant as a bit of a name dropping guide to CNDP's most illustrious estates: I suspect they mostly only entertain important trade customers, as they sell all their wine quite easily at high prices. So, it might help if you have any hot contacts in the biz! All contact details at www.chateauneuf.com.
White wine is generally in the minority in southeast France, with a few honourable exceptions. The varieties you’ll come across when exploring vineyards include Rolle (also called Vermentino), Sémillon, Ugni blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc… Most of these are now found across the South, although some are also common, or even originated from Italy, Corsica or Spain. Apart from Cassis (see below), around La Londe-les-Maures (ditto), the odd white wine-nuts producer here and there… other areas that might surprise you with their whites include some villages in the southern Rhone valley. King of reds Châteauneuf-du-Pape boasts certain estates who are highly regarded for their textured, creamy and nutty whites that can age magnificently. Same goes for the Gigondas area.
Getting your head around the vast Côtes de Provence (www.vinsdeprovence.com) region isn’t an immediately obvious task – this appellation (about 20,000 hectares = 50k acres) stretches across the whole of the Var département towards Marseille to the west and Grasse to the east. On the other hand, that reassuring name might help when making a snap decision in the face of a lengthy wine list and impatient sommelier. All those vineyards and villages mean very diverse terrain, producers and personalities. The end result is wines ranging from cheap and cheerful, through very drinkable and good value to quite serious and pricey; yet all labelled with the same AOC badge.
To break it up into more identifiable zones, and thus in theory more distinctive wines, growers have been moving towards creating a handful of recognisable sub-regions; while leaving CDP in place for those who want to use the uncomplicated Provence ‘brand-name’ for everyday supermarket rosés. So, when planning your wine tour, it’s worth concentrating on a specific area and trying to get acquainted with the best producers within it.
The stretch from Hyères to St-Tropez, shadowed by the Massif des Maures range inland, offers scenic touring and several quality-minded estates. To start, there’s a pocket of vineyards just northwest of Hyères around La Crau: try Domaine de Mont-Redon (04 94 66 73 86, www.mont-redon.net). La Londe-les-Maures is also a good place to spend a bit of time, as there are over 20 producers including some rated for their white wines. Recommended: Château Sainte-Marguerite (Le Haut Pansard, 04.94.00.44.44, www.chateausaintemarguerite.com) who makes full-bodied concentrated reds, lively refreshing rosés and an unusual white too. Between La Londe and Bormes-les-Mimosas, towards the sea on the winding Route de Léoube, two names to note: Domaine de la Sanglière (04 94 00 48 58, www.domaine-sangliere.com) and Château de Brégançon (04.94.64.80.73, www.chateau-de-bregancon.fr). And not far from St-Tropez near Gassin, there’s one of the grandest Cru Classés (an old unofficial classification): Château Minuty (Route de Ramatuelle, 04.94.56.12.09).
The western chunk of Provence is Coteaux d’Aix country (variable in both senses), spreading from the Durance river to the sea and from the Rhône to Montagne Sainte-Victoire. Recommended: Château des Gavelles (classic zingy rosé and fairly solid tangy red) and Château Beaulieu (juicy elegant rosé: see www.pgadomaines.com). Sainte-Victoire has given its name to a recently carved out, Côtes de Provence sub-region (www.vins-sainte-victoire.com) located east of Aix within earshot of that handsome mountain, centred on Trets. Growers are furious about the TGV line extension to Nice that will cut right through their vineyards; will they win their case? On the way there, there’s also the blink-and-miss-it Palette AOC, which serves up the odd reasonable red.
Moving on to the elevated terrain between Cuers and Le Luc, check out Domaine du Grand Cros near Carnoules (04 98 01 80 08, www.grandcros.fr) and, north of Brignoles, Domaine des Aspras (04 94 59 59 70, www.aspras.com) in Correns, whose Cuvée Tradition rosé is delicate and classy. Brad and Angelina were ‘spotted’ in this village before they landed at nearby organic estate Château Miraval (04 94 86 39 33, www.miraval.com) close to Le Val. The Provence-ophile couple were turned down by Château Val-Joanis (04 90 79 20 77, www.val-joanis.com) in trendy Côtes du Luberon (southeast Vaucluse in its awesome regional park) but bagged grandiose Miraval instead - leased or bought depending on the media. Its vineyards lie in the Coteaux Varois AOC, which takes in 28 villages around Brignoles between the craggy Sainte-Baume and Bessillons ranges. Another impressive estate in the area is the beautifully set Château Lafoux in Tourves (subtle perfumed and fruity rosé: 04 94 78 77 86, www.chateaulafoux.com).
Côtes de Provence Fréjus is yet another new sub-appellation drawn around that attractive Roman town, neighbouring Saint-Raphaël and a bit inland. Nice has its own homegrown wines that you won’t find elsewhere: Bellet. This pretty little vineyard area lies behind the city on steep slopes in the Alpine foothills, and is easily explored in a morning trip. Bellet’s rosés and reds are made from unheard-of grape varieties such as La Folle Noire and Le Braquet, and must surely be the ultimate match for salade niçoise! A trio of producers to hunt out: Château de Crémat (04 92 15 12 15, www.chateau-cremat.com), Château de Bellet (04 93 37 81 57, chateaudebellet@aol.com) and Clos Saint Vincent (04 92 15 12 69, clos.st.vincent@wanadoo.fr). All you need to know at www.vinsdebellet.com.
Growers in the Costières de Nîmes (www.costieres-nimes.comappellation make over 50% red wine on average and a lot of rosé too. This increasingly dynamic region spreads out to the south of the city; here are a couple of recommended estates: Château de Campuget (30129 Manduel. 04 66 20 20 15, www.campuget.com) and organically farmed Domaine Pastouret (Route de Jonquières, 30127 Bellegarde. 04 66 01 62 29, www.domaine-pastouret.com). Finally, Côtes du Ventoux (www.cotes-ventoux.com) is yet another mountain-shadowed, undiscovered and red-dominated inland Provence region. It’s located to the north of the Luberon, and its 100 domaines and 15 cooperatives are dotted across the eastern side of Carpentras. Try Château de l'Isolette (Route de Bonnieux, 84400 Apt. Tel: 04 90 74 16 70).
By the way, the maximum blood alcohol level for driving in France is 0.5 g/l and strictly enforced nowadays. So we recommend the driver, if not teetotal, tastes and spits out – feels a bit gross at first but you get used to it. Winemakers, buyers and even journalists do it all the time! Alternatively, chose a compact wine route and walk or cycle (the latter option still a bit dodgy as I know from experience). And what about the basic 'etiquette' for visiting vineyards? Best to call in advance - the bigger glitzier properties have set opening hours, which vary according to season and might have an employee who deals with visitors. Others are one-man/woman operations and available by appointment only. Obviously vintage time (from late August to late September) is an exciting time to visit but the owner/winemaker will probably be too busy to attend to people personally. Occasionally some estates charge a small fee for a full tasting and tour, but most are happy to do this for nothing, although, without forcing you to buy, would expect you to take something even if just one bottle.

TOUR 1: LES BAUX-DE-PROVENCE
This somewhat unique wine region, centred on the Mediaeval village of Les Baux-de-Provence with the Alpilles hills and wonderfully raw countryside as a backdrop, has been gathering a following in its own hush-hush way. There are a dozen estates encompassing eight villages, which means it’s perfect for a compact tour (by bike even) in discovery of lush rustic red wines and full-on rosés. What gives Les Baux a contemporary eco-edge is the fact that 85% of their vineyards are organically farmed or, even fussier, on biodynamic principles (homeopathic techniques incorporating planetary and atmospheric elements). To top that, most winegrowers want to make organics an essential requirement for the AOC.
Grapes-wise, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon work harmoniously with warm-blooded Med varieties like Grenache and Mourvèdre. The best reds are impressive but can be rather expensive (€20+) - Les Baux is fashionable with well-heeled visitors in the know - although some wines start at a reasonable €6. Growers have long been lobbying for Baux status for their white wines, and this finally looks like it’s on the cards, which could be a good thing in consolidating recognition for the area’s wines (whites are either Vin de Pays or confusingly Coteaux d’Aix). As long as future Baux whites make a real quality statement rather than it being a means to increasing prices! They want to integrate the more characterful Marsanne, Roussanne and Sémillon varieties with Grenache blanc, Rolle and Clairette; a few sumptuous barrel-fermented styles are being made.
One of the rising band of biodynamists is Château Romanin (Route de Cavaillon, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. 04.90.92.45.87, www.romanin.com) located near the airfield. Owners Jean-Louis and Anne-Marie Charmolüe, previously of Château Montrose in Bordeaux, have continued this demanding growing philosophy since they bought it in 2006 and make seductive smoky reds. Back towards St-Rémy is Dominique Hauvette’s Domaine (Voie Aurelia, Quartier de la Haute Galine, St-Rémy. 04.90.92.03.90, domainehauvette@wanadoo.fr), who also practises biodynamics and rears 40 horses (no shortage of organic fertiliser then)! Characterful reds based mostly on Grenache and, unusually Cinsault. Heading east again, off the D99 before the turning for Eygalières, is Domaine de Terres Blanches (Route de Cavaillon, Chemin n°107628, St-Remy. 04.90.95.91.66, www.terresblanches.fr) jointly run by the Parmentier-Jolly families,whose 'Aurelia' red is a classic Syrah / Cabernet Sauvignon blend.
Moving on to Les Baux, head south from St-Rémy on the D5 until you see Mas de la Dame (04.90.54.32.24, www.masdeladame.com) on the right. This is where, aptly, sisters Anne Poniatowski and Caroline Missoffe make some award-winning red, white and rosé wines. Also not far from the Bauxite city along the D27, and offering great views of it, is Mas Sainte-Berthe (04.90.54.39.01, www.mas-sainte-berthe.com), which is owned by Geneviève Rolland whose winemaker is Christian Nief. Their rich white is made from Grenache Blanc and Roussanne and traditional reds age well.
Other estates on the Baux trail:
Eygalières - Domaine de la Vallongue (04.90.95.91.70, www.domainedelavallongue.com).
Mouriès / Le Destet - Domaine de Lauzières (04.90.47.62.88, www.lauzieres.com): Jean-Daniel Schlaepfer makes three different reds including Sine Nomine, a sumptuous 'table wine' which breaks the rules by using the Petit Verdot variety. Jean-André Charial (04 90 54 56 54, www.oustaudebaumaniere.com) makes a fruity powerful red out of fruit drawn from Lauzières that goes under the enigmatic name of L'Affectif. Mas de Gourgonnier (04.90.47.50.45, www.gourgonnier.com).
Fontvieille - Olivier Penel (04.90.54.62.95, www.olivierdauge.com), Château d’Estoublon (04.90.54.64.00, www.estoublon.com).
Saint-Etienne-du-Grès - Château Dalmeran (04.90.49.04.04,chateau.dalmeran@wanadoo.fr): chunky tasty red that gets more complex with age.Domaine de Trévallon (www.domainedetrevallon.com) - owners the Dürrbach family left the AOC, as their delicious biodynamically reared reds are built from much more Cabernet Sauvignon than is allowed!
Look out for the Baux annual two-day wine festival held in May.

TOUR 2: GIGONDAS TO RASTEAU AND BEYOND
Red wine lovers should delve deeper around a few of the pretty hilltop wine villages found east/northeast of Orange, whose vineyards snuggle up against the jagged Dentelles de Montmirail hills where you can also take a walk on the wild side along marked pathways. You could spend a couple of leisurely days touring between Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Séguret, Rasteau and Cairanne, for example; that complete stretch comes to about 20km.
This is serious Côtes du Rhône ‘Villages’ country: some of them are allowed to put their name on the label after those words, and others have their own separate village AOC. A bureaucratic privilege on the surface but there is history and substance behind it, since there are a fair few growers in these areas making spicy chunky reds from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre to rival Châteauneuf-du-Pape. A little further south still you’ll find Beaumes-de-Venise, famous (well, in France at least) for its delicious sweet fortified Muscats as well as similarly hearty reds.
Start in Gigondas country (which probably comes from Latin for joy: check out their poetic, Roman-tinged site www.gigondas-vin.com), which is easily reached via the charming village of Vacqueyras from the south. Take the D7 then D8 towards La Bégude and, before crossing the river, you’ll find Saurel-Chauvet who own Domaines La Bouscatière and Le Péage (Quartier la Beaumette, 84190 Gigondas. Tel: 04 90 70 96 80, www.saurel-chauvet.com). Spicy full-on reds made mostly from old-vine Grenache, and using more Mourvèdre than most growers around here. Head back south on the D8 and take a left turn; they all lead into Gigondas itself eventually! It’s not difficult to find Gabriel Meffre’s (Domaine de Longue Toque, 84190 Gigondas. Tel: 04.90.12.30.21, www.gabrielmeffre.comcaveau once you’ve sussed out the one-way streets. Meffre is quite a big operation but that doesn’t stop them making great examples of the local wines. Longue Toque is their prize vineyard and also the name of this cellar/wine shop (their head office is elsewhere in the village).
Head north from Gigondas passing through Sablet and on to Séguret with its 14th Century bits, which deserves a stop-off for obvious cliffhanging reasons. Then take the winding road out of the village into the hills towards Vaison-la-Romaine, where you’ll eventually come to signposted Domaine de Mourchon (La Grande Montagne, 84110 Séguret. 04 90 46 70 30, www.domainedemourchon.com). Scots couple Walter and Ronnie McKinlay set up this leading estate in 1998 and will give you a warm welcome.Two equally impressive reds under the CDRV Séguret AOC called Tradition and Grande Réserve.
Return to Séguret then go north to the roundabout on the D977, and keep heading for Roaix (you have to to cross the river) then southwest following for Rasteau. Cave de Rasteau is on the main road (Route des Princes d’Orange, 84110 Rasteau. Tel: 04 90 10 90 10 / 14, www.rasteau.com): the front of the old cellar has been converted into a groovy, stone and glass space. The range is good overall, and you must try their signature AOC Rasteau: a heady Port-like red that’s great with chocolate or mature cheeses. They also organise wine trails and other events. Afterwards walk up the hill and have a look around the timeless village itself.
Resources: more info and wine routes on www.vins-rhone.com. More Rhone profiles to follow on this site.

TOUR 3: CASSIS
A dozen estates spread around the eponymous seaside town make up this small appellation, most of which are a pleasant hike or cycle-ride up the hill away from the madding crowds engulfing Cassis in summer. Less than 200 hectares of vines are planted mainly with white varieties: Ugni Blanc (lacks character but gives freshness), Clairette, Marsanne (the two most interesting), Doucillon or Bourboulenc and Sauvignon Blanc. Over three-quarters of what they make is white wine, making Cassis somewhat quirky in a southern context. Most of the rest is dry rosé plus a tiny amount of red, both colours being fashioned from Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Syrah. With certain wines at €10 a bottle, great value doesn’t spring to mind but they can be more than a pleasant surprise.
The Cassis tour includes four estates, two more or less in town and two out of town; you could visit all of them in one day or split over two occasions. Starting with Clos Sainte Magdeleine owned by François Sack (Avenue du Revestel, 13260 Cassis. Tel: 04 42 01 70 28), which is located southeast of the harbour: take Rue de l’Arène then turn right. His whites are worth trying if you haven’t already discovered them in a local restaurant. Afterwards, head back on yourself but this time go right onto Arène up to the roundabout, then right onto Avenue de Provence where you’ll find Domaine du Bagnol (12 Avenue de Provence, 13260 Cassis. Tel: 04 42 01 78 05). Jean-Louis Genovesi’s white and rosé Cassis are refreshingly different and nicely partner seafood or tapas dishes.
Domaine de la Ferme Blanche (Route de Marseille, 13260 Cassis. Tel: 04 42 01 00 74) is arguably one of Cassis’ best-known vineyards and is a good hike north of Bagnol towards the station. Head west on Provence to the roundabout then north on Avenue du 11 Novembre 1918 alongside the green space Le Jardin des Hespérides, which feeds onto Avenue Joseph Liautaud. Follow this to the right and keep going onto Avenue Auguste Favier, which in turn takes you onto Maréchal Foch and Ave. Albizzi. Route de Marseille and entrance to Ferme Blanche are just past the roundabout, easy on foot or bike but could be tricky in a car thanks to another confusing one-way system (like much of Cassis). Once you’re there, sample and enjoy François Paret’s elegant white wines.
Next stop Château de Fontcreuse (Route Pierre Imbert, 13260 Cassis. Tel: 04 42 01 71 09, www.fontcreuse.com). From the aforementioned roundabout, head north briefly towards the station then take a right across country on the twisty Chemin de Bérard until it hits Emile Bodin. Go straight across onto Chemin de la Douane which forks right and comes out on the D559; turn left heading for La Ciotat, Jean-François Brando’s understated chateau soon comes into view. His estate rolls out over 28 hectares setbelow the Couronne de Charlemagne rock-face, producing a quite exotic white wine half-built from the seductive Marsanne variety, as well as some red (using an oddball cross-breed called Caladoc) and rosé.

TOUR 4: BANDOL
You run into ‘Le Rond-Point des Mourvèdres’ off exit 11 of the A50, La Cadière-Le Castellet to the north of Bandol. A roundabout devoted to the Mourvèdre grape, this scene-setting postage-stamp vineyard lets you know who’s boss. For mythical Mourvèdre shapes not only the heart of the appellation on paper but also the growers’ hearts and minds. This meaty, late-ripening variety needs plenty of sunshine and intimate handling to produce structured wines fit for ageing. You may have seen roundabouts like this on the way into other wine towns: it's a kind-of grass-roots statement about what they do around here! And the locals do look after the vines on it and pick the grapes too (see Bandol's website below for details of the Fetes des Vendanges in October).
Elsewhere in the South, winemakers use less or no Mourvèdre as they struggle to coax such a fine performance out of it: it’s a climate/terrain thing apparently. Red wines have to be at least half Mourvèdre to qualify as AOC Bandol; some are 100%. The best rosés, which are full-bodied and dry, also contain quite a lot of Mourvèdre along with Cinsault, Grenache or Syrah. Bandol’s reputation stems from its reds yet it produces two-thirds rosé (and a touch of usually overpriced white); however, the top estates focus on red.
The Bandol appellation includes the villages of Sanary, Le Castellet, La Cadière d’Azur and parts of St-Cyr-sur-Mer, Le Beausset, Evenos and Ollioules. Its vineyards form a 10km wide, sweeping arena around Bandol itself, where ironically you’d be hard-pressed to find a vine. The rosés go well with exotic seafood such as anchovies, sea urchin and mullet; as well as king prawns or lobster, Chinese or Thai cuisine and grilled vegetables. Red Bandol is a good match for game, duck, pigeon even or a good old steak.
Heading east from the Rond-Point on the D66 towards Le Beausset, take the first right. Domaine Tempier (Chemin des Fanges, Le Plan du Castellet. 04.94.98.70.21, www.domainetempier.com) is owned by the Peyrauds, who, in the early days, were one of a handful who argued Mourvèdre should be the central variety for quality Bandol. The estate is run by talented winemaker Daniel Ravier. Their rosé develops nicely and they make a range of reds; these two single vineyard wines stand out: La Migoua (Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsault, Grenache) and La Tourtine (80% Mourvèdre), both sturdy and concentrated.
Follow the D559b through Le Plan, turn right underneath the motorway onto the Chemin de l’Argile and stay on it until you reach Domaine Lafran-Veyrolles (La Cadière d’Azur. 04 94 90 13 37, www.lafran-veyrolles.com). After tasting their impressive reds and rosé, head back south onto the Chemin de Fontanieu then second right onto Chemin de Pibarnon, which runs onto Chemin de la Paguette. Keep going until you hit Chemin de la Croix des Signaux.
The vineyards of celebrated Château de Pibarnon (Chemin Croix des Signaux, La Cadière. 04.94.90.12.73, www.pibarnon.com) lie on some of the highest slopes in Bandol (300+ metres), where the soil is very chalky and stony. Laid-back aristos Eric de Saint Victor and his father Comte Henri, who rebuilt the estate, believe this helps restrain Mourvèdre making finer wines. Also recommended in La Cadière area: Dom Gros’Noré (675 chemin de l’argile, 04.94.90.08.50, www.gros-nore.com) where the enthusiastic Alain Pascal makes meat-demanding reds; and La Rouvière (04.94.98.58.98, www.bunan.com) owned by the Bunan family and source of their best wines.
Other recommended Bandols:
Around Sainte-Anne du Castellet and Le Brûlat: Bastide Blanche (367 route des Oratoires, 04.94.32.63.20) - quite a wide range of muscular concentrated reds. Tour du Bon (714 chemin de l’Olivette, 04.98.03.66.22, www.tourdubon.com) - Agnès Henry's reds, and one of the AOC's best white wines, show personality and elegant style.
Around Sainte-Anne d'Evenos: Chateau Sainte Anne (Route Nationale 8, 04.66.82.77.41) - Françoise Dutheil de La Rochere's very natural wines are charming and sometimes unpredictable. Domaine de la Laidière (426 chemin de Font Vive, 04.98.03.65.75, http://laidiere.free.fr) - Freddy Estienne makes some of the finest reds in the appellation.
Elsewhere: Le Castellet - Dom Vivonne, Ollioules - Dom Terrebrune. More on them here. Contact details and resources: www.vinsdebandol.com.


Time Out South of France guide - Provence & the Côte d'Azur: 2004-2006 editions Provence wine touring

A version of the following wine touring feature appeared in the 2004 and 2006 editions of this essential guide to the region. Yours truly also compiled/updated the chapter on Marseille and Les Calanques (the rocky hills and gorges that run from the south of the city to Cassis). Click on the picture for more info on the latest edition on Time Out's website.
As you’ll soon notice when travelling around, the south of France is awash with vast areas of picturesque vineyards: sometimes endless rows forming great flat planes, sometimes impossibly steep or rocky terraces. The volume of wine produced between Perpignan and Nice is breathtaking, but there’s been a dramatic shift in thinking. The southeast generally seems less dynamic than the Languedoc-Roussillon, nevertheless there’s plenty of good wine to be found amidst the plonk. Provence and the Côte d’Azur are home to a bewildering array of wine regions: from miniscule Palette just east of Aix and Nice’s bijou Bellet to the huge sweeping Côtes de Provence and Coteaux d’Aix; up-and-coming Costières de Nîmes, Côtes du Ventoux, Cairanne and Rasteau to established royalty like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Bandol. The relatively hot and dry climate prescribes red grape varieties foremost, although certain appellations are rated for their whites such as Cassis.
There’s a long tradition of making dry rosés in the Mediterranean to drink in the summer, which have the fullness of a red to go with local food yet retain the refreshing edge of a chilled white. Southern France is particularly known for its full-bodied, dry and sometimes alcoholic rosés such as Tavel in the Rhône Valley. Provence is quintessentially the land of rosé (70% of some appellations’ production), the best ones – and alas the dearest – from regions such as Bandol and Les Baux. The grapes used include Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvèdre. The finest rosés are made from free-run juice drained or ‘bled’ off – hence the French expression saignée – shortly after crushing (or from pressing the must gently), having macerated on the skins of the (red) grapes for a few hours. The juice is then fermented fairly cool to preserve fresh aromas and fruit, thus made like a white wine. Only the heartiest, more expensive styles will improve in bottle, so make sure you buy the youngest possible.

Bandol
‘Le Rond-Point des Mourvèdres’ stands at exit 11 off the A50, La Cadière-Le Castellet to the north of Bandol. A roundabout dedicated to the Mourvèdre grape variety, where harvesting symbolically begins in early October, lets you know who’s boss around here. As majestic Mourvèdre shapes not only the heart of the region but the hearts and minds of the growers too. This beefy, late-ripening red grape needs plenty of sunshine and intimate handling to control its yield and tannins, thus producing structured, complex yet rounded wines suited to barrel ageing.
Elsewhere in the south, generally (there are exceptions of course especially in parts of the Roussillon) winemakers only use a small proportion of Mourvèdre, as they struggle to coax such a fine performance out of it; and neither do all growers in Bandol it should be said. Here at least 50% is required in the red wines to qualify as Appellation Contrôlée (AC) Bandol. And the best rosés, which are serious, full-bodied & dry, also contain quite a lot of Mourvèdre along with Cinsault and/or Grenache. Bandol’s reputation stems from its reds yet produces two-thirds rosé (plus 5% often ordinary and overpriced white); at the leading estates, this is the reverse with the focus firmly on reds.
AC Bandol – totalling 1400 hectares (3460 acres), less than half the area of Châteauneuf-du-Pape – takes in a handful of villages located on the high ground forming a sweeping amphitheatre around the town. These include Bandol, Sanary, Le Castellet, La Cadière d’Azur and parts of St-Cyr sur Mer, le Beausset, Evenos and Ollioules. The rosés go well with local food such as anchovies, sea urchin, mullet and also ethnic cuisine; red Bandol is a good match for duck or pigeon apparently (the French aren't very squeamish on the bird front).
Heading south briefly on the D82 from the rond-point towards Le Plan du Castellet, you’ll find Domaine Tempier (1082 Chemin des Fanges 83330, 04 94 98 70 21, www.domainetempier.com) owned by the Peyraud family. Back in the early days, Lucien pushed for Mourvèdre to become the main variety (re)planted and hence backbone of the A.C. Their rosé develops nicely in bottle and two top reds are excellent: La Migoua – a single vineyard comprising Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsault and Grenache – and La Tourtine, made up of 80% Mourvèdre hence very sturdy and concentrated.
Follow the D559b south out of Le Plan then take the lane on the right under the motorway. Moulin des Costes (83740 La Cadière d’Azur, 04 94 98 58 98, www.bunan.com), resting on steep terraces laden with flat stones, is one of four estates that collectively create Domaines Bunan, including Château la Rouvière / Mas de la Rouvière where their best wines come from. Château la Rouvière red, the pinnacle of the range, is enriched with over 90% Mourvèdre and a little Syrah. Their full-bodied Blanc de Blancs is made from Clairette Pointue and lovely intense rosé half Mourvèdre with gutsy 14% alcohol.
The vineyards of celebrated Château de Pibarnon (Chemin de la Croix des Signaux, 83740 La Cadière d’Azur, 04 94 90 12 73) border the Bunans’, but the only way there is to take the winding road down, back on the D559b south, to the right and up the hill again. Eric de Saint Victor and his father Henri (the Comte) might strike you as laid-back, former aristos. Pibarnon lies on the highest slopes of Bandol at 300m, where the soil is particularly chalky which they believe tames Mourvèdre. As Eric put it: “It’s very macho, on this soil we manage to make something quite fine.”
Other Bandol producers worth checking out, listed by area:
La Cadière – Domaine du Gros’Noré, 675 Chemin de l’Argile, 04 94 90 08 50, www.gros-nore.comDomaine Lafran-Veyrolles, 2115 Chemin de l’Argile, 04 94 90 13 37.
Le Castellet 83330 – Domaine de la Vivonne, 3345 Montée du Château; 04 94 98 70 09, www.vivonne.com.
Le Brûlat du Castellet 83330 – Domaine de la Tour du Bon, 714 Chemin de l’Olivette; 04 98 03 66 22.
Saint-Cyr sur Mer 83270 – Domaine Sorin, 1617 Route de la Cadière, 04 94 26 62 28; Château Pradeaux, 676 Chemin des Pradeaux, 04 94 32 10 21.
And in addition: Domaine de Terrebrune (they also have a restaurant), Domaine des BaguiersDomaine de l’OlivetteLa Bastide BlancheChâteau Sainte AnneDomaine de la Laidière and Château Romassan's rather expensive ‘Marcel Ott’ rosé. Contact details and further info from www.vinsdebandol.com.



Les Baux de Provence
This obscure yet relatively youthful sub-region – a separate AC was created in 1995 formed around established sites – centres on the historic hilltop village of Les Baux-de-Provence in the Alpilles. The Appellation encompasses only 12 growers spread over 330 hectares (800 acres) thus making it ideal for a compact wine tour, let alone to discover its rich individual reds, full dry rosés and beautiful wild countryside. Here Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, ironically perceived as an Australian blend, harmoniously collide alongside Grenache and Mourvèdre.
The best Baux reds can age sublimely and may justify the high prices some of them command, but others should be more convincing at this level. Nevertheless, the growers have something unique here especially in light of their collective organic philosophy: see next paragraph. The AC white wines are currently classified as Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence but growers are lobbying for Baux status, which could be seen as a cynical attempt to boost the prices of these generally average whites. However, they want to base it on the Marsanne and Roussanne varieties – not permitted for appellation whites at the moment – and Sémillon. Tasting certain complex, barrel-fermented Vins de Pays made from these grapes confirms their potential, and an admirable improvement on some of the Grenache Blanc, Rolle and Clairette blends.
The majority of estates in Les Baux are farmed organically, and one, Château Romanin (13210 Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, 04 90 92 45 87) on biodynamic principles (in fact now two at least including Domaine de Trévallon: Ed.): in short, even stricter with homeopathic methodology, taking account of astronomical and atmospheric conditions. Owners Colette and Jean-Pierre Peyraud have successfully followed this philosophy since they bought the property in 1990. To find it, follow the arrow taking the path on the right by the airfield. Back towards St-Rémy is Domaine Hauvette (Quartier de la Haute Galine, 13210 Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, 04 90 92 03 90), where Dominique Hauvette makes a rich oaky white and highly rated reds. Heading east again, but still in St-Rémy off the D99 before the turning for Eygalières, is Domaine de Terres Blanches (13210 Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, 04 90 95 91 66).
A few kilometres south along the D24, you’ll come across Domaine de la Vallongue (Quartier de la Vallongue, 13810 Eygalières, 04 90 95 91 70) who make a fab rosé and traditional reds. South of here and east of Le Destet you’ll spot the vineyards of Domaine de Lauzières (13890 Mouriès, 04 90 47 62 88), but there’s no cellar! Jean-André Charial also makes wines from this estate’s grapes, such as his splendid L’Affectif/ve red. Mas de Gourgonnier (13890 Mouriès, 04 90 47 50 45) is situated on the other side of Le Destet.
Moving back towards Les Baux via Maussane on the D5, Mas de la Dame (13520 Les Baux-de-Provence, 04 90 54 32 24, www.masdeladame.com) is well worth a visit. Anne Poniatowski and Caroline Missoffe offer award-winning wines, including the elegant Cuvée La Stèle red and creamy Coin Caché white. Not far from the ancient Bauxite city along the D27 stretches Mas Sainte-Berthe (13520 Les Baux-de-Provence, 04 90 54 39 01), whose lovely 1995 red demonstrates the wines’ ageing potential. Heading west, the Auge valley is home to Olivier Penel (13990 Fontvieille, 04 90 54 62 95, www.olivierdauge.com) and his ‘new wave’ leaning but still good reds. Further along this road towards Fontvieille, stop off at Château d’Estoublon (Route de Maussane, 13990 Fontvieille, 04 90 54 64 00) before travelling north again via Saint-Etienne-du-Grès to Château Dalmeran (13103 Saint-Etienne-du-Grès, 04 90 49 04 04). Hopefully you’ll be able to buy a bottle of their superb 1997 red.


Côtes de Provence – Massif des Maures
Getting to grips with the Côtes de Provence as a whole isn’t easy and ultimately proves pointless. A region on this scale – the appellation extends across the Var over 19,000 hectares (47,000 acres) from within the Bouches-du-Rhône to the edge of Alpes Maritimes – naturally bears very diverse terrain, producers and personalities. The result is wines ranging from rough, harmless but cheap, through very drinkable to serious and pricey, all officially wearing the same AC badge. So it’s worth concentrating on a specific area then the best names within it.
The coastal strip between Hyères and St-Tropez bordering the Massif des Maures offers scenic touring and some high quality estates. La Londe-les-Maures provides a good place to start and a terroir particularly successful for white wines – not the norm in rosé country. Take a left at the main lights in the town, heading north over the N98, and follow the signs for Château Sainte Marguerite (Le Haut Pansard 83250, 04 94 00 44 44, www.chateausaintemarguerite.com). This peaceful spot surrounded by handsome vines is owned by Jean-Pierre Fayard, whose Cru Classé (an ancient, unofficial classification that’s stuck with certain producers) wines include a fine white made from low yielding Rolle, Sémillon and Ugni blanc, and smoky textured red from Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Rejoin the D559 in La Londe then turn right just out of town. Follow this twisty lane until you reach a mini-roundabout where another right takes you to Clos Mireille (Route de Brégançon 83250, 04 94 01 53 53, www.domaines-ott.com), signposted Domaines Ott who own this and other properties in Côtes de Provence and Bandol. Clos Mireille, also a Cru Classé, is unusual in that it currently only produces white wines: the floral citrusy Blanc de Blancs and richer oak-aged L’Insolent.
Turn right back onto the country lane and follow the signs for Brégançon; a quarter of an hour or so later you’ll come across the aristocratic Château de Brégançon itself (639 route de Léoube, 83230 Bormes-les-Mimosas; 04 94 64 80 73), appropriately another Cru Classé. Recommended tasting includes their Prestige rosé and limited edition Cuvée Hermann Sabran red (15€), with one third Cabernet Sauvignon lending a Bordeaux-like finesse and power.
A further 30-40 minutes towards St-Tropez – sticking to the winding D559 coastal road – will eventually bring you to Gassin, home of one of the grandest Cru Classé estates Château Minuty (Route de Ramatuelle 83580, 04 94 56 12 09) with its smart gardens and cute Napoléon III chapel. To find it, either turn right onto the D89 and climb almost to the village but go left just before the top, descend a little and take a right into the side entrance; or circle around and approach from the Ramatuelle road via the main gate. Their Cuvée Réserve rosé and red are pretty special. You could finish the tour by visiting Château Barbeyrolles (04 94 56 33 58) next door, where you can also taste wines from the owners’ other property Château la Tour de l’Evêque.
Some more recommended Provence rosés: Château Pansard Côtes de Provence, Domaine de Mont Redon Côtes de Provence Cuvée Louis Joseph, Domaine de la Sanglière Côtes de Provence Cuvée Prestige, Château Lafoux Coteaux Varois, Château des Gavelles Coteaux d’Aix, Château Beaulieu Coteaux d’Aix and Domaine Grand Cros.
All rights © Richard Mark James / Time Out

Provence 'Massif des Maures': Sainte Marguerite, Clos Mireille (Ott), Brégançon, Minuty...
Rosé road trip: Bellet, Côtes de Provence, La Londe-les-Maures, Bandol, Coteaux d'Aix, Coteaux Varois...

Provence in the pink: rosé road trip
Summer 2005

A version of this wine touring piece first appeared in the summer 2005 edition of Redhot, the in-flight magazine for Virgin Express (now defunct I think).
It’s official: rosé wines are hot. Maybe it’s down to the success of those vibrantly pink, alcoholic fruit bombs from Australia or California; or sophisticated habits picked up in the south of France and Spain; or perhaps it’s global warming changing our taste buds… And the international ‘Mondial du Rosé’ competition held in Cannes in April further proves how seriously these wines are taken. Sales of rosé were up by over a third in UK supermarkets last year; in Germany, apparently nearly 10% of wine bought to take home is rosé; and Americans drink about one bottle in five of the stuff. But enough of the facts and figures: how do you make good rosé and where can you find the best ones on the Côte d’Azur?
Thanks to an abundance of red grapes, there’s a long history of producing dry rosés on the Mediterranean, which offer the fruitiness of a red wine to go with local food yet the freshness of a chilled white for summer drinking. Provence is the land of rosé par excellence, certainly in quantity but not always quality. These wines are a great match for bouillabaisse with cheesy croutons and garlicky rouille; plump seafood and red mullet, anchovy or monkfish; guinea fowl and ratatouille…
Classy rosés are made by draining the juice, or ‘bleeding’ off (the French call it rosé de saignée), after soaking with the skins of crushed red grapes for a few hours. This gives the delicate pink colour. The juice is then ‘cool’ fermented to emphasise fresh aromas and fruit, therefore finished like a white wine. Only the most serious, and more expensive styles improve with age, so buy the youngest vintage possible i.e. 2004 or 2003. The grape varieties used include Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tibouren.
Nice does actually have its own local wines that you’d be hard pushed to find elsewhere: Bellet. This pretty little region lies behind the city to the northwest (the other side of the motorway) on dramatic slopes in the foothills of the Alps, and is easily explored in a morning trip. The rosés (and reds) often feature the obscure grape varieties La Folle Noire and Le Braquet, and must surely be the ultimate accompaniment to salade niçoise! Try these producers: Château de Crémat (04 92 15 12 15), Château de Bellet (04 93 37 81 57 chateaudebellet@aol.com), Les Coteaux de Bellet (04 93 29 92 99 lescoteauxdebellet@wanadoo.fr) or Clos Saint Vincent (04 92 15 12 69 clos.st.vincent@wanadoo.fr). You’ll discover all you need to know at www.vinsdebellet.com


The Côtes de Provence (www.cotes-de-provence.fr) wine region is vast – this ‘appellation’ extends across the Var département towards Marseille to the west and Grasse to the east. The coastal strip between Cannes and Toulon, particularly the stretch parallel to the brooding Massif des Maures, delivers scenic touring, some high quality rosés (although sometimes a bit pricey) and lovely restaurants too.
Once you’re out of Cannes, the N98 road quickly becomes the Côte d’Azur’s own ‘Highway 1.’ Known as the Corniche de l’Estérel, it meanders along the cliffs between piercing blue sea and volcanic hills on your right, taking in Miramar and Agay on the way to Saint-Raphaël. En route, you’ll pass by a couple of rosé vineyards: Domaine du Grenouillet (04 94 02 01 49) and Domaine de la Tremourede (04 94 52 85 80). It’s worth taking a quick sightseeing detour to the old Roman town of Fréjus adjacent to St-Raphaël, and near here you’ll also find Domaine de Curebéasse (04 94 40 87 90 www.curebeasse.com). Get back on the N98 and enjoy the rollercoaster ride, even if you do get stuck in traffic through Sainte-Maxime.
Giving Saint-Trop a miss (so too much), the D559 brings you to Gassin and, best reached from the Ramatuelle road below (D61), one of the poshest ‘Cru Classé’ (an unofficial classification that certain producers brandish) estates Château Minuty (04 94 56 12 09) with its well-groomed gardens and sweet Napoléon III chapel. You should also pop into Château Barbeyrolles (04 94 56 33 58) next door, or take your pick from a dozen domaines dotted around the area (see www.provence-wines.com). Nearby, La Croix-Valmer is home to Château de Chausse (04 94 79 60 57) and, much more attractive perched on another hill, the village of Ramatuelle boasts four wine estates and several decent restaurants such as La Forge (04 94 79 25 56).
A good half an hour west of here along the twisty D559 coastal road is Le Lavandou, where you’ll find Domaine de l’Anglade (04 94 71 10 89 www.domainedelanglade.fr) and swanky restaurant/hotel Les Roches (Aiguebelle Plage 04 94 71 05 07) with its grand views and elevated menus. Between Bormes-les-Mimosas – where there’s no shortage of good places to eat – and Cabasson, following signs for Brégançon along a country lane (route de Léoube), you’ll come across the aristocratic wine estate Château de Brégançon (04 94 64 80 73).
On the same road, in the direction of La Londe-les-Maures, Domaine de la Sanglière (04 94 00 48 58 www.domaine-sangliere.com) is located, which produces two fine rosés. Not far from here, there are a couple of nice beaches called Pellegrin and l’Estagnol. And why not call in on M. et Mme. Chirac (if they’re there) at the high-security yet handsome Fort de Brégançon, the offshore presidential palace south of Cabasson. A few kilometres back on the N98 brings you to La Londe-les-Maures, a peaceful little town rated as one of the best wine districts that’s home to over twenty rosé producers. Château Sainte Marguerite (04 94 00 44 44 www.chateausaintemarguerite.com) is one of them, where you can also taste the wines from their son’s vineyard Château Hermitage Saint-Martin. In addition, Domaine Saint André de Figuière (04 94 00 44 70 www.figuiere-provence.com) is worth a visit.
Heading ever westwards onto Hyères and La Crau a few kms further on, are two more pockets of vineyards. A couple to look out for are Domaine de Mont Redon (04 94 66 73 86 mont.redon@liberty.surf.fr) and Château des Mesclances (04 94 66 75 07). Instead of returning to Nice, you could stay the night in Bandol and spend the next day touring some of this appellation’s top producers. Famous for their study red wines, many of them also make excellent rosés. The real luxury choice would be the magnificent Hôtel du Castellet (04 94 98 38 88) with its sumptuous restaurant; alternatively, the Marquise at Château Sainte Anne (04 94 90 35 40) does chambres d’hôte.
        
Recommended Provence rosés
Château Minuty Côtes de Provence Cru Classé, Cuvée Réserve
Château de Brégançon Côtes de Provence Cru Classé, Cuvée Prestige
Château Sainte Marguerite Côtes de Provence Cru Classé, Cuvée Prestige
Château Pansard Côtes de Provence
Château Barbeyrolles Côtes de Provence
Domaine de Mont Redon Côtes de Provence, Cuvée Louis Joseph
Domaine de la Sanglière Côtes de Provence, Cuvée Prestige
Château Lafoux Coteaux Varois
Château des Gavelles Coteaux d’Aix
Château Beaulieu Coteaux d’Aix

Recommended Bandol rosés
Domaine de Terrebrune (they also have a restaurant), Domaine Lafran-Veyrolles, Domaine des Baguiers, Château de Pibarnon, Domaine de l’Olivette, Domaine Tempier, La Bastide Blanche, Château Sainte Anne, Domaine de la Laidière, Château la Rouvière, Domaine de la Vivonne, Château Romassan ‘Marcel Ott.’ Contact details and further info from www.vinsdebandol.com
Richard James for Redhot magazine

Côtes de Provence: Massif des Maures
 daytrip early November 2003

A day trip in early November 2003 took in a handful of wine estates dotted along the peaceful (at that time of year at least) coastal strip between Hyères and Saint-Tropez, skirting along the edges of the omnipresent silhouette of the Massif des Maures hills. Four of these were so-called Cru Classé properties: Château Sainte Marguerite, Clos Mireille (Domaines Ott), Château de Brégançon and Château Minuty. This slightly dubious 'classification' dating from 1956 holds no tangible status in terms of official criteria for superiority, but it certainly pumps up the prices and expectations. Having said that, some of the Cru Classé wines are undeniably very good and swim gracefully above the shoals of mediocrity found in the vast sea that is Côtes de Provence. And if price and stature truly reflect track record, a natural hierarchy can sometimes speak volumes. I also visited Château Barbeyrolles, where I tasted the juice of their other estate Château la Tour de l’Evêque; and have included other Provence wines from the Ott stable.
Château Sainte Marguerite naturally unrolls the red carpet for you with its charming, palm tree-lined drive. It’s owned by laid-back and talkative Jean-Pierre Fayard, whose quality-focused approach appears to be paying off. He has 50 hectares (= 120 acres) here just north of La Londe-les Maures, and his son Guillaume Enzo looks after a new domaine (bought established vineyard in 1999 and resurrected the property) called Château Hermitage St. Martin situated towards Toulon. Out of about 300,000 bottles produced annually, 50% is rosé, 30% red and the rest white, which is high for white in Côtes de Provence. They have some 11 ha of white grapes across the two vineyards, which Jean-Pierre has developed because he believes “La Londe is good for whites…Rolle is excellent here.” This sentiment was echoed at my next stop too.
He’s also keen on Cabernet Sauvignon, but planting is unlikely to progress as the Syndicat is against it (probably in light of too many green-edged wines made from it, surprisingly perhaps). “It’s good if it’s good: it has to be ripe and not over-cropped. You have to go for lower yields here otherwise it’s not of interest.” In the past there was a greater diversity of varieties, now most growers use the same ones. Some of them have up to half of their vineyards planted with Grenache, another grape where you have to be careful with yields but generally performs well and should really be the style backbone in this neck of the woods.
We had an interesting chat about noticeable climate change and implications of the drought conditions in 2003 for the future. Jean-Pierre estimates his average yields over the last ten years were about 40 hectolitres per ha, but from 2000-2003 probably less than 30 hl/ha simply because it’s got drier and drier. “We try to avoid over-stressing the vines by working the soil in spring and summer.” Before 1990, he remembers having problems reaching the minimum degree of alcohol (for appellation regulations); now they have to watch out for too much sugar ripeness (although viticulture 'improvements' particularly obsessive canopy management no doubt play a part too). “We need to evolve the laws with changes in the weather. Some do irrigate and take the risk, there’s no control over AOC. The ones in charge (in Paris implied) have no idea what’s happening in the south. The vines are really struggling: c’est penible” ("it's hard work").
We moved on from this hot topic to the cellar to taste some wines from vat and barrel. The two 2003s I tried showed great promise: cuvée prestige rosé (€10) was intense yet rounded and fruity, and the 100% Rolle had lovely fruit and crisp length. They have about 70 new barriques here although prefer to use more 1+ year-old ones. However, the 2002 red (Syrah and Cab) tasted from barrique showed nice ripe fruit and texture. Jean-Pierre reckons “2003 will be good for all colours, 2002 for rosés particularly.”
A short drive from here off the beaten track led me to Clos Mireille, one of three properties making up Domaines Ott (Champagne Louis Roederer recently bought the controlling share), where I was greeted by Marion Ott. This estate is unusual as they currently only make white wines here, from 50/50 Sémillon and Ugni blanc, claiming La Londe has a particularly suitable ‘terroir’. Overall – taking into account Château de Selle, also in Côtes de Provence, and Château Romassan in Bandol – Ott produce 60% rosé, 25% white and only 15% red. Their Blanc de Blancs sourced from the 45 ha at Clos Mireille “has been a success…we like to be different,” Marion explained.
A quick tour uncovered building work on a new cellar extension to enable them to better accommodate increasing numbers of visitors. Equipment still includes traditional large tuns: “We’ve always had these, they’re not new but we do renew some every year. Oak isn’t used to flavour the wines except for L’Insolent, which is fermented in 2 year-old barrels with the malolactic in foudres.” The 2003 vintage for white grapes began on 20th August, normally taking place from around 15th September…“five years ago: it seems earlier every year since,” Marion said reiterating the general experience.
The tasting revealed an elegant, classic style rosé 2002 from Château de Selle; the 2001 Clos Mireille Blanc de Blancs showed good oily depth but slightly fading fruit; 2000 L’Insolent was rich and toasty, not for everyone but a decent food wine; and 2000 Bandol: not a blockbuster but had nice pure fruit. I guess the somewhat inflated prices of these wines reflect their successful positioning and the demand for the Ott name.
A few kilometres along the winding road heading east, towards Bormes Les Mimosas, you come across Château de Brégançon, a grand old property that does look lived-in. You know: not too swanky, you’d like it as your summer residence. The ‘directeur technique’ Olivier Tézenas had already rung me earlier apologising for a sudden change of plan and hence his absence. I decided to show up anyway to get a sneak preview, and came across a nephew who found his helpful grandfather who opened up the tasting room cum shop.
“We’re just on the Massif des Maures here,” Monsieur Tézenas senior pointed out with the help of a map of the local area. “The soils are more acidic, we actually have to add chalk.” He also provided a few further titbits of throwaway information: “We’ve introduced some mechanical harvesting done at night, which helped a lot this year as it was too hot doing it by hand... For the rosés and whites, we leave the grapes on the skins for a few hours to increase aromatics” (and of course colour of the former). On the whole, a fairly traditional operation and wines: some good rosés, especially the 2002 prestige (€9.90), but the reds stood out such as their top cuvée Hermann Sabran 1999 made with one third Cabernet, lending a more Bordeaux-like structure, power and price tag (€15).
The next Cru Classé on the itinerary, Château Minuty perched down the hill a little from the pretty town of Gassin not far from St. Tropez, certainly fits the bill visually: a grandiose yet elegant 18th-Century estate. It’s been in the Matton family since 1936, I’m told by the fast-tongued PR/tour guide, who expanded it from 17 to the current 65 ha. The grounds also house a quaint old chapel dating from the Napoléon III era, where a ceremonial mass is held at the start of the vintage.
In 2003, the harvest got under way on, "incredibly," the 11th August. The downside of the heat wave quickly became apparent to them: “The heat also caused problems with uneven ripening.” Fruit on younger vines matured rapidly because of the temperatures but wasn’t necessarily physiologically ripe (sugar ahead of tannins in particular); the old vines fared better. “The reds are rich in alcohol, fruit and phenolic matter (colour/tannin) but perhaps lack elegance and aroma.” In the vineyard, as is rightly becoming the norm (or so everybody says at least), no pesticides or herbicides are used and only copper sulphate as a preventative treatment (but how much, I forgot to ask?) Winds blowing from the sea and hills also help to combat possible rot problems. All pruning is done by hand, and the soil is tilled with addition of horse and sheep manure after analysis where it lacks nutrients. Yields stand at 55 hl/ha max.
At harvest time, they set up two de-stemmers outside and pump the must directly into the presses next door. This way maceration can be done for the rosés in the bag presses, which are then emptied into vats without further pumping (for whites too). These are left at 10 degrees overnight to settle, racked and fermented in the stainless tanks installed in 2000 especially for whites and rosés. Small vats (cement with new plastic coating) are used to ferment the reds "to obtain more structured and tannic wines," which undergo a longer than usual maceration on skins and 18 months ageing in barrel. Some of the 2003 reds were undergoing their malo in barriques: Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache, which will be kept separate until blending before bottling.
Half of the export-geared production at Château Minuty is rosé wine, the 2002 cuvée réserve being a fine & zesty example, made from old Grenache, Tibouren and Syrah. I also tasted an attractively peachy Vin de Pays ‘Blanc et Or de Minuty’ made from Sauvignon blanc, Roussanne and Viognier; and the excellent New World-leaning cuvée réserve red 2001 with 90% Syrah & 10% Grenache. Once again, the prices were correspondingly high for so-called Cru Classé wines, although it's true that the 'Provence brand' on the whole helps.
I arrived so late at Château Barbeyrolles next door that just two admin staff remained, who obligingly opened a few bottles. The verdict: not bad but not great wines, although nice rosés, with better reds from their other CDP property Château la Tour de l’Evêque; for example, the 2000 ‘regular’ and ‘barrique’ cuvées at €12 and €13.
© Richard James, originally posted 4th February 2004. Full tasting notes and reviews of all the wines mentioned in this piece will be added here as soon as possible...

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