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29 May 2003

Les Baux de Provence

Les Baux de Provence

An obscure wine sub-region centred on this historic village in the Alpilles hills between Avignon and Arles, the appellation encompasses only 12 growers spread over a mere 320-340 hectares. The Baux valley boasts beautiful wild countryside (and coach-loads of tourists), several rich individual reds and full dry rosés. Here Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon harmoniously collide alongside Grenache and Mourvèdre...
At the end of May 2003, I was invited to be a taster on one of three juries at an annual competition, the Prix Noël Michelin. Here I joined French wine journalists, sommeliers and winemakers and was confronted by a rather strange scoring system, linguistically poetic and at the same time mathematically complex (how French). I was on the red panel, and the results said interesting things about national palates. I didn’t score the winner, Domaine de la Vallongue, particularly well using a silly system that allocates over half the marks to appearance and nose. However, my favourite (unfortunately the identity of this and the other 10 wines tasted blind were never revealed to me) did also feature strongly in most of the panel’s top 3. So I’ve reverted to the usual method and scoring system for my tasting notes - click on the Cité des Baux shot - which shed a degree of new light on the wines.
Over lunch following the competition, we also tried several different wines including older vintages. The best reds do age well and may justify the high prices les Baux commands, but others need to work harder to convince at this price level. Nevertheless, overall they have something very interesting here. The white wines are currently classified as Appellation Contrôlée Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, and the growers talked about moves to lobby for AC Baux status for them. When I'd first heard about this, I thought it a cynical attempt to flesh out the prices of the generally average AC whites; or at the very least a dilution of their terroir (it seems best expressed by the reds). However, the producers want to base it, if it happens, on the Marsanne and Roussanne varieties - not permitted for AC wines at the moment - and Sémillon. Tasting some of the complex, barrel-fermented Vins de Pays made from these grapes confirms their potential, and a worthy improvement on Grenache Blanc, Rolle and Clairette blends.
The majority of estates in les Baux are farmed organically, and one, Château Romanin by biodynamic principles (see my article on Château Falfas for details on this). Others tasted and worth visiting are Mas de la Dame, Olivier d’Auge, Domaine de Lauzières, Jean-André Charial, Mas Sainte-Berthe, Château d’Estoublon, Château Dalmeran, Domaine Hauvette, Mas de Gourgonnier, Domaine de Terres Blanches and Domaine de la Vallongue.

Tasting notes etc. coming soon...

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