An early Easter and the season of pink was well and truly launched, perhaps with a big jumper or two nearby, but what a grand way to ease into the best of Provence.
The professional calendar is always a step ahead and we were coming out of the first part of the tasting season. A few days’ rest post-Christmas madness and while the vineyards are dormant, just needing a spot of pruning, the producers take a window to show us their wares ahead of the summer rush. Time to fight through the new releases, invariably the “best in living memory”, hoping for that rare new gem that really does live up to some of the hype.
As well as the smaller local events I made two trips to the vast Exhibition Centre in Montpellier: the first to the bijou Millésime Bio, hunting for a new organic offering or two. The second, to the labyrinthine puzzle of Vinisud, which highlights wines with a Mediterranean aspect, although some of the regions included really do have to crane their necks for a glimpse of a sea view. Both were on top form, Millésime Bio well organised and full of exciting new directions, some we’ve even chosen to add to our range. Vinisud was as overwhelming as ever but the bits it does get right really are worth the trip, planning and all that exhaustive tasting.
The subject of this issue’s discourse came from a chance encounter at Vinisud. Wandering about the Provence Pavilion, I was waved over by fellow oenophile and Reporter contributor Elizabeth Gabay, who introduced the team at Château Gassier. We tasted a flight of rosé, which for me defines in microcosm the diversity of Provence. Three wines from two Châteaux but three terroirs, showing three very distinct styles.
We started with Château Beaulieu’s Cuvée Alexandre. Beaulieu is located just north of Aix in the Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence appellation. The vines of this classic old Château are planted some 400 metres above sea level in what remains of the crater of a great volcano. A massive great core of basalt is the secret to the Cuvée Alexandre, a wonderfully elegant wine and bone dry. Its very shy, delicate fruit is supported by an exhilarating mineral edge. As you pour it into the glass you can almost hear the screams for something to nibble with this perfect foil.
From here we moved not so far to the Mont Sainte Victoire and Château Gassier. The estate covers some 40 hectares at the foot of the striking outcrop. Beautiful almost Outback red soil, cobalt blue sky and pristine white grey limestone make for a spot of striking beauty not to mention potential for making fine wine. We tasted two offerings from Gassier. The first was their Esprit Gassier, a Côtes de Provence. The second, their cuvée Côtes de Provence Sainte Victoire Le Pas du Moine, theoretically imparted with a regional character specific to the Mont Sainte Victoire, made famous by Cézanne. Both were delicious and both wonderful examples of their own appellations.
The size of the Côtes de Provence appellation, its variety of soils, climates, altitudes and general growing conditions really defies a singular style but if one exists, the Esprit Gassier is it. It’s all about soft, ripe berry fruit with an overriding creamy texture. The Esprit hits this on the head, a delectable drop that one could happily sip all day long with or without some sustenance to keep your feet on the ground.
Le Pas du Moine carries the extra regional title of Sainte Victoire, and it does indeed have that extra local character that sets it apart from the more general charms of the Esprit. The cuvée gets its name from the footpath that leads up the mountain to an ancient retreat. The retreat was beautifully sited in the cool of a fold in the mountain. Great in the full heat of summer but a real test of the faith in mid-winter. But where there’s a will there’s a way and the monks cut away the hillside to let some warming winter sunlight into their hearts. This tasty rosé did the same for me on a chilly February morning and, just like the monk’s retreat, will certainly give even more when the days warm up. Grown at some 460 metres above sea level, there is a gentle weight and power seemingly typical of the Sainte Victoire appellation. It has all the fruit of the Esprit but adds a more racy edge. A bit like the difference between a soft sweet ice cream and a generous but more racy sorbet. Both are delicious and cut from the same winemaking mould but both heading in slightly different directions, following their roots.
A trio of wines that sum up some of the subtle differences in pink style from Provence.