Paros’s wine, like Santorini’s, but unlike the other Cyclades’, is not a novelty. The inhabitants of the island have been producing wine for thousands of years, and now the entire island, along with its neighboring island called Antiparos, is part of the PDO Paros, which was established in 1981. It produces both white and red wines. However, because Paros is a popular tourist destination, construction and changes in the island’s occupational profile have had a significant limiting impact on viticulture over the last decades.
Winemaking in Paros: a Brief History
When Phylloxera hit the rest of Europe, many Greek islands, including Paros, were left unaffected due to their soil and climatic conditions. Consequently, they kept producing wine to export to Western countries whose production had fallen back due to the disease. By the mid-twentieth century, the island had a viticulture area of 10,000 acres and five wineries.
However, Paros saw rapid development in the field of tourism in the 1970s, and the remaining grapevines now covers only about 1,200 acres. The island was promoted as a viticultural location in 1981, with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) for wines produced from the Mandilaria and Monemvasia grape varieties.
In addition, a Malvasia Paros PDO was established in 2011. It includes sweet wines made from sundried Monemvasia (at least 85% of the blend) and Assyrtiko (up to 15% of the blend). Before bottling, the wine must be aged in barrels for at least 24 months.
Paros is a flat island with strong summer winds (called Meltemia) and limited rainfall during the summer season, but it also has higher humidity levels than other Cycladic islands. The vines are grown on rich calcareous, sandy, and sandy-clay soil eroded from the slopes of Mount Profitis Elias. The central part of the island is mountainous, reaching a height of 724 meters (2375 ft.). The vines grow freely in bush form, with many self-rooting. The old wood spreads horizontally while young shoots grow vertically, forming a vine-covered floor, a system known locally as Aplotaries (from the Greek verb ‘Aplono’, which means’ To Spread’).
The vineyards are primarily planted with Monemvasia and Mandilaria grapes, but other indigenous varieties are grown that are not used in the blends of PDO Paros wines. These varieties include the rare Maloukato, the white Potamisi which can be considered as the star of the Cyclades , the slightly tannic early-ripening red Mavrathiro, the fruity and tannic Vaftra, and the Aidani Mavro, a light-skinned, very vigorous variety producing very soft, very fruity reds(or some of the most intriguing rosés).
The uniqueness of Paros wines
There’s something special about Paros wines that you won’t see anywhere else in Greece. Paros is the only PDO wine region where winemakers are permitted to blend red and white grapes. When it comes to wine legislation, the countries of the Old World, including Greece, can be very strict, so it may come as a surprise that this is permitted. White wines classified as Paros PDO must be made entirely of Monemvasia. But things are different for soft red colored Paros PDO wines, which can be made with up to 65 percent white Monemvasia and at least 35 percent red grape Mandilaria.
If you’re wondering why that happens, it’s because Mandilaria has very harsh tannins, but when blended with Monemvasia, they become softer.
The wineries of Paros : My Top Choice
When it comes to the wineries of Paros, there may not be many, but the wines they produce are high quality and made with great respect to the traditions of winemaking.
o Moraitis Wines
You can’t talk about Paros wines without mentioning Moraitis wines. The winery of the Moraitis family is located near the beach of Aghioi Anargyroi in Naoussa (not to be confused with the winemaking area of Naoussa in northern Greece). Manolis Moraitis founded it in 1910. He grew his own vineyards and gathered and vinified grapes from various vineyards on the island. The Moraitis Winery now owns 18,000 m2 of organic vineyards in selected vine cultivation areas of the island, primarily featuring indigenous Paros varieties such as Monemvasia, Mandilaria, Aidani Black, Vaftra, and Karampraimi. They also grow Assyrtiko and Malagouzia. Manolis Moraitis, a third-generation winemaker and tradition keeper, wants to preserve the character of the local vineyards while revealing the quality of their varieties. Don’t pass up their “Paros Oak Fermented” from 100% Monemvasia. This wine is aged in oak barrels for four years, producing a wine with floral and citrus aromas, as well as notes of vanilla and dry nuts. It has a full body and a long-lasting aromatic aftertaste. It is balanced and “oily.”
o Louridis Winery
Sofia and Nikos Louridis own and operate the Louridis winery. The winery’s history begins in 2008, when the winery, distillery, and bottling plant were established in Marpissa, Paros, Greece. Monemvasia and Mandilaria are planted in their privately owned vineyards on the east side of Paros, and are excellent raw materials for the production of top quality wine due to the sun and the sea of the Aegean. One white and one red PDO Paros wine are produced by the winery. The Louridis dry white wine shows a vibrant color, aromas of peach and wild flowers, a rich mouthfeel, and a refreshing finish. Their dry red wine is a typical Paros red, with a deep ruby color, aromas of red fruit and vanilla, a velvety mouthfeel, and a long finish.
o Domaine Roussos (Asteras Winery)
Domaine Roussos is a new winery in Paros’ Asteras region. The winery began with only 130 family-owned acres planted linearly with indigenous Paros varieties. The first large planting of vines was 40 acres in 2007, and another 30 acres were covered with vines over the next four years. The Roussos winery has established high standards and is committed to providing high-quality bottled wine for all tastes at a reasonable price. A must-try is their rosé wine, which is made entirely of Adani Mavro. This variety produces a distinct rosé wine with a soft orange color and a very rich aromatic bouquet of red fruits and flowers.
Within the Languedoc region, 30 kilometers north of Montpellier, sit the dramatic peaks of the “Pic Saint Loup” (Saint-Loup Peak) and the Falaise de l’Hortus (Hortus Cliff). Facing each other in the middle of a breathtaking natural scenery that only the South of France has a secret recipe for. This incredible décor becomes even more unforgettable at sunset when the last sunlight reflects on these two rocky limestone mounts, igniting them with a superb reddish color. This area is also the spot where locals go for peaceful hiking and Ceceles lake summer bathing. What about wines? Well, the Pic Saint-Loup area is undoubtedly one of the most underrated appellations in the world of wine today. So, if you are anything close to a wine enthusiast and are planning to take your next vacation near Montpellier, you have selected the right post! So, let’s just dig into it and give you more details about the region I am from, its wine production, the spots that you need to go to, and, of course, the wines to taste.
Pic Saint-Loup: a whole province’s emblem
This absolutely incredible scenery has been known since antiquity, with Roman writers and historians praising its charms. Of the two peaks facing each other, the Pic Saint-Loup (648 meters high) is the most famous and the most iconic. The reason for that is mainly because, of the two, it is the one that can be seen from miles around. Either from beaches or from boats navigating through the Mediterranean Sea, its unique shape is unmistakable and dominates the landscape. The Hortus Cliff (500 meters high) is hidden by the Pic-Saint-Loup at most viewing angles. This is probably the reason why the “Pic Saint-Loup” is the one whose reputation shines. These two mountains are located in the Occitanie region (formerly called “Languedoc-Roussillon” before the administrative merger with the Midi-Pyrénnées region orchestrated by President Hollande). They are on the border of the municipalities of Valflaunès and Cazevieille in the Hérault Département (i.e., Hérault Province).
If you have the chance to go for one of the many hiking trails around that end up on one of the tops of the Pic Saint-Loup, you will enjoy a great panoramic 360° view. From here, you will be able to look down on one of the many vineyards, horse stables, and wild bull husbandries that you should have crossed during your drive through the area.
The many hiking trails that end up at the Top
If you love hiking, this is a place for you. However, do not expect very sporty trails as none of the hikes are very difficult to do. They are almost all between easy and intermediate. Just make sure to have the appropriate shoes, some water, and some food. All the trails are well marked. My two favorite trails are the Pic Saint Loup Chapel and the Montferrand Castle.
Please note that there are many other very interesting treks to enjoy around here, like the Ravin des Arcs, Les Marches des Géants, Source de Gornies, etc. Some of the hardest treks are organized by some specialized local companies.
Cécélès Lake: the turquoise/emerald color lake at the foothills of the Pic Saint-Loup
At the base of the Pic Saint-Loup, lies a private agricultural water reserve called “Lac de Cécélès”. The lake, which can be the starting point for a stroll (30 to 40 minutes to travel around it), a day of swimming, or a picnic, depends on the light. The parking and access to the lake are free in the off season (from September to June). However, be mindful of the fact that you will have to pay 5 euros per adult and 3 euros per child in July and August to access the parking and the monitored swimming area. This is because the lake is a private area owned mainly by the restaurant “La Guinguette des Amoureux”. As a consequence, if you are a client of the restaurant, the parking fees will be deducted from your final check. However, if you are in the midst of the summer season and still want to enjoy a walk around the lake, you can, but you will have to walk. Just park somewhere in the city of Saint Mathieu de Tréviers (Parking de la Grenouille, Parking de l’Ancien Abattoir, Parking du Boucher…), take your Google Map, and get ready to walk a little (maybe slightly less than 30-40 minutes). This is possible because the main road access and parking to the lake may be private, but areas and hiking trails around it are public. Just make sure to take the D26 road until this point to turn left, then make sure to turn right on the little trail before the Dominicaines des Tourelles. If you take the larger trail after the Domaine des Tourelles, you will have to go up, and you are going to hate the experience of the many detours and having to cut through inappropriate trails to go down the lake. Once there, you will be able to pic-nic, take a tour around the lake, sun bathe… But, please take note that everything from dogs and horses to fires, camping, fishing, and motorized vehicles is absolutely forbidden. The policemen are very strict and you may be fined very easily, especially at summer times when they are scared of wild fires. They do it in order to protect and preserve this fragile ecosystem.
The most convenient solution is to pay for the parking and enjoy a great meal at The Guinguette des Amoureux, a very romantic restaurant with a great view of the lake. The food is good and there are many animations all year long (yoga sessions, concerts, famous DJ performances…). Just make sure to call first, as the restaurant is often fully booked.
If you are looking to enjoy another great lake spot around, you can try to go to the Claret Lake (i.e., Lac de Claret). If you take some small and sinuous roads, you will be able to park next to the lake and still enjoy a good view and setting.
Pic Saint-Loup Wines: the next big thing?
Traces of wine making in this area date back to the Roman empire. Part of the production was brought to the Roman port of Lattara (an inland city called Lattes today) to be sold across the Roman empire.
Between 1955 and 1966, the producers started to organize and became one of the founding members of the VDQS Coteaux du Languedoc (see my article on VDQS to learn more), which became the AOC Languedoc in 1985.
Prior to being granted its own AOC in September 2016, the Pic-Saint-Loup (also spelled Pic-St-Loup) was one of the most popular named crus in the AOC Coteaux du Languedoc (later renamed AOC Languedoc). This means that this renowned terroir was allowed to juxtapose its local name next to the regional appellation to distinguish its peculiarities from the rest of the region. Well before 2016, almost any local customer knew of these wines to the point that it was very common to order a “Saint-Loup” at some of the best restaurants around. This appellation is known for having very few (almost no) Carignan vines throughout the area, which is quite rare in the Languedoc. It is also historically known for its very low level of Caves Coopératives producers (jointly owned winemaking facilities).
This appellation only produces red wines and rosés. Consequently, white wines are produced under the local PGI (IGP) or the larger umbrella appellation (AOC Languedoc). They are usually a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne. The AOC Pic-Saint-Loup covers 15 towns in the Hérault and 2 in the Gard, all dominated by the sharp point of the Pic Saint-Loup, one of the most spectacular sites in the Languedoc vineyards.
“winegrowers have found that the Syrah grape was one of the best fits for the combination of the unique soils and micro-climate”
The Pic Saint-Loup vineyard, planted on predominantly limestone soils, is part of a landscape of scrubland and pine forests, a succession of ridges and valleys. The climate there is cooler and wetter than in the rest of the Languedoc. The rains, which fall in spring and autumn, allow the vines to avoid drought and water stress. This in turn allows planting at a high density, a factor of concentration. In August and September, the significant thermal amplitude between day and night promotes aromatic expression and acidity. These conditions are conducive to the syrah grape variety, one of the main varieties of the new appellation, alongside the grenache and mourvedre. This results in the infamous GSM blends (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre), which are representative of red wines from the south of France. The other accessory grape varieties allowed for reds are carignan, cinsault, counoise, and morrastel. As for the rosé production, the gray grenache grape can also be added to the blend. Both the reds and the rosés must always combine at least two grape varieties, with Syrah (= Shiraz) being generally the most dominant (50% minimum for reds and 30% for rosés). Empirically, winegrowers have found that the Syrah grape was one of the best fits for the combination of the unique soils and micro-climate. This is why it plays such a key role in the wines of this area. They have, on the other hand, decided to plant Grenache and Cinsault in the driest areas. As per the Mourvèdre and the Carignan, they have shown better adequation in the hottest part of the Pic Saint-Loup production area.
“the common trait of all the wines produced in the appellation is the “garrigue” perfume”
Red wines derive from Syrah their dense texture, their intense aromas of black fruits and licorice, and their potential. They can live for 4 to 8 years without any problems. The rosés are also invigorating and fruity, but need to be consumed within a year of release.
The styles of red wine produced may be very different from one winery to another. They range from elegant with a medium body to a richer, stronger style. The more robust styles are probably made by wineries around the Claret area. The finest wines are probably made closer to both of the peaks dominating the valley. The most representative wineries of the latter style are: Chateau de Cazeneuve, Domaine de l’Hortus, Ermitage du Pic-Saint-Loup, Chateau de Lancyre, Château de Lascaux, Domaine de Mortiès, and Mas Bruguière.
By and large, the common trait of all the wines produced in the appellation is the “garrigue” perfume. “Garrigue” can be defined as a form of low scrubland ecosystem and plant community typical of Mediterranean regions. Accordingly, it is often possible to distinguish this distinctive rosemary-thyme-pine fragrance from these wines.
“crossed by a little river, nicknamed the “Emerald River” (Le Ruisseau de Vère) due to its particular green color”
It has to be noted that some vineyards located on the ancient plain of Corconne enjoy a unique soil called Gravette (75% limestone chips and 25% silty clay). This terroir is composed of little gravels (2 to 6 meters deep). This is probably one of the most exceptional Terroirs of the Languedoc, inherited from the melting of a Jurassic glacier which carried all these gravels to the plain. This whole area is crossed by a little river, nicknamed the “Emerald River” (Le Ruisseau de Vère) due to its particular green color. The cave co-operative of La Gravette de Corconne, located in the Gard province, is one of the rare historic co-operatives in the area and produces very high-quality wines. Its “Intégrale AOP Pic Saint-Loup” is definitely worth a try and will show every wine lover that co-operatives can also produce top-end wines when they decide not to produce mass-market wines.
Pic Saint-Loup: early adopter of Organic and Biodynamic winemaking techniques
If you visit the little towns all around the Pic Saint-Loup, you will see many official city road signs saying “0 Phyto” (meaning no pesticides and other synthetic products). In fact, the region has been one of the early adopters of both organic and biodynamic grape growing. This was greatly helped by the sunny conditions, the strong Mistral winds, and the high level of rocks in the soil. It dries grapes rapidly after any rain, preventing fungal diseases from occurring as well as draining water effectively into the soil to avoid damp and moist conditions.
Today, the area is also a bastion of natural wine making, which can be summarized as “nothing added, nothing removed”.
My Top-3 wineries to taste
o Domaine de l’Hortus
This is probably one of the flagships of the appellation. The Domaine de l’Hortus, belonging to the Orliac family, has made great choices in grape varieties, acquiring new land to plant vines on, and above all, in modernizing its wine making facilities. When you visit the facilities, you will immediately feel that many investments have been made to make the best wines possible. From the regulated stainless-steel tanks for precise fermentation to the best oak barrels to age wines. And the result can be clearly felt in the glass, with the “Grande Cuvée” red wine playing in the big leagues.
o Mas Bruguière
Located right next to the Domaine de l’Hortus, Mas Bruguière enjoys the same unique position of its vineyards sandwiched between the North flank of the Pic Saint-Loup and the South flank of the Hortus Cliff. This creates an ideal and unique micro-climate where Mistral winds are accelerated by this corridor, the sun disappears earlier, and soils are free-draining. Its red wine, called “La Grenadière” made from 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache is an exceptional value for money (only 29 euros for that!)
o Ermitage Pic Saint-Loup
The Ermitage Pic Saint-Loup‘s obsession with biodynamically grown grapes and natural wine making processes is an absolute pleasure in terms of results in the wine glass. Its Guilhem de Gaucelm red wine, made from 95-year-old Grenache vines (50%, the rest is from Syrah), is a true wonder.
My final advice: if you are planning to visit the region during the month of June, I really advise you to register for the “Vignes Buissonnières” festival (to be booked in advance). It is a renowned event where you walk around the area and can taste wines from over 70 local producers. Otherwise, you can go to the Maison Chabanol in Saint Mathieu de Tréviers and take some of their hand-made madeleines, my favorite: the honey one! Then go for a trek to the top of the peak. Enjoy eating them while they are still fresh with the 360° view. In the evening, just buy a good bottle of red wine (little aged if possible) at one of the many wine shops around. Finally, have dinner at one of the public picnic areas with a panoramic view of the Pic Saint-Loup and enjoy the sunset.
Let’s take a trip to the fabulous and picturesque fortress city of Les Baux de Provence to discover the wines made in this region. The old city of Les Baux de Provence is perched on a rocky hillside in the extreme west of the Provence region (near the end of the Rhone Valley). The region, located at the foothills of the French Alpilles, is known for its numerous Michelin-starred restaurants, local microclimate, and breathtaking scenery (especially at sunset). This highly praised wine region is famous for having been one of the first strongholds of organic viticulture, with prestigious wineries converting very early. So let’s dive into it.
The City of Les Baux de Provence: The Wine Region’s Icon
Let’s start with the city that gave its name to this beautiful wine region. In the old local language (i.e., the “Provençal”) a “Baou” is the name given to a rocky hilltop. This “Baou” is part of the label “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (=”The Most Beautiful Villages of France”). If you have the chance to stop by to visit, you will have to park your car around and climb up to the old city by foot as it is inaccessible to vehicles. After walking up the stairs, you will be able to discover the tiny streets running around the old castle. They are full of small shops selling all kinds of handcrafted products and local specialties. Consequently, the streets are perfumed with a mixture of typical Provence made of olives, olive oils, dried lavender, dried thymes, dried rosemary, and dried sages. This really makes it a unique experience.
In terms of soil, the limestone rocks composing the hill on which it has been built are rich in “bauxite”, a particular type of limestone composition named after the city.
The “Carrières des Lumières”
Before going to the top of the old city, you can visit “Carrières des Lumières“, the impressive white limestone quarries dug to extract the rocks used to build the castle and the old town. If you have never visited them, I really advise you to go there at least once. The visit to the quarries starts with the monumental “Picasso Entrance” which will give you a glimpse of what to expect once inside. You will be able to take a walk in these monumental galleries dug under the mountain that are cut by the huge columns left by the quarrymen to carry the “ceiling”. Usually, children love the experience, especially since the quarries have been transformed into large natural screens for film projection with hundreds of different illuminations and art theme exhibitions.
Wines from the AOC Baux de Provence
Before the creation of the AOC Baux de Provence, wines produced in this area had to be labelled as AOC Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence. It was only in 1995 that this wine region gained access to its own independent appellation. One of the main reasons behind it was that the local micro-climate is warmer and wetter than the major part of the AOC Coteaux de Provence. The status of this relatively new AOC was changed in 2005 to make it far more stringent than the AOC Coteaux de Provence. As a consequence, red wines (57% of the total production) are mainly made from a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre (the infamous “GSM” blend). This GSM blend needs to represent at least 60% of the total blend. It can be completed by Cinsault, Counoise, Carignan, and Cabernet-Sauvignon (but only if together they account for a maximum of 20% of the final blend). Red wines from this appellation need to be aged for at least one year before being released. The average level of quality is high; wines are well made and can be aged easily. They are probably one of the most underrated quality red wines in France as they are hidden in the shadows of the Rhone Valley reds and Provence rosés. But, make no mistake, there will come a time when the wine world will realize the full extent of its true potential.
It was only recently that the white wines were allowed to be produced under the AOC Baux de Provence label. They only make up 5% of total production. They can be made through a classic local blend of Rolle (= Vermentino), Grenache Blanc, Clairette, and more recently, Marsanne and Roussanne (two grapes more specific to the neighboring Rhone Valley whites) were allowed to be incorporated into the final blend.
AOC Baux de Provence: the hidden bastion of organic and biodynamic viticulture
“the strong “Mistral” wind combined with its unique dry micro-climate that helps vines to be very healthy”
When you hear about biodynamic viticulture, you often hear producer names from Burgundy or even Nicolas Joly and his iconic and marvelous Coulée de Serrant. However, you scarcely hear experts talking about the AOC Baux de Provence. And yet, this AOC was one of the very early advocates of organic and biodynamic viticulture in France. For sure, this was greatly helped by the strong “Mistral” wind combined with its unique dry micro-climate (close to the “Val d’Enfer”) that helps vines to be very healthy. Another factor was the importance of the production of super-premium olive oils in the region, for which quality labels imposed very early the abandonment of pesticide use. As the vines were traditionally grown together with olive trees, the wineries had no choice but to suppress any agrochemicals in order not to lose labels for their pricy olive oils. As a result, this wine region was probably the first to exhibit the fact that organic and biodynamic viticulture can go hand in hand with top quality in the finished products. The quality of the wine production in the region was already high before this revolution, but the whole region jumped to another level after it, showing to the world that a large-scale endorsement of these disputed techniques was possible and viable.
Château d’Estoublon: when a picturesque setting fosters excellence in wine and olive oil production
Close to Les-Baux-de-Provence, between Arles and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, lies the Château d’Estoublon, a historical castle dating back to 1489. This estate covers 200 hectares, 120 of which are olive trees, and 20 hectares of vines. Its chapel, its parks, and its vineyards are all carefully kept. Its olive oil and wine production are both covered by their respective high quality Protected Denomination of Origin (= AOC = AOP = “Appellation d’Origine Protégée). On the estate, grapes and olives are grown and harvested while adhering to organic farming practices and using only manual and mechanical manufacturing methods devoid of the use of chemicals.
While the estate is highly prized for wedding celebrations, it is also known for excellence in olive oil making as being one of the first producers to produce single varietal olive oils that are highly prized by connoisseurs and gastronomic restaurants. The various olive varietals each contribute their own unique olfactory score, just like the wines. Atypical and complimentary, Bouteillan, Salonenque, Grossane, Béruguette, and Picholine are all available as monovarietals and in blends. The best thing is that, if you stop by the little shop, they will be very happy to make you taste the different olive oils. This experience will definitely change your perspective on olive oils and you will find a lot of astonishing similarities between the world of wine and the world of olive oils. Nonetheless, its wine production is not left out and does not escape the quality reputation of the estate, especially with its elegant reds.
Finally, it also offers a great restaurant, La Table d’Estoublou, that many international gourmets like to pay a visit to. The restaurant’s daily supply of produce from the Domaine’s vegetable garden serves as inspiration for the menu. A variety of aromatic plants, vegetables, fruit, berries, and flowers are available in the 24 organic vegetable patches… The chef uses all of his culinary skills to create dishes that feature seasonal ingredients, vibrant colors, and delicate scents.
My final word: the AOC Les-Baux-de-Provence has a bright future in front of him. If you are staying nearby and wondering which winery to visit, you can try the Chateau d’Estoublon as you may find a little something for everyone and every taste. The only downside is that its marvelous parks are not accessible to visitors due to past degradation.
Crimea is often mentioned in the news, but not for the right reasons. Because the Eastern European peninsula is surrounded by the Black Sea and has strategic and commercial significance, it is frequently a flashpoint for global conflict. Today, though, we’re talking about the wines of Crimea. The region might be at the heart of a political and military battle, but it has a rich vinous culture, so let’s focus on that. We can’t blame you if you’ve never heard of Crimean wine since it’s rarely seen outside the country — all of it is consumed in the region or shipped to Russia. However, the region is among the oldest wine-producing areas in the world! Here’s what you need to know.
Crimea, A Quick Recap
The region was once an Ancient Greek colony, part of the Byzantine Empire, and briefly a Mongolian territory. Eventually, Crimea became part of the Russian Empire, which evolved into the Soviet Union after the country’s civil war of the early 20th century. In 1954, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR led by Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to the Ukrainian Socialist Sovietic Republic. After the fall of communist Russia, Crimea became its own country before becoming part of Ukraine with a special status for Sebastopol.
The region’s wine history is not nearly as complicated. Crimea is a stone’s throw away from wine’s ancestral home, the Caucasus, between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, so wine has been part of Crimea since the beginning of time.
Experts credit the Ancient Greeks for bringing most of the grapes found in Crimea today, including Limnio, Athiri, and Muscat. Grapes with immense prestige in the Caucasus feel right at home in Crimea as well, such as Saperavi and Rkatsiteli. Still, the country now has significant vineyards dedicated to international varietals, especially Cabernet Sauvignon.
Despite being a historical wine region, wine efforts in Crimea are relatively young. When the area was part of the Ottoman Empire, Muslim law prohibited the production of wine. The same thing happened with Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1985 Anti-Alcoholism Laws. The Russian annexation of the peninsula as well as the current so-called “military special operation’ have also made it difficult for Crimea’s wine industry to export. Is the wine any good?
“Crimean wineries make faux Madeira and Sherry, as well”
Crimean wine is the best of two worlds. Expect old-school sweet and semi-sweet wines made with Muscat, rustic reds made with Saperavi, and modern-cut oak-aged Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay.
Fortified wines, sometimes unlawfully labeled as Crimean Port, are relatively common, and the wines are reasonably pleasing. Crimean wineries make faux Madeira and Sherry, as well.
From afar, not everything in Crimea is as good as it seems. In terms of volume and quality, two of the most significant wine estates in the peninsula, Massandra and Novyi Svit, were both recently “nationalized” by Russia. According to an Interfax article: “After occupation of the peninsula by Russia, Massandra’s property was ‘nationalized’, actually expropriated, transferred to federal ownership – to the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation, then returned to ‘the ownership of the Republic of Crimea’, respectively, there was no military need for such appropriation and transfer of property. The auction of Massandra’s assets and its purchase by a Russian company confirm the fact that the occupation administration, in addition to illegally taking possession of this property, also illegally disposes of it”. Massandra Winery alone was estimated to be worth well over 20 million euros in 2014, probably excluding its unique enoteca of one million bottles.
o The Massandra Collection
This enoteca is in fact the result of the Massandra Collection, a collection of incredible wines from around the world. It was started by the Prince Golitzin, the first winemaker who helped founding the winery in the late 19th century (he received the permission to engrave his coat of arms on Massandra’s wine bottles). Almost 10,000 bottles were added each from the start with bottles already decades old at that time. Just to give you an idea of the importance of that collection, the decision was made to evacuate it (mainly in Georgia) ahead of the German occupation during the second World War. Of course, everything was back on time for the Yalta conference, so that Roosevelt, Churchill and Staline were served with the best bottles from that collection.
Today, Massandra’s enoteca is still famous for some of the best and oldest wine bottles from around the world (like a 240-year-old Jerez, for instance). It is regarded by experts as a treasure of tremendous historical value that need to be kept intact.
o Massandra wines
Located on the outskirts of Yalta, Massandra produces many sorts of wines. However, its two most famous types of wines are the Fortified wines and the Sweet Dessert Wines. These wines, especially the Sweet Dessert Wines, were highly regarded during the Soviet era and were served during diplomatic and important political meetings. Today, the Massandra winery oversees the production of many smaller satellite wineries. Its main building is mainly used for aging and bottling. The vineyards located on hills and mountains facing the Black Sea offer the best grapes to produce Sweet Dessert Wines (White Muscat of the Red Stone, Black Muscat Massandra, and White Muscat Lividia, just to name a few).
o Novyi Svet wines
The other very famous Crimean winery is Novyi Svet. Founded in 1878 by Prince Golitsyn, it produces a large variety of wines. However, it became rapidly famous for its sparkling wines. During the Russian empire, they quickly became “the” sought-after wines of the Russian aristocracy, to the point that they were served at the coronation of the last Tsar, Nicolas II, in 1896. Despite the Soviets’ efforts to eradicate all traces of Tsarist Russia, they were held in high regard by the Soviet intelligentsia. It probably saved them, but, unfortunately, made them inaccessible to many of the ‘regular’ citizens of the USSR. Facing the contradiction of communism, where the upper class had access to some luxury products while workers and peasants did not, Stalin asked Anton Frolov-Bagreev to create a process to make sparkling wines available to the masses. M. Frolov-Bagreev, a winemaker trained by Prince Lev Golitsyn, created a large-scale artificial sparkling wine through industrial use of large tanks, added coloring agents, and artificial flavors.
On July 2, 2021, Vladimir Putin amended the 345-FZ federal law, banning the use of the “Champagne” name on the label of sparkling wines made in the French region called: Champagne. Only Russian-produced wines can now be called Champagne (« shampanskoye »). Any bottle produced outside Russia (and Crimea) with a «shampanskoye» label will be considered a counterfeit product. As a result, you will probably find some Novyi Svet wines labeled as “Champagne”. Please note that Novyi Svet is now owned by Iouri Kovaltchouk, a powerful oligarch (sometimes nicknamed “Putin’s banker”) and close friend of Vladimir Putin.
The Bottom Line
Massandra and Novyi Svit now supply most of the wine consumed in Russia. Sadly, in history, no state-owned winery, from anywhere, has ever been recognized for its quality, which makes Crimean wine’s future uncertain. Crimea has the ideal climate for growing premium wine grapes and the expertise to make world-class wine. What the winemakers in the area now need is good-old freedom to craft the wines they want to make with modern standards and quality-over-quantity practices. The world of wine is more competitive than ever, and Crimea can become a significant player in the future if only they could export their production worldwide. But the dust needs to settle first and the current situation has to stabilize.
If you have ever paid attention to any French wine at all, you should have seen many different acronyms on their respective labels. The AOP, AOC, IGP, and VdF are probably the most common. However, they are very controversial nowadays given that many extremely talented winemakers have decided either to leave the AOC or even not to apply for it. This article aims to explore the current French wine appellation system and its flaws while taking a look at recent history to better understand what is happening today.
The current French wine appellation system: a quick reminder
First things first, let’s take a look at today’s most used acronyms and what reality they cover. Schematically speaking, we often represent the French (and European) appellation system as a pyramid where the least demanding constraints seat at the bottom with the VdF (Vins de France = Wines from France), then gradually increase in demandingness through the IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée = PGI = Protected Geographical Indication) to end up with the hardest appellation to obtain, the AOP (Appelation d’Origine Protégée = PDO = Protected Denomination of Origin). Well, that is theoretically true, but theoretically only!
PDO, is it self-sufficient?
That is where things are starting to get more complex, as you may well find extremely high quality wines (sometimes way better than AOP ones) in the PGI (=IGP) category. This is true not only in France, where stunning biodynamic wines by Alexandre Bain do not bear the AOC Pouilly-Fumé designation, but also in Italy, where super-tuscans like Tignanello bear the PGI designation. However, the reasons behind this state of fact are different from one to the other.
“sell their Sassicaia as a DOC while Antinori, for example, has left its Tignanello as an IGT“
For the super-tuscans like Tignanello it is probably more due to the fact that at the time when Tuscans started producing wines from a blend of international grapes like Cabernet-Sauvignon, there was no existing appellation that allowed their use at that time. Then, by default, these wines ended up in the PGI category where rules regarding grapes, winemaking techniques, traditions (etc.) were less stringent. Since then, things have evolved and a new DOC (Denominazione di Origina Controllata = PDO) in Tuscany has been created to cover this gap, the DOC Bolgheri. Consequently, some producers, like Tenuta San Guido, have decided to sell their Sassicaia as a DOC while Antinori, for example, has left its Tignanello as an IGT. That is a prime example of the fact that considering PGI as an inferior wine category is only true on paper. To make things even more complex, the advocates of appellation systems should wonder why Bolgheri is only a DOC and not a DOCG although Super-Tuscans have reached international recognition for decades. (It is important to remember that PDO in Italy is sub-divided into DOC and DOCG, with DOCG representing the most demanding process). But this point is not the main subject of this article, so let’s not get lost in this other controversy.
“wine syndicate in charge of managing the appellation, may league against a winemaker despite the quality of his final product“
For French wines like the ones made by Alexandre Bain, the reasons why he has not been able to sell their production under the prestigious Pouilly-Fumé appellation are very different. I personally find (and I am not the only one) that Alexandre Bain’s biodynamic white wines beat hands down most of the labeled Pouilly-Fumé on the market in terms of quality. This issue between the producer and the local appellation syndicate has been the subject of many fierce attacks and counterattacks, so let’s not get into too much detail. Let’s just summarize this by saying that it could be considered as an example where some powerful local producers, part of the wine syndicate in charge of managing the appellation, may league against a winemaker despite the quality of his final product. Unfortunately, similar situations have happened in many other appellations and countries (such as Spain and Italy). Aside from the dispute between heavy pesticide users (more focused on mass production and profit-seeking) and passionate biodynamic/organic winemakers (focusing on health and safety for consumers); too many times, blind tasting committees are judged partial and favor the status quo rather than encouraging new paths of quality improvement.
AOC vs. AOP: What is the difference?
I have been asked this question many times, especially by foreigners: “I see AOC or AOP on labels and French people usually call any wine labelled AOP an AOC. I am lost. What is the difference?”. I totally understand that it can be very confusing and that clarification is needed. Simply put, the AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protegée) is the equivalent of the PDO (Protected Denomination of Origin) at a harmonized European level. The AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controllée) can be seen as the inspiration that gave birth to the AOP label. It was a French appellation system designed to distinguish the highest level of quality, mainly for food specialties and wines.
The first wine AOC was created in July 1935 by the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origines) under the proposition of a French Senator. Today, all AOCs in France (wine and non-wine) generate nearly 22.94 billion euros in annual revenue, with alcohol, wine, and spirits accounting for 20.6 billion (source INAO, 2020). After their inception, the different AOCs have rapidly been adopted by the French. They quickly covered many parts of the French gastronomy legacy, such as Noix de Grenoble (1938), Champagne, Poulet de Bresse (1957), Camembert, Roquefort… It really became a symbol of French identity, to such a point that products that are labeled AOP are still called AOC, and that producers keep labelling their products with the AOC mention (instead of AOP).
AOC: Where does it come from?
o The first Anti-Fraud Wine law
The creation of the AOC label was a legal answer to fraud and counterfeits that had been waiting for a very long time. Indeed, after the phylloxera crisis in the late 19th century, France became a Far-West in terms of winemaking in order to supply the national demand for wines. Some merchants imported wines from nearly anywhere to blend them, and they sold the same dubious wine under many different labels. To an extreme, it led unscrupulous merchants to transform regular water into wines (sometimes directly on boats) by adding coloring agents and low-quality distilled alcohol (even replacing ethanol with methanol, which made consumers blind).
Merchants quickly understood that these new ways of making wine were far more profitable than traditional wines. As a result, many wine makers and grape growers shifted their production toward high yields and low-quality wines in order to survive (traditional wines became too expansive compared to the “fake” ones). The situation kept deteriorating until 1907, when the vinegrowers from the Languedoc (South of France, today Occitanie) could not take it anymore, and manifested for months in key cities. This is sometimes referred to as “The Winegrower Uprising” and culminated in the Montpellier demonstration where between 600 000 and 800 000 manifestants (1 000 000 inhabitants in the Languedoc at that time) invaded the streets led by Marcelin Albert. As a direct consequence of this spreading uprising, the French government decided to pass the Anti-Fraud Wine law.
The two main components of this law were:
First, “to prevent the watering of wines and the abuse of sugar by a surtax on sugar and the obligation of traders to declare sales of sugar higher than 25 kilograms (55 lb)”; which targeted the practice of making extremely diluted wines that could be chaptalized (adding external sugar and starting fermentation) to increase tremendously the production level
Second, “No drink may be owned or transported for sale or sold under the name of wine unless it comes exclusively from the alcoholic fermentation of fresh grapes or grape juice”, which targeted the practice of mixing alcohol, coloring agents, and water to produce artificial wines.
o From the Anti-Fraud Wine law to the AOC
After the Anti-Fraud Wine Act was passed, the Fraud and Repression Service was created. Unfortunately, in 1914, World War I began, and the French military authorities needed extreme amounts of wine for the soldiers to keep fighting despite the absolute carnage. The demand was so huge that there was barely enough wine and alcohol for widows and heavily wounded soldiers to lick their wounds.
After 1918, the over-consumption of alcohol by soldiers during the war led the remaining part of this generation to be destroyed by alcoholism. This rampant alcoholism, together with the “Années Folles” (the Roaring Twenties), where people just wanted to live and party, did not help to improve the quality of production as the emphasis was put on providing enough alcohol to meet the demand. It was only in 1936 that the INAO (created in 1935) issued its first appellations.
o The VdP, AOS, VDQS, and AOC: a brief history
“the risk was for the AOC to be seen as too common and easy to obtain“
Given the success of the first wine AOCs (both in terms of reputation and sales), many other wine-producing regions wanted to have their own AOC. Then, the authorities faced a challenge given that the AOC was supposed to reward excellence and quality; the risk was for the AOC to be seen as too common and easy to obtain (which would have destroyed its value). The VdP (Vin de Pays = County Wines) was created quickly for “table wines” and “cooking wines”, the category for everyday and regular wines with an obligation to be made from grapes and locally. Then, they rapidly established a hierarchy with the creation of the AOS (Appellation d’Origine Simple = Basic Origin Appellation) and the VDQS (Vins Délimités de Qualité Supérieure). VDQS was way harder to obtain than the AOS. VDQS could be seen as an equivalent of the DOC in Italy, with just slightly less stringent rules than the AOC (DOCG in Italy to keep up with the comparison).
Has PGI become the new AOS?
“some PGIs now give their label to wines made from Chardonnay when, traditionally, it has never been grown in the region“
The AOS category disappeared in 1973 in France because most of its members improved their quality enough to switch to the VDQS category. Nonetheless, there is a raging debate because today’s PGIs across Europe are becoming, every year, more and more permissive in terms of grapes, yields, winemaking techniques, etc. It is becoming less and less homogeneous in France and in Europe. Some PGIs are quite restrictive, while others tend to accept almost everything. It has reached a point where some producers and customers are starting to question the true value of labelling their wines as PGIs. And the ‘new world’ trend consisting of labelling bottles by grape names does not help. Just to stick to this trend, some PGIs now give their label to wines made from Chardonnay when, traditionally,it has never been grown in the region.
PGI: When the basics are missing?
“made to recognize local, trustworthy, and consistent uses”
Let’s go back to our very interesting French wine appellation system prior to its integration into a harmonized European appellation system. At that time, the distinction between AOS, IGP, and AOC had the same common ground to distinguish them from the VdP (Vin de Pays). According to French law, they were made to recognize “local, trustworthy, and consistent uses” (“usages locaux, loyaux et constants”) to make a given certified final quality product within a certain tradition. Therefore, we can wonder if the PGIs are not moving too fast in accepting certain new grapes and new practices. What is the incentive for producers like Alexandre Bain to label their wines as PGIs? Would it be fair to label it with other PGI producers (for example, making Chardonnay or other grapes that we have never seen in the region) although it has all the characteristics of the Pouilly Fumé from Sauvignon Blanc?
VDQS: The missing category in today’s European and French winemaking?
The VDQS category was created in 1949 and imposed strict rules regarding winemaking techniques, grapes used, terroir, alcohol level, yields, vine training systems, and vinification. It even required a detailed wine analysis (laboratory) and blind tastings by independent experts. As a result, the VDQS category did not require much time to be adopted by the French customers and gain excellent quality recognition. It really served as a launching pad for many regions before becoming an independent AOC or as an aspiration for the AOS. Sure, the brand power of some super-Tuscans is powerful enough to be self-sufficient. However, some talented but less recognized winemakers are struggling to gain recognition and establish themselves. Wouldn’t it be fair for them to create an in-between category which will recognize distinguishable quality without having to suffer from the flaws of heterogeneous and “one size fits all” PGIs?
Do you want to know which Santorini winery to visit? This is your guide to the best Santorini wineries! Santorini is famous for its caldera views, whitewashed houses, blue domes, and beaches, but did you know that Santorini is also one of the top wine destinations in Greece? Santorini wines, famous for the grape Assyrtiko, have been compared to some of the world’s most expensive wines. The unique volcanic soils and grape-growing methods make wine tasting in Santorini an absolute must. When visiting Santorini, make sure to visit at least a few wineries, but since there are over 20 wineries on the island, making a choice can be difficult. Make sure to keep reading until the end to find out which ones to go to.
A brief history lesson about wine in Santorini
Around 3000 BC, the first inhabitants of Santorini arrived on the island, where they soon began growing vines and producing wine.
The vineyards of the area were destroyed in 1640 BC by a volcanic eruption that covered the island in a thick layer of lava. After about 250 years, in 1200 BC, a new soil was formed, and inhabitants soon discovered that grape vines were one of the few plants that could thrive in these conditions.
During the 19th century, an insect known as phylloxera made an appearance and destroyed nearly every vineyard in Europe. Surprisingly, Santorini’s vineyards remained untouched. The reason for this was that Santorini’s soil consists mostly of lava, pumice, and volcanic ash, in which the insect couldn’t survive.
Santorini has a distinct terroir that cannot be replicated or found elsewhere in the world. The relatively warm winters, with temperatures ranging from 8 to 10 degrees Celsius, are followed by warm, windy, and dry summers. The Aegean Sea acts as a “climatic buffer,” softening climates.
During the hot summer, the only source of water is the nocturnal fog that covers the island.
As previously stated, the soil is primarily composed of lava, pumice, and volcanic ash. Therefore, it is deficient in organic matter.
The island is also very windy, and trellised vineyards can be destroyed in a matter of minutes due to the strength of the winds. The only way for grapes to survive direct sun exposure and strong winds is to be protected by low-basket-shaped vines. This is the traditional “kouloura” training system.
“Assyrtiko is the main grape variety on the island, accounting for roughly 80% of total grape production”
Santorini is best known for its indigenous white grape varieties, Assyrtiko, Athiri, and Aidani, though there are some wines made from international varieties as well as indigenous red grapes such as Mandilaria and Mavrotragano.
Assyrtiko is the main grape variety on the island, accounting for roughly 80% of total grape production. It is a multi-dynamic variety that adapts well to various bioclimatic conditions. As a result, its cultivation has spread almost throughout Greece. Within the Santorini ecosystem, the assyrtiko variety develops a distinct expression, yielding wines with metallic character, a full body, and a high alcohol content, while still maintaining high acidity and freshness.
The PDO Santorini, which was established in 1971, only includes dry white wines made from Assyrtiko (at least 75% of the blend), Aidani, and Athiri, and sweet wines made from sun-dried grapes that are made from Assyrtiko (at least 51%) and Aidani (a small quantity of other native white grape varieties is allowed).
Also worth noting, are the dry wines labeled “Nychteri,” which require ultra-mature grapes and wines with a high alcohol content (a minimum of 13.5% ABV) that have been aged in oak barrels for at least three months. Its name, “Nychteri,” is derived from the Greek word “Nychta,” which means “night.” In the past, grapes were harvested during the day and pressed at night to take advantage of the lower temperatures.
Food Pairings with Assyrtiko
“keep in mind that the wine does not pair well with sushi”
Assyrtiko is one of the wines that proves the saying “what grows together, goes together,” as it pairs with almost anything from the sea, such as sardines, grilled fish, fried calamari, and grilled octopus with olive oil and lemon. Oysters and lobster go perfectly with Santorini Assyrtiko. For non fish-based dishes, you can pair it with a Greek salad, feta cheese, “lemonato” chicken with potatoes, or even roasted lamb with lemon. However, if you ever visit one of the many restaurants or wine bars on the island that serve sushi, keep in mind that the wine does not pair well with sushi and will leave you with a taste similar to aluminum foil. Assyrtiko is simply too delicate for sushi.
Santorini wineries you should visit
Gaia Wines is well-known in both Nemea and Santorini. The winery is located on the island’s east coast, at Vrachies of Exo Gonia, between Kamari and Monolithos, by the sea and close to the airport. It is open to wine lovers from mid-April to October. Gaia Wines has transformed a stone-built industrial building that was once used to produce tomato paste and sun-dried tomatoes at the turn of the century into a modern winery.
The winery visit includes a tasting of the entire range of Santorini and Nemea wines as well as a tour of the winery.
If you visit Gaia wines, make sure to try and ask everything about their “Thalassitis Submerged”, a wine made from 100% Assyrtiko that stays for 5 years submerged into the Agean sea.
Argyros Estate was established in 1903, but the Argyros family has had a long history in winemaking, producing wines for decades before opening their own winery. The estate is the largest private owner of vineyards in Santorini, with a current landholding exceeding 120 ha. The knowledgeable and expertly trained Estate Argyros staff can provide a memorable visit through a carefully structured range of options that cater to various needs. People looking for a quick stopover or a longer stay, casual wine drinkers or wine connoisseurs, will all find something to their liking, much to learn and much to enjoy. All Estate Argyros wine tours include time spent in the vineyards and on the winery’s production side, followed by a tutored tasting of world-class Estate Argyros wines, including the famous Vinsanto, paired with artisanal cheeses and cold cuts.
In 1997, Haridimos Hatzidakis and Konstantina Chryssou founded the Hatzidakis Winery. Konstantina first showed Haridimos her family’s neglected vineyard at an altitude of 330 meters in the village of Pyrgos Kallistis. The vineyard had not been cultivated since 1956, creating an excellent opportunity for organic farming. It was Santorini’s first organically grown vineyard, and it was DIO certified.
The winery continues to produce quality wines in limited quantities, always aiming for the expression of the island’s terroir through Santorini’s indigenous grape varieties and fermenting only with indigenous yeasts. These wines are made by young people who adhere to the Hatzidakis family’s philosophy. Their production is made for people who appreciate high-quality Santorini wines.
The winery offers guided tours that typically begin in the area of the winery where you find the stainless steel tanks and end in the barrel cave, where Vinsanto has been aged for over 14 years! Each wine is presented in detail during the wine tasting. All the visitors, no matter if they know about wine or not, have the opportunity to learn about Santorini’s grape varieties, wines, vineyards, and microclimate, as well as the organic farming that is practiced.
Artemis Karamolegos Winery
When Artemis Karamolegos invested in the production facility and privately owned vineyards in 2004, Artemis Karamolegos Winery made a dynamic entry into contemporary winemaking, producing, for the first time, protected designation of origin (PDO) wines. The winery proudly continues the family’s winemaking tradition on the Greek island of Santorini. The winery’s sommeliers will take you on a journey through the volcanic tastes and aromas of Santorinian wines in the specially designed wine tasting area. The staff of the winery have created a series of “interactive” wine tasting experiences, as well as food pairings that enhance the experience. The Karamolegos winemaking philosophy, combined with a presentation of each label, transforms the wine tasting into a priceless and unforgettable experience.
Venetsanos Winery is located directly above the port of Athinios, overlooking Santorini’s magnificent caldera. The Venetsanos family built the winery in 1947, making it the island’s first industrial winery. Its most notable feature was the structural design, which relied heavily on gravity to maximize energy efficiency at a time when access to electricity and other energy sources was extremely limited. The winery was built in an unusual way, starting at the top and working its way down. Venetsanos Winery now manages 15 hectares of vineyards, the majority of which are planted with the Assyrtiko grape variety. Athiri, Aidani, Platani, Mavrotragano, and Mandilaria complete the puzzle of the other indigenous grape varieties available for research and development in the region. The winery offers 30-minute to hour-long guided tours and wine tastings for both experienced wine lovers and newcomers to the wine community.
The hashtag #Roséallday is currently trending on social media, so let me take you to a sunny location where rosé wines have always rhymed with sea, vacation, sun, beach, food, olive oil, and breathtaking landscapes. This place is none other than the Provence region, which lies in the South of France. It is located between Nice and Marseille, and faces the Mediterranean Sea. Phocaeans, Etruscans, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Barbarians, Celts, Genoese, and so many more civilizations have settled here. Even the Allies landed here to liberate Europe in August 1944. This region has been producing Rosé wines for centuries. Here, the terms “Rosé” and “Cotes de Provence” are synonyms. It is the land of the “Crus classés de Provence” and of Saint-Tropez. Let me take you to the region of the Bourride, Escabeche, Pissaladière, Bouillabaisse, Pistou, Tapenade, Fougasse and the Tarte Tropézienne, just to mention a few local food specialties.
A little bit of History
“his region was producing wines with a clear color even before the Romans”
The Phoceans founded the city of Massilia, now called Marseille, around the VI century B.C. They started to cultivate vines almost right away, and, concomitantly, Massilia quickly became one of the main ports on the Mediterranean Sea. The Romans established the city and its surrounding region as the first Roman province outside of Italy around the second century B.C. They renamed that province “Nostra Provincia” which means “Our Province”. This is where the current name of the region, Provence, comes from. Strikingly, this region was producing wines with a clear color even before the Romans. It was known for its praxis, consisting of quickly separating the skins from the juice of the grape while pressing. That is probably where the characteristic and unmistakable color of the Côtes de Provence Rosés comes from.
More about the region
“one of the distinctive climatic features is probably the Mistral”
Sometimes it is wrongly reduced to the much smaller “Cote Varoise” (“Varoise Coast”). The Côtes de Provence region is not limited to the “Var” county. It goes way beyond toward the east, as you may find some vineyards north of Marseille. It also extends inland, as the Coteaux de Pierrevert (also part of the Côtes de Provence) are located beyond the Durance River. The whole region is very sunny, with an average of over 3000 hours of sunshine per year. It is the prime example of the Mediterranean climate, with hot and sunny summers and mild winters. However, when you go inland, you tend to find a cooler climate. Apart from its sunny characteristics, one of the distinctive climatic features is probably the Mistral. The Mistral is a strong northerly wind that funnels through the Rhône Valley (the region just north of Provence). It gives strong winds almost all year long, with very powerful peaks. As the locals say it, “the Mistral hunts the clouds”. However, it also imposes vine training systems to be kept low from the ground and traditionally bush-trained for better wind resistance (some trellised systems have been adopted recently). Some wineries also use row of trees and olive trees (the emblematic local tree) to protect vines from winds.
Destroying pre-conceived ideas about the Côtes de Provence
“the AOC Côtes de Provence covers over 20 000 hectares and 5 non-contiguous sub-regions that range from the coast to way inland”
While the Côtes de Provence are often associated with Rosés, you have to keep in mind that this region also produces very high-quality Whites and Reds. The AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controllée = Protected Denomination of Origin = PDO) is in fact an umbrella appellation that gathers local appellations. Hence, winemakers have the right to select either their local appellation (i.e., Cotes de Provence Féjus for Rosés and Reds) or the larger AOC Côtes de Provence for their wines. That seems quite complex when it is really not. You just have to keep in mind that the AOC Côtes de Provence covers over 20 000 hectares and 5 non-contiguous sub-regions that range from the coast to way inland. Consequently, in the same appellation, there was a lot of difference in terms of climate and soils, with the northern regions receiving more continental influence than those on the coastline. This is the reason why winemakers grouped into smaller and more homogeneous sub-regions (subappellations) called Dénomination Géographique Complémentaires (D.G.C.). Most of the time, these D.G.C. are added as an extension to the name Côtes de Provence.
Aside from the large AOC Côtes de Provence, the Provence region is also home to some very prestigious and separate AOCs (PDOs) like: AOC Baux de Provence, AOC Palette, AOC Cassis, AOC Bandol, and AOC Bellet. It is very important to note that they have nothing to do with what we call the “Cru Classés” of the Côtes de Provence (different appellations).
The “Crus Classés” of the Côtes de Provence: where “Rosés” become prestigious
“In Provence, either you are a “Cru Classé” or you are not, period”
The “Crus Classés” of the Côtes de Provence is a ranking system created in 1955 which distinguished the best 23 estates initially. Nowadays, there are only 18 estates remaining, and they are the only ones to be allowed to put the “Cru Classé” mention on the label. This ranking system differs from the other wine rankings in France as they do not have sub-levels such as “Grand Cru”, “Premier Cru” … in Burgundy or “Classé A” … in Bordeaux. In Provence, either you are a “Cru Classé” or you are not, period. It may be a little unfair to some other wineries that produce very high-quality wines but are just not ranked.
The current list
Below is the list of the 18 remaining “Cru Classés” of Provence:
Below is the list of the 5 estates that were part of the 23 initial ranking:
Clos de la Bastide Verte at Garde, Coteau de Ferrage at Pierrefeu, Domaine de la Grande Loube at Lorgues, Domaine de Moulières at La Valette, Clos du Relais at Hyères
Peculiarities of the ranking
“This distinction was put in place with the strong willingness to represent the highest level of production quality in the region”
Contrary to other ranking systems that may exist, the “Cru Classé” is based solely on the estate. It means that only the estates as they were in 1955 are ranked, and no new vineyards can be bought in order to be added to the originally ranked estate. This ranking has not been revised since.
This distinction was put in place with the strong willingness to represent the highest level of production quality in the region. The main criteria of judgment were (non-exhaustive list): the quality of the winemaking process; the quality of the vineyards; the quality of the finished wines; the ability to sell wines directly at the estate; and most importantly, the notoriety acquired by the estate before 1935 (date of the creation of the French Appellation System – INAO).
A production not limited to Rosés
At this point, it is really important to mention that, as the ranking is based on the estate and not on the wine, these “Cru Classés” have the right to mention “Cru Classés” on the labels for White and Red wines as well (when the other colors have been validated in the ranking). And they do it with quite a lot of success, as their production of Whites and Reds represents the epitome of what the region has to offer for these colors. The winemakers are investing a lot to produce excellent red wines that often surprise wine connoisseurs with their quality level.
“Cru Classé » Rosés: The pale pink color as a Watermark
“there are two main ways of making rosés wines from red grapes”
Now, let’s switch to the production of the dry Rosés of Provence, which are very distinctive when compared to Rosés made elsewhere. Indeed, the Rosés of Provence are known worldwide for their distinctive colors. Their color is very pale with very subtle hints of rose. But, apart from evoking summer and the sun prevailing in this area, where does this color come from? In fact, there are two main ways of making rosés wines from red grapes. The first consists of letting the juice macerate (for a short-controlled amount of time; otherwise, it gives a red wine) with the skin of the grape after crushing, which allows the juice to acquire a rose hue. The second way, called “rosé de presse” is where the grapes are crushed and pressed very slowly so that the skins of the grape are in contact with the juice enough during the pressing to produce this distinctive light color. In Provence, they mainly use the red-skinned Grenache grape in the process for its low levels of anthocyanins and its fruity character. As a fact, the color is probably closer to Whites than to traditional Rosés.
It is really worth noting that they are the only rosé wines to be ranked in the world. No other region in the world has created a dedicated ranking for rosés. That should really give you an idea of how serious this region is about rosé wines.
“Cru Classé”, a prime example of excellence in Whites, Rosés, and Reds: Chateau Sainte Roseline
Why this one? Because the efforts made to maintain Rosés production excellence while pushing Reds and Whites to another level deserve recognition. They wanted to raise the three categories to a gastronomic level, and the result is very convincing. Another point is their recent endeavor to convert to organic viticulture after a 3-year accreditation process. They also organize events open to the public all year long (concerts, exhibitions, After-Works, Christmas Market, Truffle Festival, Flower Fairs, etc.) which makes it a perfect place to visit for tourists and foreigners nearby. Additionally, the staff speak English, which can be quite convenient. Another original point, they made a collaboration with the famous singer Kylie Minogue to co-brand a a new line of Rosé.
Located just a 30-minute drive away from Saint-Tropez, Cannes, and Aix-en-Provence, it is very convenient to fit into your busy visiting schedule. The estate is composed of 110 hectares of vines planted with over 11 different grape varieties. This former Abbey benefits from an exceptional terroir with clay-limestone soils and the presence of a deep-water source. Its 12th-century cloister has been renovated and can be visited. As for the cellar, it exhibits the results of important investment to modernize the facility in order to produce the best quality.
My advice: if you ever buy a bottle of “Cru Classé” Rosé, try it with some local foods and make sure to pair it with some Aïoli sauce. The Aïoli is a sort of local “gralic-mayonnaise” that has a special relationship and affinity with Rosés.
Do you feel like wine is a very interesting world but you just do not understand anything at all? Do you feel that it is probably too complex for you? Do you feel like a complete stranger when wine connoisseurs tell you about all those fancy aromas (blueberry, blackcurrant, leather, tar…) they find in a wine glass. How is it possible to find tar aromas in wine? Is it a good thing? Is it even drinkable? Do you feel like most Champagne are too acidic? Do you feel like most of the red wines are too tannic, too astringent…
Well, the good news is that you should not worry; everyone has been there one day, including me. You are just at the very beginning of your wine journey. To jumpstart and set a foot in the world of wine, you just need a clear and basic structure. Through this educational article, I would like to provide you with a clear and simple three-step foundation to start understanding wine. Why 3 steps? Because, as in the lyrics of the Jackson 5 song, wine is “as easy as 1-2-3, as easy as A-B-C, as easy as Do-Ré-Mi”.
What is it about wine? Why is it so special? The “A-B-C” of Wine
“many available water sources could have made them sick for days”
Wine is a man-made product, without man, there is no wine. At their natural state, in the wild world, vines are made to climb up on trees and other vegetation in order to attain the top of the canopy. It allows it to get access to the sun and start producing fruits aiming at attracting birds and other animals that will eat its grapes to disseminate its seeds. That is really far away from the liquid you find in your bottle of wine. Probably at the very beginning men have learned to domesticate this vegetative state solely in order to grow some eatable fruits. Keeping in mind that thousands of years ago there was no running water and many available water sources could have made them sick for days, they probably quickly tried to find a reliable solution to drink a sanitized beverage. Then, grapes were turned into wine where alcohol played this sanitizing role. The first traces of wine making are considered to date back to around 4000 years B.C. That makes it a very old beverage! As in everything, men tried to perfect their skills at making it to improve its quality, to enjoy drinking it, and eventually to sell it. So wine is closely linked to our origins, civilization, history, and played a central role in our development.
“wine offers two characteristics that other alcoholic beverages do not”
That being said, humans also made alcoholic beverages from other fruits (apples…), crafted beers very early and learned how to make spirits later on. All of them addressing the same sanitization need. So why is wine so special? Despite its close link to religions, especially to Christianity, wine offers two characteristics that other alcoholic beverages do not. First, it gives a wider spectrum of aromas and flavors (without needing other additives) than other beverages. Second, it has the unique ability to evolve over time and gain more complexity. Beers, due to their lower degree of alcohol need to be stored at cooler temperatures and consequently have little possibility to evolve over time. Spirits on the other end have way higher alcohol titration (not very handy if you are looking for an every day drinkable solution) which implies that it takes more time to evolve (10, 20, 30 years being the norm) than wines as their alcohol level acts as an aroma preserver. Conversely, some wines stored in glass bottles can start to show aroma evolution after 2 or 3 years but for the most part need 5 to 8 years to improve in terms of aroma complexity (10 to 15 years for some prestigious and very tannic wines).
“the world of wine gives you unique access to human history”
Let’s summarize what we have learned so far: a wider array of natural aromas in the finished juice, an aroma complexity that improves faster, and a close tie to mankind’s history, civilization-building, and commerce. What else? We forgot to mention that each civilization made distinctive wines due to the different genetical profiles of their local grapes, local climates, local techniques, and so on. As such, it created a vast complexity of winemaking techniques and final results that both shaped and were shaped by local food production specialties (and food-beverage pairings). So, let’s wrap this up by saying that the world of wine gives you unique access to human history, food specialties, local habits, and much more.
What if I have no palate at all and I am just not able to distinguish anything in wine? The “1-2-3” of Wine
“All those fancy wine tasting notes, I just can’t recognize any of them in a wine, so I just drink it,” I’ve heard many times.If this sentence suits you, do not worry, you are not alone; everyone started there. For years, when I tasted wines, I had only one cursor: tannins. When the wines were too tannic, I found them unpleasant and harsh; when they had little tannin, I found them drinkable.
The good news is, it is very easily fixable. You just need a clear and basic structure to approach wine and start deciphering it. So below is a simple and basic three-step process to help you improve tremendously your ability to ‘read’ wine.
“just incline slightly your glass of wine in front of a white surface and take a look at your wine starting from the external ring to the center or vice-versa”
Start with what you see. Is it a red, white or rosé? What is the depth of its color (opacity)? Is the color monotonous or does it show some complexity? Is it too bright? Too shallow? Does it have some hues? Is it hazy? You can learn a lot just by looking at the color, reflections… inside your wine glass. In fact, for centuries, wine merchants based their purchase orders mainly on the color of the fresh pressed juice. It still gives you a good clue on the quality to expect once you will drink it (except for the haziness criteria as a growing number of wines are unfiltered nowadays to improve their complexity so, in that case, it does not mean the presence of spoilage bacteria anymore). To make it easier for your eyes to distinguish the various colors and complexity, just incline slightly your glass of wine in front of a white surface and take a look at your wine starting from the external ring to the center or vice-versa.
“Never rush, smell it a couple of times, then try to distinguish any perfume that comes out of it”
The most important part: the nose. In wine, everything starts with your nose. The more you smell before you drink your glass of wine, the more you will understand wine. The very basic mistake is for people to rush into drinking it. Never rush, smell it a couple of times, then try to distinguish any perfume that comes out of it (that is called the “first nose”). Then, swirl the wine in your glass and smell it again (that is called the “second nose”). You will see that some aromas and perfumes become more evident with your “second nose” (even when the temperature of service is horrific). This is the magic key! If you do not use your nose, you will not understand wine.
“Again, do not rush into swallowing your wine right away.”
The underrated phase: the mouth. Again, do not rush into swallowing your wine right away. Leave it in your mouth for a few seconds and try to decipher the impression it gives you (warm, acidic, sugary…). Some aromas and perfumes will slowly come to your mouth. Then swallow it and see if the aromas are long-lasting (a good sign of quality) or vanish quickly. Then compare all these sensations with some serious and independent wine tasting notes you can find about the bottle you selected.
Everything that you are doing wrong: the “Do-Ré-Mi” of Wine
Your wine ability will make a tremendous leap after the crucial 1-2-3 steps above. But, below are some things you should really pay attention to while tasting wine, as they can really alter your experience.
“Buying the first bottle at your supermarket is probably the surest way to make the wrong choice”
Try not to pick the first wine bottle that you find at your local supermarket just because you find the label fancy, especially for your first few bottles. Just go to your local specialized wine shop and talk to one of the employees. Give your price constraints (they all have selected entry price bottles) and some of the context; they will help orient your choice. Make him speak and ask him for several suggestions, then make your choice.
Buying the first bottle at your supermarket is probably the surest way to make the wrong choice. Keep in mind that supermarkets, especially in the old world (Europe…), mainly sell wines for cooking purposes (sauces…).
The three factors that can kill your wine are: temperature of service, wine glass, and bottle ageing.
Temperature: Too cold a bottle of red wine is the surest way to perceive no aromas. Conversely, too warm a bottle of white wine is the surest way to only feel the alcohol in your wine and destroy its perfume. By rule of thumb, for whites and rosés, a temperature of service between 10 and 14 degrees Celsius should be fine; for reds, try to serve them between 14 and 18 degrees.
“just because it is made of crystal, it does not make it any better if the shape is similar to the random plastic cup”
Wine glass: drinking wine inside a plastic cup is the worst way to discover the wine world. And just because it is made of crystal, it does not make it any better if the shape is similar to the random plastic cup. As mentioned in Step 2 above, everything starts with the nose, so you need a wine glass that will help your nose do its job. Wine glasses are way more complex technical instruments than you can imagine when it comes to tasting wine. They come in various shapes and forms, and the best glasses are not linked to their prices or materials but to their ability to reveal aromas of certain grapes (called Grape-specific glasses). That is the reason why they have this characteristic “tulip” shape. So that, when you smell it atop your glass, it helps concentrate perfumes from the wine up to your nose.
“This process makes all the charm of powerful red wines”
Bottle aging: Pay attention to the vintage year on the label. If you select a powerful red (Bordeaux or other oak-aged wines) that has been bottled very recently, it is the surest way to have very unpleasant, harsh tannins that will disappoint you. For powerful reds, just prefer a 5-to 8-year-old vintage in order for the tannins to have started polymerizing and softening. This process makes all the charm of powerful red wines as they bring more complexity in aromas (bringing what we call “tertiary aromas” such as leather, tar, vanilla, tobacco, etc., compared to “primary fruity aromas”).
“Pay special attention to any of the following examples, especially when made just before drinking wine”
Be careful of the environment and context in which you taste wine. Often, people think about paying special attention to what food they will pair their wine with. This is a very good reflex as some foods can destroy your wine (i.e., a sweet dessert with a young fruity red wine). And vice versa, some wines can destroy your food (i.e., a powerful red with delicate fish). However, it is not enough. Pay special attention to any of the following examples, especially when made just before drinking wine: Brushing your teeth (toothpastes will leave molecules that will hinder your aroma perception); smoking cigarettes; wearing strong perfume; consuming acidic, spicy, bitter, or astringent foods…
You need a nose and palate as neutral as possible, so take some time to eat some neutral food (soft bread…) and drink water prior any wine tasting. It will help you “to reset” your palate.