Tag: Provence

A Trip to the AOC Baux de Provence: The Stronghold of Organic & Biodynamic Winemaking

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

Les Baux de Provence, Panorama, Provence, France

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”

Limestone Quarries , Les Baux de Provence

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

Chateau d’Estoublon, AOC Les 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.

Regarding the rosés, they can only be made from Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault. They amount to around 40% of total production. Remember that we are in the Provence region where rosés rhyme with Cru Classé.

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.

The Domaine de Terres Blanches and the Domaine de Hauvette were among France’s very early converts to totally abandoning agrochemicals and converting to full organic viticulture.

Château d’Estoublon: when a picturesque setting fosters excellence in wine and olive oil production

Château d’Estoublon in Provence

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.

Olive Oil PDO Baux de Provence

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.

La Table d’Estoublon’s terrace

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.

 

Oray


Wine is a gourmet treasure, do not abuse alcohol!

None of this content has been sponsored

I did not receive any gifts or free samples that could be related to this article

When Summer Rhymes with Rosés: A Tour of the Côtes de Provence’s “Crus Classés”

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.

Côtes de Provence vineyard

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.

Rows of Olive trees in Provence

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.

Protected from the Mistral wind by the forest and olive trees

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

The Ranking

“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.

Cru Classé Cotes de Provence

The current list

Below is the list of the 18 remaining “Cru Classés” of Provence:

Château Sainte-Roseline, Château Minuty, Domaine de la Source Sainte-Marguerite (now called Château Sainte-Marguerite), Domaine de la Clapière, Domaine de l’Aumérade, Clos Cibonne, Domaine de Rimauresq, Domaine de Castel Roubine (now called Château Roubine), Château du Galoupet, Château de Saint-Martin, Château de Saint-Maur, Clos Mireille, Château de Selle, Château de Brégançon, Domaine de Mauvanne, Domaine de la Croix, Domaine du Jas d’Esclans, and Clos Mistinguett (Domaine du Noyer)

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

Chateau Sainte Marguerite, Cru Classé Red

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.

Chateau Roubine exhibiting the typical pink color
of Cotes de Provence’s 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

Visiting the 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.

 

Oray


Wine is a gourmet treasure, do not abuse alcohol!

None of this content has been sponsored

I did not receive any gifts or free samples that could be related to this article

The Birth of the French Wine Appellation System Santorini Island and its Incredible White Wines Discover the Côtes de Provence Rosés Mexican Wines through my eyes Visiting the Wine region of La Clape