Provence


All sorts of reasons exist to justify our interest in wine — wine tastes great, on its own and with food; wine is a complicated beverage that encourages thought and contemplation; wine gets you drunk — and one of those reasons is the story behind the wine. Now not all wines have compelling stories. The cheap wine fostered in vast vineyards in California’s Central Valley and raised in giant tanks on megalithic farms generally does not offer a fascinating back-story. And financially-padded collectors don’t suck up cases of Chateau Latour and Haut Brion because of the histories of those august properties.

This pair of rosé wines, however, tells one of those tales of a dream long-striven for and finally accomplished. When I mention that the wines derive from the Cotes de Provence appellation in the South of France by a couple who never made wine before, My Readers may rise to their feet and let loose a chorus of “Brad and Angelina!” but no, I am not speaking of the (excellent) celebrity rosé Miraval, now in its second vintage, but of the slightly older Mirabeau, the brain-child of Stephen Cronk, an Englishman who gave up his job in telecommunications and house in Teddington in southwest London — motto: “We’re in southwest London!” — and moved his family to the village of Contignac in Provence for the purpose of growing grapes and making rosé wines. Cronk did not possess the fame, notoriety, influence and fiduciary prowess of the Pitt/Jolie cohort, but he did manifest a large portion of grit, married, inevitably, to naivete. (This is also a great-looking family; they could be making a ton of dough in commercials. Image from the winery website.)

Cronk discovered that he couldn’t afford to purchase vineyard land, even at the height of the recession, so he settled for being a negociant, buying grapes from growers that he searched for diligently and with the help and advice of Master of Wine Angela Muir. Five years after he began the process, his Mirabeau brand is sold in 10 countries and is now available in two versions in the U.S.A.

Mirabeau “Classic” Rosé 2013, Côtes de Provence, is a blend of grenache, syrah and vermentino grapes that offers an alluring pale copper-salmon color and enticing aromas of fresh strawberries and raspberries with hints of dried red currants and cloves and a barely discernible note of orange rind and lime peel. The wine slides across the palate with crisp vivacity yet with a touch of lush red fruit in a well-balanced structure that includes a finishing element of dried herbs and limestone. 13 percent alcohol. A very attractive, modestly robust rosé for drinking with picnic fare such as cold fried chicken, deviled eggs, cucumber sandwiches — or a rabbit terrine with a loaf of crusty bread. Very Good+. About $16.

The Mirabeau Pure Rosé 2013, Côtes de Provence, is a different sort of creature. A blend of 50 percent grenache, 40 percent syrah and 10 percent vermentino, this classic is elegant, high-toned and spare, delicate but spun with tensile strength and the tension of steely acidity. The color is the palest onion skin or “eye of the partridge”; hints of strawberry and peach, lilac, lime peel and almond skin in a texture that practically shimmers with limestone and flint minerality; rather than lush, this is chiseled, faceted, a gem-like construct that still manages to satisfy in a sensual and exhilarating measure. 13.5 percent alcohol. We drank this over several evenings as an aperitif while cooking and snacking. Excellent. About $22.

Seaview Imports, Port Washington, N.Y. Samples for review. Bottle image by Hans Aschim from coolhunting.com.

Today’s notes feature eight rosé wines, four from France, three from California and one from the state of Virginia. In style they range from ephemeral to fairly robust. I have to take shots at a couple of these examples, but those are the breaks in the realm of wine reviewing. No attempt at technical, historical, geographical or personal information here (you know, the stuff I really dote on); instead, the intent is to pique your interest and whet your palate. Except for the Calera Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2013, these were samples for review. Enjoy!
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Chateau de Berne Terres de Berne Rosé 2013, Côtes de Provence, France. 13% alc. 50% each grenache and cinsault. Very pale onion skin hue, almost shimmers; light kisses of strawberry, peach and orange rind, hints of dried thyme; bone-dry, crisp and vibrant, loads of scintillating limestone minerality. Really well-made and enjoyable but packaged in an annoying over-designed bottle that’s too tall to fit on a refrigerator shelf. Excellent. About $20.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Bila-Haut Rosé 2013, Pays d’Oc, France. 13.5% alc. Cinsault and grenache. (From M. Chapoutier) Pretty copper-salmon color; orange zest and raspberries, dusty minerals, notes of rose petals and lavender; quite dry, with limestone austerity, a fairly earthy, rustic style of rose, not in the elegant or delicate fashion. Very Good. About $13.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Calera Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2013, Central Coast. 14.7% alc. 466 cases. Bright copper-peach color; think of this as a cadet pinot noir in the form of a rosé; currants and plums, raspberry with a bit of briery rasp; notes of smoke and dried Provencal herbs, hints of pomegranate and orange zest; very clean, fresh and vibrant with a damp limestone foundation. Excellent. About $17.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 13% alc. 92 cases. Light but bright copper-salmon-topaz hue; strawberries and red currants, both fresh and dried, blood orange, note of pomegranate; lovely, lithe and supple but energized by brisk acidity; floral element burgeons and blossoms in the glass, as in rose petals and camellias; very dry, delicate, ethereal yet with a real bedrock of limestone minerality; a touch earthier than the version of 2012. Excellent. About $25.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Domaine de la Mordorée “La Dame Rousse” 2013, Tavel, France. 14.5% alc. 60% grenache, 10% each cinsault, syrah and mourvèdre, 5% each bourboulenc and clairette. Brilliant strawberry-copper color; strawberries, raspberries and red currants with a touch of peach; very dry and fairly robust for rosé; notes of dried herbs and summer flowers, dominant component of limestone and flint, almost tannic in effect, but overall high-toned and elegant. Excellent. About $30.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Notorious Pink 2013, Vin de France. Alc% NA. 100% grenache. (Domaine la Colombette) Better to call this one Innocuous Pink. Carries delicacy to the point of attenuation; very pale onion skin color; faintest tinge of strawberry, bare hint of orange zest and limestone; fairly neutral all the way round. Comes in an upscale frosted bottle, woo-hoo. Good. About $20.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Stinson Vineyards Rosé 2013, Virginia, USA. 12% alc. 100 percent mourvèdre. 120 cases. Ruddy onion skin hue; fresh strawberries and raspberries with cloves and slightly dusty graphite in the back; notes of orange pekoe tea and dried red currants; a little fleshy and floral; bright acidity and a mild limestone-like finish. Very Good+. About $18.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Robert Turner Wines Mosaic Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14% alc. With 15% cabernet franc. 25 cases. Pale copper-onion skin color; musky and dusky melon, raspberry and strawberry with notes of pomegranate and rhubarb; finely-knit texture, delicate, elegant, lively, with a honed limestone finish. Excellent. About $22.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Imagine being so famous that people can use your first name and everyone knows who they’re talking about. As in: “Fredric just posted to his blog,” and billions of earthlings go “oooohhh” and “aaaahhh.” Anyway, as multitudes are aware, the Hollywood stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, in partnership with the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, last year released the first wine from their Chateau Miraval property, a Côtes de Provence Rosé 2012. I didn’t try that wine but we just drank the second release, the Chateau Miraval 2013, and it’s a honey. Every aspect of this product is thoughtfully and exquisitely executed, including the elegant bottle that resembles an old-style Champagne bottle, and the understated, even reticent label. The wine is a blend of the red cinsault, grenache and syrah grapes with a dollop of the white rolle, the Italian vermentino. The entrancing color is the palest copper-onion skin-topaz with the faintest pink flush; aromas of fresh strawberries and dried red currants are subtly woven with notes of dried thyme, flint and limestone, with a hint of tangerine. Though in its nuanced red fruit flavors this rose is slightly savory and saline, it embodies the utmost in delicate and ineffable character, while retaining the vibrancy of definitive acidity and the vitality of a scintillating mineral element. Compulsively drinkable, and without the taint of amateurish that often comes with “celebrity” wines; this is the real thing. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $24 to $30.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala. Sample provided by a local retailer.

Well, not much sounds more romantic, sun-splashed and authentically “South of France” than the region of Provence-Alps Côte d’Azur, which has, as travel writers like to say, its feet in the Mediterranean and its head in the Alps. They might add, with one elbow jostling Italy and the other resting in the Rhone. As one of France’s 27 regions, Provence-Alps Côte d’Azur encompasses six departments: Alpes-de-Hautes-Provence, Hautes-Alpes, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Var and Vaucluse. This is a much-fought-over region rich in history and winemaking that nowadays ranges from the deep, dark rich wines of the Southern Rhône Valley to the delicate ineffable rosés of Aix-en-Provence, with incredible variety in-between. To say, then, on press material, that the “birthplace” of a wine is Provence-Alps Côte d’Azur (weirdly abbreviated to PACA) isn’t saying much or, at least, it’s being almost laboriously non-specific. In fact, bottles of the Luc Belaire Rare Rosé carry as appellation the single word — France. Not, I hasten to add, that there’s anything wrong with that; I just want My Readers to understand the geography and terminology behind the product.

This fairly delightful sparkling wine, in a sleek package, is produced, we are told, by the Piffaut family, which established its estate in 1898, so indicated on the neck label. The wine is composed of 90 percent syrah grapes, 5 percent grenache and 5 percent cinsault, which could be the blend in many still wines from all over the region. The color is pale copper with a pale peach-salmon scale overlay. The bubbles, of which the complement is plentiful, swirling and twisting upward, are the result of the Charmat or bulk process, in which the second fermentation (which produces the bubbles) is not accomplished in the bottle in which the wine will be sold, as in the Champagne method, but in large tanks; such sparkling wines can convey a great deal of charm but not a lot in the way of depth.

The first impression in the aromas and flavors is pure strawberry quickly overtaken by pure black raspberry and currant, with a pleasing touch, in the mouth, of the slight “raspiness” of the raspberry plant. A hint of sweetness on the entry quickly turns dry under the influence of scintillating acidity and a fluent element of flint-like minerality. I mentioned Lambrusco in the title of this post because, while the color here is lighter and more ephemeral than the dark purple typical of most slightly sparkling Lambruscos — which originate in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region — there’s a similar feeling of earthiness, a similar touch of supple robustness to serve as counterweight to the delicate superstructure. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink up; not for aging. We drank the Luc Belaire Rare Rosé as aperitif over two nights and were quite pleased with it; I’m happy to give it a Very Good+ rating. What I’m not happy about is the suggested retail price of $35. As they say in Marseilles, “No way, Jose.” $18, maybe; not $35.

The press material accompanying this product is filled with laughs. Monaco is not one of the “stunning French Riviera cities”; it’s a sovereign principality. Neither “Van” Gogh (related to Van Johnson?), Matisse, Manet or “Cesanne” were Impressionist painters. Did nobody read this stuff before it was mailed out to the world? Is the notion of a copy-editor hopelessly passé?

Imported by Luc Belaire, New York. A sample for review.

A collection of whites again with a couple of rosés, because who can think about big red wines when the mercury is busting out the top of the thermometer and running for its life? Geographically, we touch California, the south of France, Italy’s province of Umbria, Chile and Portugal. There are a few drops of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc in these wines, but the dominant white grapes are pinot grio/grigio and riesling, with contributions from verdiccio and vermentino, gewurztraminer and orange muscat and other varieties. The two rosés are equally eclectic. As usual in these Friday Wine Sips, even if posted on Saturday — ahem, cough, cough — I avoid most historical and technical data for the sake of quick reviews designed to whet your thirst and curiosity. All of these wines were samples for review, as I am required by Federal Trade Commission regulations to inform you. (The same regulations do not apply to print outlets such as magazines and newspaper.)

Lovely image of J Pinot Gris 2011 from nickonwine.com.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Double Decker Pinot Grigio 2010, California. 13% alc. Pinot grigio with 4% riesling and 3% viognier. Double Decker is the replacement for Wente’s Tamas label. Pale straw color; touches of roasted lemon, lavender and lilac, cloves; dense texture, needs more acidity; mildly sweet entry with a very dry finish; fairly neutral from mid-palate back. Good. About $10.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Bieler et Fils “Sabine” Rosé 2011, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, France. 13.5% alc. Syrah 50%, grenache 30%, cabernet sauvignon 20%. A classic rosé from Provence. Pale copper-onion skin color with a flush of melon; melon in the nose, with strawberry and dried red currants, a distinct limestone edge and a flirtation of cedar and dried thyme; lovely delicate weight and texture, brisk acidity and that mineral element, hints of red currants, melon and peach skin. Delightful. Very Good+. About $11, a Terrific Bargain.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Falesco Vitiano 2011, Umbria, Italy. 12.5% alc. Verdiccio 50%, vermentino 50%. Very pale straw color; spicy, briny, floral, stony; roasted lemon, baked pear and grapefruit with a hint of peach; very dry, crisp, touches of smoke and limestone. Tasty, charming. Very Good. About $11.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Meli Riesling 2011, Maule Valley, Chile. 12.8% alc. Wonderful character and authenticity, especially for the price. Pale straw-gold color; peaches and pears, lychee and grapefruit, hints of petrol and honeysuckle; lithe with bright acidity and a flinty mineral quality, yet soft and ripe, super attractive; citrus flavors infused with spice and steel; quite dry but not austere; long juicy finish tempered by taut structure. Excellent. About $13, a Raving Great Value.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Vina de Defesa Rosé 2011, Alentejo, Portugal. 13.5% alc. Syrah 50%, aragones 50%. Entrancing vivid melon-scarlet color; strawberry and watermelon, touch of dried red currants, pungently spicy, hint of damp, dusty roof-tiles; pomegranate and peach and a bit of almond skin; a little briny, a little fleshy; keen acidity and flint-like minerality. Quite a different style than the Bieler et Fils “Sabine” Rosé 2011 mentioned above. Very Good+. About $15.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
J Pinot Gris 2011, California. 13.8% alc. Very pale straw color; celery seed and lemongrass, mango and lemon balm, hints of lime peel and orange blossom; delightfully fresh and clean, laves the palate with spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors enlivened by crisp acidity and a scintillating mineral element, devolving to rousing notes of grapefruit bitterness on the finish. Lots of personality; consistently one of the best pinot gris wines made in the Golden State. Excellent. About $15, a Freakin’ Bargain of the Decade.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Whip White Wine 2011, Livermore Valley, California, from Murrieta’s Well. 12.5% alc. Chardonnay 39%, semillon 26%, gewurztraminer 13%, orange muscat 9%, viognier 7%, sauvignon blanc 6%. Medium straw-gold color; boldly spicy and floral, hints of leafy fig, fennel seed, lemon tart, Key limes, almonds and almond blossom, back-note of dried tarragon; very lively and spicy, tasty flavors of grapefruit, kiwi and lychee, almost lush texture but balanced by buoyant acidity and mineral elements. Very Good+. About $20.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Arnaldo-Caprai Grecante 2010, Grechetto dei Colli Martani, Umbria, Italy. 13% alc. 100% grechetto grapes. Pale straw-gold color with a faint green sheen; sleek and suave but clean, lively and spicy; roasted lemon and lemon curd, touches of fig and thyme and camellia, all delicately woven; pert and provocative with snappy acidity and limestone minerality, fresh citrus flavors with notes of dried herbs, grassy salt marsh and yellow plum. Nice balance between seductive and reticent. Excellent. About $20.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau des Annibals “Suivez-moi-jeune-homme” 2010, Coteaux Varois en Provence, was one of my favorite rosé wines last year, and it made my list of “25 Great Wine Bargains of 2011.”

Now it’s the turn of Chateau des Annibals “Suivez-moi-jeune-homme” 2011, and though it’s still early in the rosé-drinking season, I know it will once again be among my favorites. The appellation lies in an area of Provence east of Marseilles and north of Toulon, a region of sun-bleached rocky soil, dusty fragrant wild herbs and wind-sheltered pine forests; vineyard cultivation here goes back beyond the stolid Romans, beyond the wily Greeks to the clever and mysterious Phoenicians. The wine, produced on an estate run on bio-dynamic principles (and founded in 1792), is a blend of 60 percent cinsault grapes and 40 percent grenache, made entirely in stainless steel; let no oak tamper with this sheer delicacy and elegance! The color is the palest of the most pale onion skin, just slightly tinged with watermelon pink; spare yet evocative aromas of dried raspberries and red currants are subtly imbued with melon and peach; the wine is bone-dry, vibrant, shimmering with acidity and limestone-like minerality, flush with spice and a hint of thyme, devolving to a finish that manages to be both taut and supple. Really lovely but with backbone. 13 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Nathalie Coquelle, whom I nominate, on the basis of this wine, for a Nobel Peace Prize. Sip it or remark on its versatility as you drink it with a variety of summer fare. Excellent. About $18 to $20.

The wine’s name means “Follow me, young man,” perhaps a reference to Hannibal’s armies, which marched through this region, with their elephants, in the Autumn of 218 B.C., before turning north to cross the Alps southward on the way to do battle with the Romans on the plains of northern Italy. I think the golden elephant depicted on the label should be evidence enough.

Bourgeois Family Selections, Asheville, N.C. I bought this one.