Provence


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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.