Provence In The City: Sipping Summer

The Provence Wine Council, known as Vins de Provence, made a stop in Chicago yesterday pouring their light, ethereal roses and some whites and reds as well. If any wine is reminiscent of a place and terroir its Provencal roses. I immediately think of scenes like the beach above, Pampelonne, that the rose Chateau de Pampelonne (part of the Maitres Vignerons de Saint Tropez group) is named after. At least writing about these wines, grown in sunny, picturesque Provence, is keeping me in a cheery mood on this snowy, cold, grey Chicago day. Who said you can only drink roses in the summer? They are summer in a glass.

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The Provence AOCs are roughly 150 miles wide, a little wider than the state of Connecticut. It stretches from the Cote d’Azur ( the most familiar city name would probably be Saint-Tropez), are you conjuring up sun yet? The wine regions of Provence extend to the Rhone River valley in the west. Interestingly, the landscape is dotted with mountains like Les Alpilles, a chain of low mountains around the beautiful commune of Les Baux de Provence.

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Montagne Sainte-Victoire,  near Aix-En-Provence, (Cote de Provence Sainte-Victoire is another subregion of the Cotes de Provence AOC) is famous due to Cezanne’s love of it.

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Three other low ranges run along the coast, Massif des Calanques, Massif des Maures and Massif de L’Esterel. I think you get the point there is enough variation in soil and elevation to create a lot of differentiation in the wines. Until I looked into it, I never realized that Provence was so hilly. I continue to just picture the beautiful beaches!

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The tasting yesterday was an exercise in viewing all the different shades of salmon. Provencal roses are known for their very light color created by direct pressing of the grapes and harvesting at night so the grapes have cooled down a bit so as not to over extract. The wines above, part of the Maitres Vignerons de Saint Tropez and distributed by the Original Wine Company ( whose tagline is “great wines from great places, ahum, yes, I totally would agree in this case), are all part of the Cote de Provence AOC which is the main AOC of Provence. Roses must contain at least 2 of the following grapes, grenache, mouvedre, cinsault, tibouren and syrah with cabernet sauvignon and carignan as blending partners. Most of the roses I tasted were made mainly with Grenache and Cinsault though the percentage varied depending on the producer.

There were so many wines to love and so many ideas for places to visit at this event. Most of the producers were growing their grapes sustainably and some organically and many had great stories. For example, Chateau Carpe Diem that boast vines that have been around since the romans is owned and run by a husband and wife, who left their corporate jobs, in search of a better quality of life to raise a family.

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He actually was pouring several roses, as well as a white and a red wine. The 2 roses had very distinct personalities. They both had grenache and cinsault but the Castille was made from 40 year old vines and had much more body and minerality yet still that beautiful salmon color. But he ,also, was pouring Major , which is a cabernet sauvignon, syrah and grenache blend. It was interesting because it was fruit forward as you would expect grapes grown in a sunny place to be but it wasn’t overly oaked, and the fruit showed some restraint, so it seemed like a great, food, friendly wine, yes to be drunk today, hence carpe diem.

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As I learned from a French friend, any french town with a “gnac” ending meant it had a Roman heritage. This is a picture of Cotignac, in the interior of Provence and near Chateau Carpe Diem. I am thinking “carpe diem” to get myself to Provence and see these gorgeous old towns.

Finally, many of the producers, like Chateau Berne, had hotels on their property for tourists to stay.

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The Chateau is owned and operated by a Texas family that had summered in the area and decided to acquire some roots finally in Provence. Their daughter Stefani was pouring the wine yesterday called Impatience (are you getting the theme here? ) and it too had an absolutely beautiful pale pink color and a very gorgeous bottle.

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Yet again, the blend is grenache and cinsault with aromas of freesia and watermelon. I tasted many more beautiful, aromatic roses from the celebrity Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel, to Wilson Daniels, Tenzing  Chateau Gassier.

There were gorgeous wines seeking importers in Illinois like Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence AOC , Chateau Du Seuil and Domaine Tour Campanets. The wines of the day were as varied as the terroir but they all had that light, bright, ethereal quality that I associate with Provence roses in particular. As one wine maker noted, depending on the year they will have more grenache or more cinsault and the other grapes become a spice cabinet for each producers style and the terroir of their vineyard. I will say, having thoughts of the beautiful and varying landscape of Provence made this cold Chicago winter day a lot better.   I certainly am not going to categorize rose as a “summer” wine anymore. Rose is for all the day, that is certain!

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