The Wine Snoop Report

The latest news about Provence wine and wine people

Wine Industry as Poster Child – COP21 in Paris

logo_tousensembleUndaunted by recent terrorist action in the heart of Paris, on December 7 and 8 the 21st annual session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), otherwise known simply as “COP21,” went ahead.  One of forums directly relevant to Provence WineZine readers was the “Caring for Climate” Business Forum.

The essential theme for this forum was pathways to carbon neutrality, and the attendees were there by invitation only. The list of global government agencies and business executives participating in the programs was impressive, including, for example, Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology as well as John Bryant, CEO of Kellogg and Peter Agnefäll, CEO of IKEA.

Included among the December 7th seminars, Wine Snoop learned, was one entitled “Climate Action in a Bottle: Red, White, or Rosé  ” in which all representative speakers came from the same industry, namely wine.

Climate Action in a Bottle: Red, White or Rosé  ?

UNFCCC’s Climate Neutral Now initiative seeks to encourage all parts of society to take action to become climate neutral by measuring, reducing, and offsetting their climate footprints. This applies to all walks of life. Since much of the world’s premium wine regions are threatened by climate change, the wine industry has an intimate understanding of the need to move towards climate neutrality. In this session, Climate Neutral Now is bringing together four sustainability leaders from the wine industry, who will present their business cases for measuring, reducing and offsetting. These leaders represent a diverse range of company sizes and regions across the world, and will discuss the benefits of climate strategies for businesses with lessons for a wide-ranging audience.

Break-out session lead:

UNFCCC Facilitator:
Mr. Niclas Svenningsen, Manager

UNFCCC Speakers:
• Mr. Robert Eden, Owner, Château Maris
• Ms. Valentina Lira, Sustainability Manager, Concha y Toro
• Mr. Jean-Guillaume Prats, President and CEO, Estates & Wines, the Moët Hennessy Wine Division
• Mr. Josh Prigge, Director of Regenerative Development, Fetzer Vineyards
• Ms. Alice Tourbier, Co-Owner, Château Smith Haut Lafitte

The diversity in size of each of the aforementioned properties is appropriately noted, as they range from Chile’s Concha y Toro’s 22,000 acres (8,900 ha) in vines down to French Château Maris’ total property size of 79 acres (32 ha). Yet all are committed to not only measuring their carbon footprint, but also practicing bio-dynamic agriculture.

Most unique was surely Château Maris, which is located above the village of La Liviniere; it is the first Cru Classé of the Minervois, an AOC in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region (which, of course, neighbors Provence). In 2005, Maris was dubbed by Wine Spectator as “The Biodynamic Apostle of the Languedoc.” Horses are used there in place of tractors for vineyard cultivation, and remarkably, the walls of the 9,000 square-foot chai are constructed out of blocks of hemp.

Kudos to UNFCCC for singling out the wine industry in the program of this timely and critically important global issue. It is a subject of great concern and much discussion in Provence. We look forward to hearing the thoughts of this group of esteemed speakers. <Back to PWZ>

–JC

Notes:
Take five minutes forty-nine seconds and see Château Maris’ well-done video on You Tube (Maris Biodynamic winery).

Mirabeau en Provence Completes Final Assemblage of 2015 Rosé Cuvées

Mirabea-wine-blending-shots-1Mirabeau en Provence wines come with an inspiring story. The label’s founders, Stephen and Jeany Cronk, realized their dream of making wine in Provence when they resettled in Cotignac in 2009. (Provence WineZine has the Mirabeau story in an earlier article entitled “You Know Mirabeau Rosés but Have You Met the Red Wine?)

Winemaking includes no guarantees, so moving family and home from the UK required the fuel of passion, community connection, and steady vision. It’s a pleasure to see the growth and success this path has afforded the Mirabeau team as they prepare to release the 2015 rosé blends, for which the final assemblage was recently completed.

Mirabeau doesn’t grow the grapes that become their rosés, labeled Mirabeau Classique and Pure. Instead they act as negociants, choosing the most suitable grapes from a selection of vineyards in the Côtes de Provence appellation. For the 2015 blend, Mirabeau had 140 tanks of wine from which to choose. These were narrowed down to 27 tanks that were considered carefully by the winemaking team in terms of blending balance and taste profile. Eventually three growers were selected to provide the Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan that became the 2015 blend.

I recently caught up with Stephen Cronk, just after the 2015 blends were finalized. He shares some intimate details about the Mirabeau rosés, darlings to Provence WineZine readers:

JB: Please confirm for me that 2015 will produce two cuvées, same as in the past, the Classique and Pure? Is Mirabeau utilizing grapes from the same three vineyards?

SC: Yes, we will be producing two cuvées this year, Classic and Pure. We’re working with three vineyards again this year but one of them is different from last year as we had to go higher up into the hills around Mont Sainte Victoire to find the right levels of acidity this year. The 2015 vintage was very hot and dry so we had to look further afield to find the right structure and balance this year. After tasting from around 200 parcels we eventually found the right elements to make our final assemblages for the two Mirabeau rosés. In fact, this vintage was a very strong validation of our winemaking philosophy. We make a wine that is consistent year in year out, in terms of style and quality and when faced with a challenging vintage like this one, we were still able to create our two cuvées in a style that our followers will recognise as being classically Mirabeau.

JB: Will there be more Mirabeau rosé to go around? Will the 2015 production be larger than last year’s? Harvest was outstanding, no?

SC: We’re making nearly double the amount we made last year as demand for Mirabeau has increased so much. The harvest was good in terms of great condition fruit, but the hot, dry weather saw higher levels of alcohol and lower levels of acidity. So from the perspective of the vine growers (vignerons) it was great but from the perspective of the winemakers (oenologues) it was a little more challenging.

JB: If I were going to quote you (with a tweet, for example) are there a couple words that I could put down in history as Stephen Cronk’s impressions of Mirabeau’s 2015 roses?

SC: Beautiful, elegant and refreshing as always.

JB: You’ve got an excellent social media relationship with your customers so chances are they saw the Instagrams of your winemakers with hundreds of wines, working towards the final assemblage. I’m so curious about the atmosphere of that experience. Not so much the technical click-and-clack, but what it feels like to start with all that rosé and settle in with something that screams (or whispers) Mirabeau. Would you give me a quick summary of the essence of the Mirabeau blending process? Anything that made 2015 unique?

SC: As the brand owner, I’m always filled with trepidation when it comes to creating our final assemblages, no matter how good the individual wines on our tasting benches are. After 5 days of tasting our two oenologues came up with the goods though but it is only when I try the final results can I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s rather like building a complex puzzle with the picture in your head rather than on the top of the box! But we always get there in the end…thankfully, as we only get one chance per year to get this right.

JB: Mirabeau wine is an international phenomenon these days…still growing the distribution range?

SC: We’re selling in more than 40 markets now and the US is our big focus next year. We’ve got two such awesome rosés, a great team and I love working in the States, so everyone’s happy!

JB: Does the Mirabeau team do anything special on release? Any traditions you’ve built when rolling out a new wine?

SC: We always have a celebratory dinner the night of the final blending with a few glasses of the previous vintage. The slightly frustrating thing is we can’t really enjoy the new vintage until January as we bottle in December and then we have to wait 3-4 weeks for the wines to get over the ‘bottle shock’ (because wine gets rather shaken up during the bottling process and takes a while to settle down).

Here’s a little information to help you find a Mirabeau bottle near you, to learn more about the Mirabeau team, or to plan a visit to the tasting room:

Mirabeau en Provence
Cours Gambetta
83570 Cotignac
Tel: +33 (0)4 94 37 40 02
http://www.mirabeauwine.com/

<Return to PWZ>

-JB

Bandol’s Domaine Tempier 2014 Rosé Makes Wine Spectator Top 100 List

Tempier_roseOne thing about Americans is that we love lists. It can be for almost anything…best dressed, best city to retire in, best actress in a supporting role, etc., etc. In the world of wine, readers of Wine Spectator  excitedly open the final issue of the year to see which 100 wines, out of more than 18,000 tasted, make the “Top 100” list. This year, Bandol’s Domaine Tempier 2014 Rosé was selected, landing at No. 75.

Talk about select—wow! If, say, each of the 400,000+ copies published each month gets passed along to just five people, then 2 million people are looking over that list in print alone. Factor in Wine Spectator’s online audience and the readers of the other media outlets that will cover the “Top 100 of 2015,” it is easy to imagine that indeed the 3.05 million readers the magazine estimates they have is about right, if not on the low end.

With list in hand, it’s off to the races to stock up on the winners. The retailers are panting in anticipation. Some are panting because they managed to lay in supplies—with 2,275 cases of Domaine Tempier Rosé in the US, odds are decent that bottles will be in stock in select wine shops in major metropolitan areas. Most other retailers are panting as they provide excuses why they can’t get their hands on these “top” wines. You may be curious why—simple supply and demand. Do the math:

a. Only 20 of the selected wines are available in quantities above 10,000 cases.
b. Producers of 50 of the selected wines provide less than 3,500 cases (20 of these are at less than 1000 cases). A Côtes de Jura Chardonnay ranked at No. 99 only sends 10 cases to the US.
c. Per Nielsen, in 2014 there were 522,420 wine retail outlets in America.

If the folks at Tempier are seen doing handstands in the streets of Bandol, one can understand their enthusiasm. They can regale the regulars at the local bistrots with the news that their rosé, ranked No. 75 with 93/100 points and price of $40 a bottle, outranked Chapoutier’s White Hermitage Chante-Alouette 2014, which scored 95 points, sells here at $100 a bottle, and settled in at No. 77, two spots lower than Tempier. Even better than that, the much vaunted Chapoutier 2012 Ermitage White L’Ermite, which was scored 98 points earlier this year by Wine Spectator and sells here at $615 a bottle, didn’t even make the Top 100 list (along with 252 wines that Wine Spectator gave 95 or more points to in tastings this year).

Now let’s consider another observation which might humble, or incense, all lovers of rosé. In the past 20 of the 37 annual issues of the “Top 100” lists published by Wine Spectator, a rosé was deemed worthy of inclusion a total of four times.

1. 2015 – Domaine Tempier 2014 Bandol Rosé (No. 75)
2. 2013 – Jolie-Pitt & Perrin 2012 Côtes de Provence Miraval Rosé (No.83)
3. 2012 – Domaine Lafond 2011 Tavel Roc-Epine (No. 64)
4. 2010 – Domaine Tempier 2009 Bandol Rosé (No. 99)

Going back to 1996, which covers a total selection of 2,000 wines, the above four were the only rosés chosen. Perhaps my original title, “Wine Spectator Bestows Token Award to Provence Rosé in New Top 100 List,” was more à propos. (And, don’t get me started on the inveterate absence of Provence wines, in general, on that coveted list!)

Now that Domaine Tempier has appeared in the Top 100 twice, I only hope that should they surface again in the next few years, Wine Spectator will not give them a special citation and then eliminate rosé from the list entirely. In the meantime I have found a merchant who did get his hands on No. 75. <Back to PWZ>

-JC

A Belated Salut to the Winemakers of Les Baux-de-Provence

20 ans 2 (2)This summer the winemakers of Les Baux-de-Provence celebrated their 20-year anniversary as an appellation. The winemakers group, Les Vignerons de Baux, hosted a party at the Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux-de-Baux (a medieval commune famous for its towering citadel). The setting was particularly fitting to recognize the distinctive terroir of Les Baux wines because the venue, home to a multi-media exhibition site, is actually in the limestone quarries that were active from 200 BC to 1935. On the evening of the party, guests sipped wine while photography of the region was projected onto the 14-meter high walls of the former quarry. The event’s integration of distinctive visual, textural, and taste qualities, like those in wine, reflected the unique characteristics that distinguish one appellation from another.

While Les Baux-de-Provence Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) is unmistakably Provençal in landscape (think stone, herbs, olives, sun, and wind), it is neighbors with the Rhône Valley, a wine region known for their rich, red blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Les Baux red wines have the heft and body of a Southern Rhône wine, baked with the garrigue and olive essence of Provence. (Les Baux is a designated appellation for olives and olive oil.) The marriage of the two flavor palates and the dedication to sustainable, organic practices was the primary impetus, over twenty years ago, to explore separating from the Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence appellation.

Les Baux-de-Provence is located within the Bouches du Rhône department of Provence. Although the appellation is small and relatively new, the twelve winemaking estates have earned well-deserved praise for their predominantly organic and biodynamic practices. Not yet a legislative mandate, the men and women who make wine here employ earth-friendly practices as a matter of tradition and principle. As much as 85% of the area is devoted to an organic or biodynamic approach.

In addition to being attuned to the flow of time, with harvesting and planting guided by the turn of the earth, winemakers embrace a holistic philosophy and respect for the unique personality of each wine. Eloi Dürrbach of Domaine de Trévallon, for example, prefers to produce Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP, formerly referred to as Vin de Pays) wines “rather than betray the personality of [his] wines.”

A prominent feature of Les Baux-de-Provence is the mountain range known as Les Alpilles which, literally translated, means “Little Alps.” These limestone hills create a distinct landscape and microclimate. The soil contains natural stone that fosters significant draining. The same fresh water springs that drew people to this area thousands of years ago continue to provide agricultural benefits for today’s residents.

The region has a Mediterranean climate, characterized by lots of sun, dry air, and very hot summers. The area is such a furnace on hot summer days that it has earned the nickname Val d’Enfer (valley of Hell). The Mistral, the legendary powerful wind, brings benefits to the vineyards as it cools the vines and blows away mold-fostering humidity while the Alpilles buffet the vines from any potential damage.

The AOP produces red, rosé and white wines, with red wine production accounting for about 60%, rosé about 35%, and white a slight 5% or less of production. This balance is uncharacteristic for the broader Provence wine region, where rosé dominates. White wines were not included as part of the appellation until 2011.

The principal red grape varieties are Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah. Red and rosé wines include a minimum of two grapes, and principal varieties must account for at least 50% of the blend. Other common blending grapes for red and rosé wines include Carignan, Cinsault, Counoise, Mourvèdre, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

White wines must include a minimum of 60% combined Clairette, Grenache Blanc, and Rolle (Vermentino), 10-30% Roussanne; Bourboulenc, Marsanne, and Ugni Blanc.

The designation covers around 300 hectares and produces around 9,000 annual hectoliters. The comparatively small yield from the region is primarily distributed locally, with a small percentage sold outside of Provence. Most local restaurants feature at least a few bottles from the appellation on the wine lists. The sustainable “shop-local” philosophy is apparent.
The winemakers of the region include:

Chateau Dalmeran, Chateau Romanin, Chateau d’Estoublon, Domaine De Lauzières, Domaine Guilbert, Domaine de la Vallongue, Domaine des Terres Blanches, Domaine Hauvette, L’Affectif, Mas de la Dame, Mas de Gourgonnier, and Mas Sainte Berthe. (See my recent article on Domaine des Terres Blanches.)

I recommend a stay at Le Chateau des Alpilles located in St. Remy-de-Provence. Lunch and dinner are also available, with or without an overnight booking. (link chateaudesalpilles.com) For a meal I suggest Maison Drouot, also in St. Remy-de-Provence. maisondrouot.blogspot.com. Both establishments offer extensive and appealing wine lists, including, of course, bottles from Les Baux-de-Provence.

It was a long battle for Les Baux to establish—or, rather, re-establish—its own appellation. You see, Les Baux-de-Provence had its own appellation in 1956 but became part of Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence in 1972, a Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure (VDQS) at the time that later became an Appellation d’Origine (AOC). Most people with discriminating palates agreed that Les Baux was reflective of its unique terroir (and many agreed it was much better than its peers within Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence).

Twenty years ago, they were awarded their own appellation although only twelve of the thirteen wineries who fought the battle decided to adopt the stricter appellation regulations. Domaine de Trévallon, as mentioned above, opts to make IGP wines.

Drop by and wish these winemakers a Bon Anniversaire as they embark on their 21st vintage. Of course, taste some wine, too! <Back to PWZ>

— JB

Mirabeau Tasting Room Adds a Boutique

_DSC4309Mirabeau wine needs no lure. Now internationally known for their two award-winning rosés—available in 20 countries around the world—it is easy to forget that Mirabeau Classic (the first wine produced) was launched just four years ago in 2011 (vintage 2010) and the beautiful tasting room opened only a year ago. (I am proud to remind readers that photographer Pamela O’Neill and I were the very first customers!)

Yes, Stephen Cronk—along with wife Jeany—has brilliantly marketed Mirabeau wines. Stephen’s video about “How to open a bottle of wine with a shoe,” for example, went viral on YouTube. But, even the best marketing requires a decent product to be successful and, in the case of Mirabeau wines, “exceptional” is far more descriptive.

The awards keep coming. Pure rosé (2014) received the coveted Gold Medal at the Concours Général Agricole in Paris. Both (2014) rosés captured Bronze medals in The Drinks Business Global Rosé Masters 2015 competition and both received high scores (91 for Pure and 89 for Classic) from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. (And there are more awards!)

The fans keep coming, too. This summer, on two separate occasions, while I was enjoying a little apéro with the Cronks outside the Mirabeau Tasting Room in Cotignac, I witnessed many would-be visitors approach the tasting room only to be disappointed that it was well past closing time.

As I wrote above, these wines need no lure. Nonetheless, as of late June, there is another enticing reason to drop by the tasting room: a very attractive boutique filled with an array of lovely items made, for the most part, by local craftsmen. This is Jeany’s project.

“My goal is to include beautiful things that reflect the Provence life style,” Jeany told me last month. “It’s the ‘life style element’ to support the Mirabeau wine experience.” Jeany used the French term, “produits derivés” to describe the theme of the boutique. Consisting largely of “art de la table” and decorative items, the products complement the spirit and style of Mirabeau wine: elegant, natural, and Provençal.

I was immediately drawn to the fine art photography of Tineke Stroffels, a local artist who creates what look like Dutch Masterpieces from her photographs. The boutique has a series of pieces entitled “Provence Recipes.” When you visit, look for “Le Grand Aïoli,” images that I was very taken with.

I would love to have taken home a suitcase full of the pottery adorning the wall. Jeany selected the pieces from a potter in Vallauras, near Nice, and then chose the colors—all a variation of the usual local pottery colors—and had them fired in the studio of Véronique Borentain Vagh in nearby Salernes. (Apparently, customers are filling their bags as, within two weeks, Jeany said she had to restock.)

Small wall-hangings of the “tree of life,” similar to the one that graces the tasting room and Mirabeau bottles, are available as well as candles of varying sizes, and pots in a range of sizes and styles. Lest we forget that so much of the story of rosé is set on the beach, there are stylish baskets to throw your towels in, Leuchtturm1917 notebooks inscribed with a phrase I abide by, “Age Gets Better with Wine,” to record your thoughts, and pretty flip flops to put your tootsies in.

Honey, olive oil, tapenade, and tea, produced by local vendors all known by Jeany, also line the shelves.

Jeany has very carefully selected products that help create the kind of environment in which Mirabeau fans would like to enjoy their wine. You can also pick up some glasses in which to enjoy your wine. You may need them for the wine you will surely purchase after the tasting in the next room.

Mirabeau en Provence is located in a 400 year old wine cave, as it happens, at 5 Cours Gambetta in the village of Cotignac in the Var. The building, called la Falaise, was painstakenly renovated by the Cronks (and may still be under renovation…it is Provence!). <Back to PWZ>

— SNM

Pétale de Rose from Château La Tour de l’Evêque Garners Gold from Decanter

Petale_de_roseThe 2015 Decanter World Wine Awards are in and I just got word from Alain Bonnefoy, of the House of Burgundy, independent fine wines & spirits importer and distributor in New York City, that Château La Tour de l’Evêque Rosé 2014 Cuvée Pétale de Rose took a Gold Medal.

Just two weeks ago, I was in New York at the House of Burgundy office in Manhattan, tasting this lovely rosé along with another rosé, Château Barbeyrolles 2014 Cuvée Pétale de Rose. Both wines are AOP Côtes de Provence and both are produced under the watchful eye of Régine Sumeire, third generation wine maker.
The Pétale de Rose from Château La Tour de l’Evêque, also known as Château La Tour Sainte Anne is located near Pierrefeu, in the Var. It was purchased by the Sumeire family in 1958. Its long and interesting history will be detailed in an upcoming PWZ article.

The wine is composed of an unusually large number of grapes: Cinsault (42%), Grenache (38%), Syrah (9%), Ugni Blanc (4%), Mouvèdre (3%), Sémillon, and Cabernet Sauvignon and Rolle (1% each). Hand-picked, beginning as early as 5:00 a.m., the grapes are then sorted, placed into the press without crushing, and lightly pressed using presses from the Champagne region. The vineyards are certified organic. Only animal fertilizers are used and the soil is treated with sulphur and copper, as it has been for three generations.

The result is an elegant wine—a pale salmon color in my glass—that works nicely as an apéritif although I kept imagining a bowl of bouillabaisse accompanying my glass. I detected a floral nose, hints of melon on the palate, and a pleasing finish.

This rosé, in the eyes—or, rather, the palates of the judges at the Decanter World Wine Awards competition—keeps getting better and better. In 2012, it captured a Bronze Award, followed by two Silver Awards in each of the following years, and Gold in 2015.

Bravo, Régine Sumeire! <Back to PWZ>

— SNM

Snow Falls in Provence’s Southern Rhône Valley

Clos de caveau snow 1Henri Bungener, proprietor of Le Clos de Caveau in the Vacqueyras appellation of the Rhône Valley wine region, reported that 6 inches of snow fell on his vineyard overnight on Tuesday.
“It’s good for the grapes,” Bungener said, “The bugs don’t like the cold.”

“I’m relieved [as] last year we did not hit freezing temperatures…[and] we suffered a lot because of it,” referring to the catastrophic losses in olive harvests in both France and Italy.

“The fruit fly got in [the olives] and they fell to the ground way before being eatable,” Bungener said, “but we’ll be okay now.”
It’s a beautiful sight and a striking contrast to the sweltering June day when Pamela O’Neill and I visited Le Clos de Caveau this past summer. It was beautiful then, too.

The snow won’t last long as the weather forecast calls for temperatures climbing into the mid-40°s (4.5°C) this  weekend…though it may still feel cold as it sounds like the Mistral winds are whipping up.

-SNM

Photo by Henri Bungener

Le Vin Cuit from Mas de Cadenet est Arrivé!

20 petitVin Cuit is a “cooked wine” that is traditionally enjoyed during the Christmas season in Provence. Although most of this holiday dessert wine never makes it out of the small village in which it is made, it is made and sold to a wider audience by a handful of wine producers in Provence. This one, produced by Mas De Cadenet—a 200-year-old estate that lies at the base of Mount Sainte-Victoire, where vin cuit originated—is the best I have ever had. Now, with its inaugural arrival in the States, we statesiders can have a tipple or two this season.

Made from a blend of the juice from Rolle, Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah grapes, this juice is cooked in a huge open cauldron over an oak fire until it is reduced by about half. It is then put into vats for a long fermentation and then into old oak barrels where it is aged for two years.

The result is an elegant wine with a gorgeous, deep golden amber color; intense and complex flavors from the first wave of aromas to the lingering finish; and a silky mouthfeel.

Read about one of its many roles in Provençal Christmas traditions in an upcoming article in The Modern Trobadors and, in an upcoming article in  Provence WineZine , read more about how vin cuit pops up in Provence at Christmastime as well as how it is made and how you can get your hands on a bottle for your holidays! <Back to PWZ>

— SNM

Photo by permission of Mas De Cadenet

Stephen Cronk Feeling Sanguine about 2014 Mirabeau Rosés

Robin_MirabeauThis morning I spoke with Stephen Cronk, proprietor of Mirabeau in Provence, who told me that he and winemaker Jo Ahearne just wrapped up the final blending session of the Mirabeau 2014 rosés. Woo-hoo!

Cronk produces two cuvées: their signature Mirabeau “Classique” Rosé and the relatively new addition, Mirabeau “Pure” Rosé, both Côtes de Provence and both boasting a list of accolades long enough to compel any rosé fan to grab a corkscrew and open a bottle tout de suite. (No corkscrew? No problem. Cronk produced a YouTube video—that went viral—demonstrating how to get a cork out of a bottle sans tire-bouchon!).

Photographer Pamela O’Neill and I stopped by Cronk’s brand spanking new boutique and tasting room in Cotignac this summer to meet Stephen and his wife Jeany Cronk and to try his wildly popular rosés. The exceptional reviews did not exaggerate. I was particularly smitten with Pure, a lively and fresh quintessential Provence rosé. More on this visit in an upcoming article in Provence WineZine.

Back to the 2014 vintage….Cronk, barely containing his excitement, said that both rosés are “bursting with fruit and freshness” and are “so yummy!”

The blending took a long time, Cronk explained, because not only are they aiming for excellence but also for a consistent style across time. Classique is in its fifth vintage and Pure is in its second vintage. In the 2013 vintage, both were predominantly Grenache (50%) and Syrah (40%) with 10% of Cinsault added to Classique and 10% Rolle added to Pure whereas the 2014 vintages are a blend of almost entirely Grenache and Syrah. Watch for the details in the upcoming PWZ article.

Cronk, a négociant winemaker, said that these rosés are each made from a blend from grapes that, this year, came from three wineries, roughly equivalent to a total of 1000 hectares (2500 acres) of vines.

It’s been cold and rainy in the Var in recent weeks. Cronk, clearly warmed by the blending session, reported that he felt like he had “bottled up the [very hot] summer of 2014.”

We’ll see if we agree in early spring…when it is still cold in this neck of the woods and in Provence! Can’t wait.   <Back to PWZ>

–SNM

Pictured above is Robin Najar holding the Mirabeau Pure Rosé.  Photo by WT Manfull.

Out Out Damn Rosé

SANY00872_result2_result-1Red wine grabbed the spotlight from their much-lauded rosés at Château Léoube’s recent portes ouvertes on the Cap Bénat peninsula in Bormes-les-Mimosas. The star of the show was the first official vintage of Léoube Collector, a single varietal Cabernet Franc, a first of its kind in Provence. The event, which reportedly attracted 400 wine lovers (including yours truly) to the stunning 560-hectare (1383-acre) domaine hugging the shores of the Mediterranean, invited guests to taste red and white wines, sparkling rosé, and estate olive oils as well as tour the grounds and wine cave.

Upon arrival, with two friends on a picture perfect Côtes d’Azur afternoon, we were whisked off on a visit to the pristine state-of-the-art winery, completely renovated in 2009, by caviste Frederick Perotto, who would later describe to us the vinification process from pressing through maturation. A tasting followed of the vineyard’s three red wine cuvées, representing 20% of their annual production.

We began with a 2010 Rouge de Léoube Côtes de Provence (60% Syrah with equal amounts of Grenache and Cinsault), which is their lighter offering meant to be enjoyed in warm weather as well as cold. Les Forts de Léoube was next. Aged in wood for a minimum of nine months and a blend of equal parts Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, and Cabernet Sauvignon, it had a rounder and more complex fruitiness with light tannins and minerality. The final red, and guest of honor, was the Léoube Collector, aged in new 600-liter French oak barrels for at least 16 months. Robust and silky with rich blackberry flavor and a peppery finish, it was definitely my favorite, recalling some of my best-loved Tuscan reds. Not to leave any glass unturned, we also sipped the elegant, light, and fruity Sparkling de Léoube, just conjured for a summer day and also, surprisingly, made from Cabernet Franc.

We tasted Léoube’s two superb olive oils while hobnobbing with the charming Export Director Jérôme Pernot. Also on hand was Romain Ott, the vineyard’s Operations Director and oenologist, fourth generation of the illustrious Domaines Ott family, who has modeled the château’s all organic vintage and philosophy since his arrival in 2000. Evidently lacking the requisite chutzpah, I was unable to wriggle my way through the many ardent and sometimes tenacious admirers encircling Ott for a tête-à-tête of snoop-worthy repartie. With Jérôme’s assistance, however, I was able to snatch a fetching photo of the Léoube duo.

I’ll be back. Perchance in the spring, when the rosé flows anew, to déjeuner at Café de Léoube on the sands of Pellegrin Beach. Oh but life is good!  <Back to PWZ>

–PJO

Pictured above are Romain Ott (left) and Jérôme Pernot (right).  Photo by Pamela O’Neill

Mon Dieu! How Much was that 20-Year-Old Rosé?

1-P7020256_resultBuried in the middle of an otherwise humdrum article in Wine Spectator about the “Auction Index [Staying] Flat in Third Quarter of 2014,” was the following sentence: “A two-bottle lot of Henri Jayer Bourgogne Rosé 1994 climbed above its $180 estimate by 1,222 percent; its $2390 price likely makes it the most expensive rosé ever purchased.” (October 15, 2014)

A couple of points jumped out at me about this sentence. First, I knew it wasn’t the most expensive rosé ever sold—in an earlier Wine Snoop Report, we wrote that “a large format double magnum of the Château d’Esclans “Garrus” rosé was auctioned off [in the Hamptons] for a record $15,000 for one bottle.” This tidy sum went to Jeff’s Kitchen at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton, New York and the Jeff Salaway Scholarship Fund.

So, the Henri Jayer rosé wasn’t the most expensive rosé ever purchased—and I would learn in the course of asking around about the Henri Jayer sale, that neither was the Garrus rosé the most expensive rosé ever purchased, as the Snoop had reported. (More on this subject below.)

Second, I was curious was why anyone would pay over a thousand dollars a bottle for a rosé that was well past its prime. Even the esteemed auction house, Hart Davis Hart, did not expect such a wildly high price.

Rumblings from the peanut gallery frequently decry the $90 price tag of Sacha Lichine’s Garrus rosé. Rosé is supposed to be cheap as well as quaffable and fun, ‘they’ say, something to sip by the poolside. The same folks, I suspect, also say that $16.80, the average retail price a decent rosé now commands in the States, is more than one should fork over for a bottle of ‘lowly’ rosé. I wholeheartedly disagree.

Curiosity piqued, I reached out to Pierre-Olivier Camou, Sales Manager in New York’s Sherry-Lehman: Even recognizing we’re talking Henri Jayer, why would this wine sell for so much?

“Henri Jayer was a cult winemaker. Among the three most expensive and sought-after wines on the planet, two are his. Any of his wines are going to retail for astronomical prices,” Camou responded.

Anticipating my next question about whether the wine would be good, Camou said, “By the way, I don’t think that a 1994 rosé would be drinkable by now.”

I asked Paul Chevalier, National Fine Wine Director of Shaw-Ross International Importers, and importer of Château d’Esclans rosé wines, including Garrus, to weigh in.

“I think this wine is cooked and way too old,” adding that there is “Nothing special about a Henri Jayer rosé [as it is] not a great place to make rosé to begin with.”

To underscore this contention, Chevalier wrote to me that “Making rosé in Vosne-Romanée is like trying to make a white wine without bubbles using Clos de Mesnil grapes; can be done, but never will be great….” Chevalier’s position notwithstanding, it seems to me that he has a point.

Increasingly haunted by the question of why this 20-year old bottle of rose, even given its legendary vintner, would yield such a remarkably high price when it is likely to have lost its (arguable) appeal on the palate, I talked with our local wine merchant, Win Rhoades, proprietor of South Street and Vine in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

“Whoa, now,” Rhoades said, “[that rosé] may still have some life left in it.” He reminded me of the 2000 Jura Arbois Pupillin red wine we recently shared and that, although the vintage suggested it would be past its prime, we certainly managed to eke a lot of pleasure out of that bottle.

Perhaps ‘1994’ was a good year for the buyer for personal reasons, Rhoades added. An anniversary?
My curiosity still not satiated, I called to Jerry Clark, good friend who happened to have had two lots of Burgundy wine—including some from Henri Jayer—sold in the same Hart Davis Hart auction on September 19th (as the rosé in question).

Clark, who has an impressive cellar by any measure, acknowledged that he “collects” wine but hastened to add that the wine is “for my own enjoyment” and that “[his wines] were never bought to invest for resale purposes.”

Clark echoed Rhoades’ sentiments, saying that “Maybe it is still drinkable.” He added that Hart Davis Hart fastidiously qualifies the cellars from which they take their wines for auction. As part of the qualification process (that took about a year for Clark), a representative from the auction house traveled from Chicago to his home in New England to personally assess Clark’s cellar before accepting his wines for auction. A detailed provenance accompanies each wine in the auction, instilling confidence in the buyer about the authenticity and storage of the wine.

“Maybe the wine was not purchased to be drunk,” Clark mused. “Maybe the buyer needed that bottle to fill in a story.” Clark himself has a soft spot for wines related to his children’s birth years (although I am certain any birth-year wines that Clark would purchase would be with the idea his children could drink the wines).

“I don’t believe anybody would buy a wine they knew was over the hill,” Clark said.

Our conversation turned to another rosé that truly is the most expensive rosé ever sold. Camou had alerted me to a May 2014 Wine Searcher article revealing the sale of a single 1995 “Queen of Hearts” Sine Qua Non Rosé produced by the iconic Manfred Krankl for—gasp—$42,780. The final bid was actually $37,200—the rest was the buyer’s premium. (FYI, the bidder was anonymous and the auction was conducted by the online site, WineBid.)

Krankl said, in the Wine Searcher article, that that rosé was not meant for sale; instead, he said, in the same article, that it was made for “ourselves” and that “[a] good portion of it we gave away to friends and associates and lo and behold some of these ‘friends’ went about and sold their gifts.”

If the sale of two-bottle lot of 20-year-old Henri Jayer rosé piqued my curiosity, the sale of single bottle of 19-year-old Sine Qua Non rosé booted any curiosity into orbit. Mon Dieu!

This was not an auction for charity, as was the case with the $15,000 double magnum—that is, four standard 750 ml bottles—of Garrus. This was not a bottle said to have come from a certain US President’s cellar.

“Staggering,” was the only word Clark could muster up.

Would it be unbecoming to hope that the anonymous buyer finds himself with a pretty bottle of pink vinegar?  <Back to PWZ>

–SNM

 

 

Pictured above are Jerry Clark and Susan Manfull.  Photo by Pamela O’Neill

This Is Not Your Grand-Maman’s Coop Wine

Snoop_coopCooperatives throughout Provence are getting a facelift in their bid to seduce new wine buyers. In the past it was enough for them to blend up a white, a red, and a rosé, safe in the knowledge that it would be pumped into vessels large and small and carried off by thirsty loyal locals. Quality was not always job one. But the times they are a changin’.

Core buyers are aging, wine consumption’s on the decrease, and wine buyers are savvier and choosier about what they swill. Add to that the skyrocketing popularity of Provence wines on the international market over the past decade and you have the motivational cocktail driving cooperatives to accept that their old road is rapidly aging, and step up the quality and diversity of their cuvées. This modern economic mutualism has spurred the planting of new vines, upgrades of cellar and equipment, expanded interest in organic practices, style makeovers in tasting rooms, and a dedicated focus on wine quality and regional identity.

The proof of their success was manifest in Cotignac’s main square this month where I came across a festive gathering of men and women clad in bright pink shirts bearing the logo “to coop or not coop.” It turned out to be “La Cooparade: Le Soiree de Cooperatage” sponsored by The Federation of Cooperative Caves of the Var (a department with over 50 cooperatives) where I got to taste the latest offerings from a dozen or more coops and chat with their enthusiastic and proud growers and vintners.

To say that I was surprised by the quality and diversity of what I sampled is an understatement. A far cry from the coop wines I was introduced to upon my arrival in Cotignac a dozen years ago.  Fresh and full of character, with multiple cuvées offered by each coop, these wines were are at par with those from some of the best local domaines, and for very modest prices.         Some of my favorites were from Le Cellier des Archers in Les Arcs, La Coopérative de Pierrefeu, Les Vignerons de Saint-André, and La Cave de la Roquière in La Roquebrussanne, but there wasn’t a bad apple (or grape) in the bunch. This snoop is definitely planning “to coop” with greater frequency in the future.  <Back to PWZ>

–PJO

On a Rolle with the Cotignac International Wine Tasting Club

1-CIMG6880If you are in Cotignac on the last Tuesday of the month, you’re sure to spy the local amoureux du vin, of all ages and nationalities, scurrying to La Cave, with wine glasses in hand, to swirl, sniff, sip and, in general, drink in the wine subject du jour. Our merry little group (becoming merrier with each sip) consists of individuals with varying degrees of savoir faire, from wine professionals to novices, but all enjoy batting about wine words and swapping critiques.

The star of our most recent rendezvous was the grape variety Rolle, known in Italy as Vermentino. Since the year 2000, this cepage has gradually replaced Ugni Blanc and Clairette Blanc (traditional Provence varietals) in popularity and now represents more than 50% of the cepages used in Cotes de Provence white wines. So exuberant has been the planting of this varietal, that over half of the Rolle vines in Provence are under ten years old. Typically, It produces fresh, citrussy wines, often with green apple, pear or peach fruitiness, a touch of minerality, and an almond finish.

Ludovic Asseman, from Domaine St. Croix la Manuelle and a member of our group, led us in tasting 15 wines (that I can remember), providing examples from the Var and Bellet in Provence and Tuscany, Liguria, and Sardinia in Italy.

Among the seven Var wines (in AOP Côtes de Provence), all 100% Rolle, two were wood-aged including a very nice Les Caves du Commandeur’s (Montfort-sur-Argens) 2012 Secrète Blanc, the only cooperative-made wine that we tasted, which had fresh fruit and flowery notes with a smooth mouthfeel for 8€ a bottle.

Characteristically, none of the Italians were aged in oak and all four were straight varietal wines. My favorite was the 2012 Piero Mancini, Cucaione, from the Vigneti Piero Mancini vineyards in northern Sardinia, which was distinguished by its very pale, green-tinted lemon color, nice pear and green apple fruit, and a slightly salty smooth finish (8.30€).

Which brings us to the third stop on our Rolle, which is the little 40+ hectare Côte de Provence AOP in the city of Nice: Bellet, the only urban appellation in France. Thomas Jefferson once wrote that the wine of Bellet “was silky and a little astringent and was the most delicious wine I ever tasted.” Well, we tasted three and, lo and behold, it was a wine from Bellet voted the tastiest of the evening by our esteemed wine club connoisseurs.

The numero uno Vermentino was an oak-aged 2011 Collet de Bovis Blanc from Domaine du Fogolar which had notes of peach, orange, and lime zest, was smooth and a bit leathery, but with a bright finish and just enough acid. The wines of Bellet sported the highest price tags, up to around 20 euros, but our number two favorite, also from Provence, was a pocket pleasing 8€ Var cuvée from nearby Domaine Sainte Croix La Manuelle, in Le Thoronet, which neighbors the famous Cistercian abbey (For the record, I remain unconvinced by whispers of vote tampering on the part of Ludovic in bringing his vineyard into second place!). Their 2007 La Manuelle, Blanc de Blancs is made from 100% Rolle, no oak, with notes of pear and white flowers and a crisp lime finish, which was well balanced with a smooth texture.

So laurels to Provence for a perfecta finish contra their more famous and established Italian neighbors. Félicitations !  <Back to PWZ>

–PJO

Rainy Summer Impacts Fall Harvest at Château La Verrerie

La Verrerie-6222138Château La Verrerie, known for their outstanding Rhone-style red wines, has opted to cancel next weekend’s “Fête de La Vendange” in order to devote more time—and hands—to their harvest. Due to the extreme weather—especially frequent and heavy rains—of the 2014 growing season in the Luberon (and throughout the South of France), the winemakers at the château expect a particularly challenging harvest. More hands and less automation will be in the vineyards to ensure a successful harvest, we were told.

We suspect that the unusually high temperatures of recent weeks are a factor, too. Earlier this week, the temperature in Lourmarin reached 30° Celsius (86° F) compared with the usual 27° C (81° F).

We wish our fingers could be more productive than simply crossing them in hopes of a fruitful harvest at Château La Verrerie and throughout Provence. Watch for an upcoming article on this vineyard (originally slated for this weekend on the subject of the fête). I may have to console myself by popping a bottle of Grand Deffand Rouge (2012).  <Back to PWZ>

–SNM

New President of AOP Côtes de Provence Heeds the Cry for Rosé

Eric Pastorini

Eric Pastorini

Although he may not be known to readers of Provence WineZine, Eric Pastorino, elected president of the Côte de Provence Wine Syndicate in July, is a pretty familiar face on the Provence wine scene. For the last fifteen years, this 52-year-old winemaker has been President of the wine cooperative in Gonferon, which boasts 150 winegrowers as members with 85% of their production classed AOP Côtes de Provence. He has also been Secretary General of Cooperatives in the Department of the Var and, for the past two years, has sported the hat of President of the Provence/Corsica Committee of the INAO (national organization charged with regulating AOPs). He has long been a militant supporter of his region’s cooperative system which he sees as a mainstay of its loyal wine consumers and the local economy as well as a uniting force among the wine growing community.

Now it appears that he will be equally hawkish in his new magisterial role. Two days after his election, Eric Pastorino already warned that their rosy prospects and fine financial fettle should not blind the Côte de Provence vintners to the slippery slopes that could lie ahead. With the rapidly increasing demand for rosé worldwide, he specifically cited the need to be vigilant in maintaining both the quality and regional identity of the wine and, at the same time, keep pace with an expanding market in order to protect its treasured market share from would-be usurpers. In addition, he explained that “[a constrained supply] can eventually lead to an increase in price that would be unreasonably harmful to growers of Côte de Provence.”

This year, he will be petitioning the INAO for an increase in allowable wine yields per hectare of vines, noting that this is the first time in a decade that this request has been made. The syndicate also wants to introduce additional parcels of land in 84 communities into the Cotes de Provence AOP. (Perhaps his INOP regional presidential cap will help!) But will this be sufficient to stem the world’s soif for the rosés of Provence? On verra!  <Back to PWZ>

–PJO

BYOWA in the Hamptons

P8269932Woe is the bon vivant who looks forward to a tipple of rosé this weekend in the Hamptons. Yesterday, the New York Post sounded the alarm with their headline, “Rosé running dangerously low in the Hamptons.” Whispering Angel the perennial favorite of the Hampton crowd is particularly low. Château d’Esclans doubled its production from last year, but still found the bins bare in Provence as early as June.

Never fear, the estate is feverishly working to expand production capability even more for the next vintage, available late spring 2015. In the meantime, it is still available in wine shops around the city and beyond—in fact, there are still a few bottles in the wine and cheese shop, South Street and Vine, across from my home in Portsmouth, NH.

For this weekend in the Hamptons, best to BYOWA.  <Back to PWZ>

–SNM

Photo by W.T. Manfull

No more Aureto Tramontane (2011) in la cave

Aureto_Wine-7Shortly after this IGP Vaucluse red wine received a “Commended” nod from the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards—adding to its other awards—Cave Aureto’s bins are bare, as of the first week in August. (We have thoroughly enjoyed the 2010 cuvée on several occasions, both in the tasting room and around the table.) The other 2014 Decanter award-winning wine—Aureto Petit Miracle Red (2012) AOP Luberon, which snagged a Bronze award—is still in stock at the Cave. Hardly a consolation prize.   It looks like a persevering oenophile might still be able to nab both in Switzerland, native home of the current owners of Cave Aureto. Price tags hover just above $20 US. <Back to PWZ>

–SNM

Dancing in the vines of Pierrefeu

PierrefeuMuch cause for celebration at Château Montaud last week as their long anticipated 2013 AOP Côtes de Provence Pierrefeu hit the shelves. This new offering from owner and winemaker Frédéric Ravel represents eleven years of perseverance, as president of the region’s winemaking association, in designating Pierrefeu the newest among four denominations de terroir within the Côtes de Provence AOP. This official decree recognizes the unique terroir-driven character of its wines. Aptly named “Extrait de Terrior,”their rosé, which we were treated to a sneak preview of this summer during a visit to the domaine, is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, and Mourvèdre.

And kudos to Frédéric and his team for being rewarded with a Recommendation from Decanter magazine (August 2014) in their recent tasting of 2013 Côtes de Provence rosés. The panel of judges were stingy with their praise of this year’s selection “with all three judges disappointed by a trend toward pale and flavorless wines.” Château Montaud rosé, however, received an admirable 87 out of 100, commensurate with the ratings given to the much touted Whispering Angel from Sacha Lichine’s Château d’Esclans and the popular Jolie-Pitt & Perrin’s Miraval, both with significantly heftier price tags. Well done.  <Back to PWZ>

–PJO

To be or not to be AOP

CIMG67122_result2_resultAt the same time as Provence’s AOP wines are receiving much attention and accolades, there appears to be a new vanguard of Vins de Pays and Vins de France (formerly Vins de Table) on the scene. On recent visits to some of Provence’s most esteemed vineyards, for example, we discovered that, in addition to their Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) cuvées, many, of late, are opting to create their own Vin de Pays (officially classified as IGP, Indication Geographique Protégée).

When one considers the time invested, by these very same vintners, to acquire their prestigious AOP designations, demanding the patience of a saint and the tenacity of Steve Jobs (not to mention the suffering endured from paper cuts), one might ask why dabble with a Vin de Pays, considered, in comparison, a lowly worm on the wine chain? Guy Negrel at Mas de Cadenet reports spending 15 years in his crusade to establish the SainteVictoire denomination and the campaign for the Pierrefeu denomination, with the first vintage just being introduced now, was begun in 2003. And let’s not forget the huge economic toll extracted in implementing the mind-boggling regulations stipulated in obtaining and maintaining their cherished appellations. Even more implausible, some previously AOP designated vineyards have chosen to label their entire production Vin de France. An article in Decanter Magazine’s recent (August 2014) issue, entitled “Free the Winemaker,” cites “onerous appellation regulations” leading to disputes with the powers that be and stifling of creative juices (sorry for the pun) as reasons why. Quite drastic in an AOP world.

Some sources suggest that the proliferation in the Vin de Pays and the Vin de France categories stems primarily from financial considerations. Prescribed AOP blends have left some traditional grape varieties literally out in the cold, as they have either been excluded from the mix or allowed in very small quantities. What does one do with hectares of vines bearing dejected grapes deemed unrepresentative of their terroir? Some make Vin de Pays lemonade! Still other winemakers are responding to market demands for wines labelled with specific varietals, often a single cepages, especially for export to counties like the US, where a bottle is often selected by grape rather than region. And with growing demand and attendant price increases making it vaut la peine (worth the pain), still other growers have hopped on the gravy train, bottling what they previously sold en citern (in the tank).

So what lurks behind the modest Vin de Pays and Vin de France monikers? Is it the soul and savoir faire of an inspired, AOP thwarted, virtuoso? A plebeian plonk calculated for a thirsty and unwitting market? Or something in between? There’s only one way to know for sure. So ready, aim, cork screw!  <Back to PWZ>

–PJO

Lots of good wine in little Cotignac

Didier Romieux

Didier Romieux

Lots of wine news in the little village of Cotignac, in the heart of the Var. Rosé country, this is. Les Vignerons de Cotignac, the local cooperative dating back to 1967, is currently undergoing a complete transition to organic agricultural and winemaking practices. A cuvée called Douceur du Rocher, evoking the troglodyte cliffs—a prominent feature of the village—is one of the first wines in this new era.

In addition to the cooperative, there are two wine stores in this village: La Cave de Cotignac, opened in 2011 by proprietor Didier Romieux, that has, according to one client, “un-get-a-holdable” wines and La Cave de Fabien, opened in December by proprietor Fabien Timotei, specializes in wines from Provence and Corsica as well as liquors and spirits.

Today, the local snoop discovered La Foire des Jeune Agriculteurs du Var, which turned out to be a market featuring various specialties of young agricultural producers in the Var Department. And, guess what? There were several vineyards represented. So, although it was only half past nine, the snoop seized some “when in Rome” moxie and did some morning tastings. Favorites were two AOP Côtes de Provence Rosés from Château Rosan, in Pignan. The first, Cuvée Evidence (Grenache, Cinsault, Rolle), was crisp and fresh, decidedly lemony with a bit of peach. Perfect for summer sipping (even in the morning). Their Cuvée Elégance (Mourvédre, Grenache, Rolle) also had a fresh citrus finish but was more balanced with some white fruit and berry. Both delightful.

And, saints be praised, as of this summer, Cotignac has its very own winemaker smack dab in the middle of the village. Mirabeau Wine opened the door to their new headquarters in a restored winery on June 30th. How does the snoop know the exact date, you ask? Because Provence WineZine journalists Pamela O’Neill and Susan Manfull were on the scene as Stephen Cronk’s first customers!

Watch for feature-length articles on these subjects in upcoming posts of Provence WineZine.  <Back to PWZ>

–PJO