"I am now in the land of corn, wine, oil, and sunshine," wrote Thomas Jefferson on a 1787 visit to the South of France. "What more can a man ask of heaven?" Apparently just a bit more, because Jefferson continued to order stocks of Provençal wines along with such staples as olive oil, almonds, and artichoke hearts every year for the rest of his life.
A wine-loving traveler today will be just as astonished at the richness of the region. From the centuries-old vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape to the experimental hotbed of Languedoc-Roussillon, the wine scene in the South of France is—pardon the pun—in ferment. Moreover, it's a wine world ripe for discovery as this is not a land of Cabernet, Merlot, and Chardonnay. Rather it is a realm of lesser-known grapes—Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Roussanne, among them—albeit ones with a pedigree as long or longer than that of the Big Three. If you know these wines, you know their power to seduce; if not, prepare to reopen your mind, intrigue your palate, and search for your shoes at the end of the meal.
Here, mainly divided by department, are 50 ways to fuel the passion. The boldface type at the beginning of each entry indicates either the town or appellation where the experience is to be had.
1 The Worst-Kept Wine Secret In The South Of France
Mondragon Every wine-lover and vigneron in southern France has a special little place they want to tell you about—and it's always the same place: Restaurant de la Beaugravière. This attractive but plain-featured dining room located in Nowheresville (a.k.a. Mondragon) attracts the most cosmopolitan clientele of any Michelin two-fork-and-spoon country restaurant in France. Proprietor Guy Jullien is clearly a man whose enthusiasms for wine and truffles run deep: His scrambled egg and truffle appetizer (below left, with a trio of Châteauneufs-du-Pape) alone is worth the drive. His cellar holds a pirate's horde of top bottles, from 21 different vintages and/or bottle sizes of Domaine de Trévallon to 38 vintages and bottle sizes of Château de Beaucastel. Rayas, Clape, Chave—the great names from the South of France crowd together, both broad and deep, jockeying for list space. $40-$130, without truffles or Trévallon. Route Nationale 7; 33-4-90-40-82-54, fax 33-4-90-40-91-01.
2 Cherrypicking The Cotes-Du-Rhone
Côtes-du-Rhône This vast appellation, sweeping over nearly 100,000 acres of the Rhône Valley, is best known for red wine—much of it fair to middling. But two stars to look for, both from top-ranked producers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, are Château de Fonsalette from Château Rayas and Coudoulet de Beaucastel from Château de Beaucastel. The latter is produced from vineyards that abut the estate's Châteauneuf-du-Pape plantings—in other words, same soil, same exposition, but they fall just outside the border of the Châteauneuf appellation. Not in this class, but still fine, are the Côtes-du-Rhône red and rosé wines from Domaine de la Mordorée and the Côtes-du-Rhône reds from the northern Rhône's major producers—Guigal, Jaboulet (Parallele 45), and La Maison Chapoutier (Belleruche).
Also look for Côtes-du-Rhône wines with the name of a village after the words Côtes-du-Rhône Villages (Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, Cairanne, for example). Why? Because in return for getting a separate appellation these producers must guarantee a minimum alcohol level for reds of 12.5 percent, the same that by law Châteauneuf-du-Pape must have. (This minimum alcohol level is the highest in France.) That should mean riper grapes to start off with—although quality varies dramatically from producer to producer. Among the best bets for reds are Cairanne and Sablet.
Dry rosé is an indispensable part of the picture when you picture yourself nibbling salty almonds under an umbrella in a Provençal summer garden, or feasting on garlicky shrimp or charcoal-grilled chicken with your toes in the sand and the Mediterranean a vista of polished turquoise a few feet away. The best southern French rosés have no more in common with gummy sweet American "blush wines" than freshly risen croissants do with Pop-Tarts. Dry French rosés work two ways: They have the chilled-down, sheer refreshment value of drier-style white wines, while capturing some of the body and flavor of red wines. We've highlighted the best rosés in each department covered in this guide under the heading Best Regional Rosés.
3 Gigondas Among The Clouds
Gigondas The big news in this appellation of juicy, exuberant, "junior Châteauneuf" reds is the comeback of Domaine Les Pallières. Set in a high, green fold of hills, Les Pallières looks like a postcard patch of the Shenandoah Valley planted to gnarled old Grenache vines. The estate, which had in recent years declined under its elderly owners, has been bought by Vieux Télégraphe's Brunier brothers and the estimable American importer Kermit Lynch. They are busy selling off substandard inventory as bulk wine, repruning the vineyards, and installing new everything in the cellar. By mid-2000 they hope to open a tasting room in the old bergerie (sheep-barn sounds better in French, doesn't it?), and by the end of that year have their first new bottling, from the celebrated 1998 vintage. Route d'Encieu; 33-4-90-33-00-31, fax 33-4-90-33-18-47.
4 Country Comfort, Gigondas-Style
Gigondas L'Oustalet, a clubby country restaurant in the center of the village, is the place to have lunch here. The cooking is fresh and straightahead—snails with green cabbage, spring asparagus with ham—and the wine list leans toward local pleasures like the supple, plum-and-raspberry-inflected St. Gayan 1996 Gigondas. Do as the next table was doing when we visited: Use the wine list to conduct a Gigondas tasting. Lunch: $80-$100. Place de la Mairie; 33-4-90-65-85-30, fax 33-4-90-65-85-30.
5 Stocking Up On Gigondas
Gigondas A few steps from L'Oustalet's door in either direction are numerous boutiques and wine caveaux. Three good choices: the Caveau du Gigondas, which has a long list of the appellation's wines; the shop of excellent producer Daniel Brusset (Les Hauts de Montmirail) across the square; and Château de Saint-Cosme, on the way up the hill, offering a comfortable farmhouse-style tasting room and a warm welcome from beaming Madame.
6 Soaring Vineyard Views (Good Food Too)
Séguret You have to be determined to get to the no-star Le Table du Comtat. It perches at the crest of one of the area's prettiest hilltop villages, and the only way up by car is a steep, switchback road that ends up snaking across the top of the village. The rewards are a soaring view over the vineyards of Gigondas and the village of Sablet down in the valley, and Franck Gomez's spirited food. If it's available, don't miss the silky, vibrantly flavored ravioli with langoustines on a bed of kidney and fava beans and pistou; the Drôme guinea fowl in pastry with a coriander sauce (a dish more Middle Eastern than Provençal); and the dôme moelleux, a dense cake made from local walnuts and filled with a layer of chocolate ganache. The wine list has a well-chosen selection of area reds and whites. There is a small dining room to the right of the entrance with just three tables, each right up against a picture window. In summer, book the terrace. $50-$140. 33-4-90-46-91-49, fax 33-4-90-46-94-27.
This is deservedly one of France's best-known wine appellations, but also one of its slipperiest. All Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds have heft because of the minimum alcohol level required by law in this appellation, 12.5 percent, the highest in France. Otherwise, their styles are all over the map, from deeply extracted, traditionally made gems meant to age a quarter century—for instance Rayas and Beaucastel—to fruity, soft wines fermented by carbonic maceration, à la Beaujolais (Domaine Nalys) for drinking early. Add to that the fact that while Grenache is the base grape for most Châteauneuf reds, 13 different varieties are allowed in the blend (a touch of Counoise here, perhaps, a drop of Terret Noir there). And the blend varies wildly from winery to winery. Of the two most sought-after labels, for example, Rayas uses only one grape, Grenache, while Beaucastel employs all 13 in its wines. What this boils down to: With this appellation, the individual producer's style is more important than the words Châteauneuf-du-Pape on the label.
7 Pretty Perch
Châteauneuf-du-Pape Château La Nerthe (pronounced Nairt) is one of the oldest properties here. Its 18th-century château, built atop a gentle slope with views all the way to the Papal Palace in Avignon, is one of the few aristocratic structures in the appellation. By special arrangement, the château will engage an area chef and accommodate groups of up to 20 in its parquet-floored main dining room. Adding to the pleasure here are the grotty, centuries-old cellar with workers' pickax marks visible in the rock, and the fact that La Nerthe makes some of the best wine in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Look especially for the deep but ultra-refined Cuvée des Cadettes, the estate's top red wine. For a tour or tasting contact Juliette Reynaud-Dugas. Route de Sorgues; 33-4-90-83-70-11, fax 33-4-90-83-79-69.
8 Wine On The Rocks
Châteauneuf-du-Pape There really isn't much to see at Château de Beaucastel, if you discount the odd spectacle of a vineyard carpeted with round stones the size of softballs. Still, hundreds of star-struck Châteauneuf-du-Pape lovers make their way here each year. The rather workaday building and surroundings are compensated for by the impressive barrel room and the charm of Mike Rijken, Beaucastel's multilingually humorous ambassador to the world. He'll explain how those ankle-twisting vineyard rocks, by retaining warmth, impart extra ripeness to the grapes, and how the winery's quirky process of flash-heating the red-grape-skins before fermentation kills undesirable yeast cells and aids in extraction. If it's true that nobody is lining up to follow Beaucastel's lead, it's also true that most can only envy the results: deeply perfumed, long-lived reds that contain more Mourvèdre and less Grenache than most red Châteauneufs. For an appointment: 33-4-90-70-41-00, fax 33-4-90-70-41-09.
9 A Quartet Of Great Chateauneuf-Du-Pape Reds
In addition to Beaucastel and La Nerthe, look for these bottlings when you're in the South of France (or back home).
Château Fortia There is an actual turreted château here, once the prized property of Baron Le Roy, who was instrumental in devising the regulations for France's famous wine laws in the 1930s. The wine is made by the highly regarded consultant Jean-Luc Colombo, who prefers the elegance and complexity imparted by high percentages of Syrah and Mourvèdre, vintage permitting.
Domaine de la Janasse These wines seem to capture the whole range of Châteauneuf flavors, from macerated red and black fruits to an apothecary's shelf of herbs and spices.
Château Rayas Châteauneuf fanatics around the world hold their breath as the family of the late Jacques Reynaud, who made his last wine in 1996, takes up the reins of this most idiosyncratic and highly sought-after Châteauneuf property. The second wine, Château Pignan, can be remarkably deep and rewarding itself.
Tardieu-Laurent Not actually a Châteauneuf estate, but a hot négociant label that makes various wines from around the Rhône Valley. The Châteauneufs are tooth-purpling, big-structured, give-up-the-car-keys wines.
Juicy, generous, and wafting a perfume like the essence of raspberry, Grenache may just be too easy to appreciate, too purely sensuous for serious wine commentators, who tut-tut its lack of aging potential. (Just don't tell that to Château Rayas.) And it's true—there is a lot of mediocre Grenache made from Spain to California. But in southern France the more conscientious producers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes-du-Rhône, and numerous other appellations know that Grenache rewards low crop yields with wines of body, exotic spice, and vitality. If most Grenache-based wines don't age as well as great Bordeaux, well, then, enjoy Grenache between trips to the cellar to dust off the Bordeaux labels. Among the best, mostly Grenache wines from southern French appellations (other than Châteauneuf-du-Pape) are: the Gigondas wines from Domaines les Goubert and Les Hauts de Montmirail Cuvée Tradition.
10 Say No To Oak
Châteauneuf-du-Pape The bumper sticker on Daniel Brunier's weathered Toyota Land Cruiser reads in English, "Say no to oak/Help put the fruit back in wine." He means it. The refined, fruit-luscious flagship red he makes at Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe—named after the old telegraph relay tower in the vineyard—is, year in, year out, among the best wines of the appellation. Look for it on restaurant wine lists, because the winery's tasting room quickly sells out of it each fall. 3 Route de Châteauneuf; 33-4-90-33-00-31, fax 33-4-90-33-18-47.
11 Blanc Slate
Châteauneuf-du-Pape White wine has often seemed an afterthought in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Less than 10 percent of the vineyards are planted to white grapes, the main ones being Roussanne, Picpoul, and Clairette. But lately, it seems, there's a small but growing recognition that Châteauneuf can produce explosively flavorful, exotic white wines of both great finesse and long life. In a world that must—eventually—grow weary of Chardonnay every night, here are two very special whites to look for.
Château La Nerthe Clos de Beauvenir Silky smooth with a full, creamy palate and powerful, spicy notes of vanilla and tropical fruit.
Domaine de Beaurenard Boisrenard For fans of lay-it-on, high-class, California-style new oak.
12 The Greatest White Wine You've Never Heard Of
Châteauneuf-du-Pape Château de Beaucastel's Roussanne Vieilles Vignes is made in eyedropper-size amounts—only 200 cases for the entire American market. It comes from 75-year-old Roussanne vines that yield but a half-ton of grapes per acre (minuscule production in the wine world) and render a wine chockful of hazelnut, ginger, pineapple, and vanilla. The wine's become a cult item, hence the price tag—upwards of $80 a bottle.
13 The Growers' Fraternity House—Sort Of
Châteauneuf-du-Pape This appellation doesn't have a real "vintners' clubhouse" restaurant the way some wine regions do. (One winery owner told me it was because the producers here can't agree on anything.) La Sommellerie, about two kilometers from the center of town, is as close as you can get. Go on a sunny day, when you can sit outside by the swimming pool and enjoy chef Pierre Paumel's cold asparagus soup with foie gras dumplings coated in black poppyseeds and the wide selection of local bottles, including 26 Châteauneuf whites. $50-$110. Route de Roquemaur; 33-4-90-83-50-00, fax 33-4-90-83-51-85.
Recent Vintage Chart
1995 Very good vintage, ripe grapes made deeply colored wines with aging potential.
1996 An average to above-average vintage with many wines ready to drink now. Good restaurant wines.
1997 Another average to above-average vintage. Their low acidity makes many wines pleasurable for early drinking.
1998 The hot summer and dry harvest make this the finest vintage since 1990—maybe finer. Wines to cellar.
14 BEST REGIONAL ROSE
Château La Verrerie From the Côtes du Luberon, a ripe, rich, forward blend of Syrah and Grenache. Puget; 33-4-90-08-32-98, fax 33-4-90-08-25-45.
15 Sweet Surrender
Beaumes-de-Venise The vins doux naturels from this small town northeast of Châteauneuf-du-Pape may be sweet, but they're not to be taken lightly: They have the alcoholic strength of Port and the exotic flamboyance of a Tiki Bowl Punch at Trader Vic's to cover up the kick. Delicious before a meal with salty snacks or a terrine, they also work well with fruit and other not-too-sweet desserts. They're so rich, unctuous, and perfumed—wafting notes as diverse as marzipan, apricots, and candied orange peel—that one glass may last you. Look for:
Domaine Durban The most sought-after label and perhaps most intensely flavored.
Domaine de Coyeux Made with a more elegant touch than most; not a bad introduction to Beaumes-de-Venise.
Paul Jaboulet Flavorful and easy to sip, with emphatic fruit flavors.
16 The Domain Of 500 Tastes
Avignon "I don't like to say no to my customers, so I like to have the wine they ask for," says personable Christophe Tassan. He is the wine-obsessed member of the multibrother team that runs Les Domaines, a sleek, glass-fronted wine bar and restaurant just past the gilded carousel on the city's main square, the Place de L'Horloge. Les Domaines' list contains some 500 wines, including major selections from the Rhône and the South of France, and typically some 30 wines by the glass. Tassan is a hands-on guy who spends his free time tasting through cellars all over the region. Come in when he's here (Wednesday through Saturday) and ask to taste such small-production gems as Jerome Bressy's Rasteau red, François Villard's Condrieu, or the wines of the Languedoc's Domaine de la Grange des Pères. (Tassan coaxes the wine out of the last-named property, 12 bottles at a time.) 28 Place de L'Horloge; 33-4-90-82-58-86, fax 33-4-90-86-26-31.
17 The Wine Club
L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue It's hard to tell sometimes if Robert Rocchi runs a business or a social club that gladly accepts all comers. Off a small side street in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, the Caveau de la Tour de L'Isle (below right) is packed into two small, tile-floored rooms as comfortable and well-worn as your favorite sweater. The front room is a wine and spirits shop dominated by a set of steel wine tanks, miniature versions of those found in modern wineries. Each has a dangling hose so that locals can stop in to fill their bottles. (While we visited, a passing bicyclist popped in to top off his goatskin flask.)
The back room, with a bar and a few wooden tables, is a kind of floating party, jostling or mellow depending on the time of day. It is presided over by the jovial Rocchi (pronounced, he says, "like the movies—you know: Row-kee One, Row-kee Two"). There are multiple bottles of wine open on the bar—Beaucastel, Domaine Tempier—plus local sausages and cheese that Rocchi provides gratis when you order a glass. He is a font of wine conversation and knowledge and will, with a little convincing, open any bottle from the store's stock, including his own tasty bottling, a Côtes-du-Rhône called Tour de L'Isle. 12 Rue de la République; 33-4-90-20-70-25.
The star player of the northern Rhône, where it stands alone in such renowned reds as Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie, the noble Syrah is usually a bit player down south. Here Syrah gives depth and anti-oxidative aging potential to wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Languedoc-Roussillon, the grape's new frontier. Among the top southern wines most influenced by Syrah are Domaine de Trévallon, where it's blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, and Château Fortia in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
18 Color Them Blue
Bonnieux You gotta have a gimmick in this world, and Château la Canorgue's is putting its white wines in handsome blue bottles (right). It's somehow reminiscent of Swedish water, spas, and being healthy—a connection the winery wouldn't argue with, for the vineyards here are organically farmed, meaning the château forswears pesticides and fertilizer. You can buy the wines at the estate, a handsome, 18th-century château just outside this hilltown. Route Pont-Julien; 33-4-90-75-81-01, fax 33-4-90-75-82-98.
19 Friendly Guy
Lourmarin Guy Sammut has a dream: a restaurant where his wife, Reine, the subtle, inventive chef of Auberge la Fenière, cooks for only one table a day, only for his friends, drinking only wine made by his friends. Among the last-named are many Luberon producers. In fact, this one-star gets a hand for its commitment to local wine. Ask Guy a couple of wine questions, and before the meal is over you may be a friend too. $63-$170. Route de Cadenet (D943); 33-4-90-68-11-79, fax 33-4-90-68-18-60.
20 Wells' Chosen
Here are the five favorite southern French wines of noted food critic Patricia Wells, author of The Food Lovers' Guide to France and Patricia Wells at Home in Provence.
Château de Beaucastel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Domaine Les Goubert, Gigondas
Marcel Richaud, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, Cairanne
Domaine de la Soumade, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, Rasteau
Domaine St. Luc, Coteaux du Tricastin.
21-22 Brave New Worlds
Old view: A sun-parched stretch of Mediterranean France where no-name vineyards stomp out tankerloads of plonk. New view: The source of some of the world's best-kept red-wine secrets.
The rumble has been rolling through the wine press for five years or so now, but the general wine-loving public is only starting to catch on: There's magic happening in this vast region, which runs from the Rhône River to the Spanish border. In both the Languedoc (which includes the appellations of Corbières, Minervois, St.-Chinian, and Montpeyroux) and Roussillon (most commonly labeled Côtes du Roussillon) groundbreaking, often young winemakers are taking advantage of two things not readily available in the rest of winegrowing France: affordable land and relative flexibility in winemaking tradition. The best of these iconoclasts are not only redefining what the region can achieve, they are putting perfumes, textures, and flavors in the glass that will delight the most world-weary connoisseur. Here are six top red wines to look for.
Domaine L'Aigueilière, Montpeyroux.Rich, generous, velvety blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre.
Domaine de Combebelle Cabernet Sauvignon Prestige, Vin de Pays d'Oc. A "serious" wine worth aging, but you can also savor its vanilla and spicy berry flavors in its frivolous youth.
Saint Martin de la Garrigue, Vin de Pays d'Oc. Sneaky, rich tooth-coater with subtle depths of flavor.
Domaine Gauby Vieilles Vignes, Côtes du Roussillon-Villages. Old-vine Carignan and Grenache are the backbone for this supple beauty.
Domaine Mossé Carignan, Vin de Pays Catalan. From 100-year-old vines. A jolt of lovely, very unusual flavor—like a sophisticated, exotic berry jam.
Domaine Laporte Domitia, Côtes du Roussillon. A smoky, soft-textured, and mouth-filling easy drinker.
Unlike vineyards in Bordeaux or Burgundy, where vines are trained on wire trellises, most vineyards in the South of France consist of gnarly old stumps—essentially wine bushes. This is the result of years of gobelet (goblet) pruning. It has one big advantage over trellising: The vines don't blow over in the mistral.
23 The South Of France's Most Underrated Wine
Trouillas Can we keep this between ourselves? La Casenove's Cuvée Cdt. François Jaubert, from the Côtes du Roussillon-Villages appellation, just may be the most underrated wine in the South of France. Deep, intense, and nuanced. $30.
24 Best Regional Rose
Château D'Acquéria Elegant, intense, super-fruity—a serious picnic upgrade. Jaboulet L'Espiègle A concentrated, rich, full-bodied rosé. Both from Tavel.
25 White Star
Tavel The Domaine de la Mordorée is one of the finest vineyards west of the Rhône, and its white wine, Lirac Cuvée de la Reine des Bois, is a good (and much less expensive) alternative to the best whites on the other side of the river. Robert Parker singled the wine out in a recent newsletter, prefacing his recommendation with the words, "It's rare that I can recommend a white wine from Lirac." The wine is barrel-fermented; made from Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier; has a plump texture; and is replete with tastes of honeyed tropical fruit. Taste it at the winery. Chemin des Oliviers; 33-4-66-50-00-75, fax 33-4-66-50-47-39.
You read it here first: This grape is a comer. Long a component of the white wines of the northern Rhône (such as Hermitage) and southern Rhône (white Châteauneuf-du-Pape), Roussanne is valued for its creamy exoticism. However, it has also long frustrated growers because of its irregular yields and susceptibility to rot, which is why it came to be planted less and less in its northern home. Now, according to grape chronicler Jancis Robinson, new, sturdier clones are encouraging new plantings, and indeed you can now find Roussanne not only scattered across southern France but with a few toeholds in California too.
26 Lafite Of The Languedoc
Aniane Gault Millau hailed Mas de Daumas Gassac's early vintages (in the 1970s) as the Lafite of the Languedoc, according to importer Kermit Lynch's memoir, Adventures on the Wine Route. The London Times quibbled that the wine was actually more like Latour. In fact, the Cabernet Sauvignon-based reds and Viognier and Chardonnay whites of Aimé Guibert's estate in the department of Hérault do have a singular character: deep, ripe, and bursting with flavor. It's the result of highly unusual soils said to resemble those of Burgundy's fabled Côte d'Or. These are some of France's, if not the world's, most distinctive wines. 33-4-67-57-71-28, fax 33-4-67-57-41-03.
St.-Rémy-de-Provence "I am a matchmaker, a matrimonial," proclaims oenologist/real-estate broker Stéphane Paillard, "because each property has its own personality, and I must know my clients well to match them with it." Paillard's Le Bureau Viticole, which works in conjunction with the Emile Garcin agency in St.-Rémy, not only carries a prime inventory of Provençal vineyard and winery properties, but provides clients with expertise in a variety of related areas, such as oenology, rural law, and winery architecture. As he has said, "There is a magic in wine. But it is demanding." Here are three properties currently in Paillard's portfolio.
Reference No. 496 This 18th-century farmhouse has steal-your-breath views of the Mediterranean, plus terraced grounds that include 10 hectares (about 25 acres) of Côtes de Provence vineyards currently planted to four grape varieties: Grenache, Cabernet, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Perhaps the best aspect: The vines are farmed by a neighboring grape-grower.
Reference No. 595 Nestled behind an allée of swaying palms, this graceful Directoire bastide presides over 47 hectares (about 120 acres) of Côtes de Provence vineyards planted 75 percent to red grapes, including 40-year-old Grenache and 60-year old Carignan, and 25 percent to white grapes, including 57-year-old Ugni Blanc. There's a cellar recently updated for the production of whites, reds, and rosés, an array of modern farm equipment, and separate reception rooms for visitors/buyers.
Reference No. 606 Life in the luxurious calm of Provence's Var region includes woods full of truffles and edible mushrooms, your own olive trees, and five hectares (about 12 acres) of mature vineyards with a "Château" designation on the wine label. The main building, once a convent, incorporates architecture from the 16th, 18th, and 19th centuries in a landscape dotted with springs and ponds.
Contact the English-speaking Paillard at 10 Boulevard Mirabeau; 33-4-90-92-48-74, fax 33-4-90-92-48-09.
28 The Music Of The Spheres
St.-Rémy-de-Provence At the end of a meandering, unpaved road above the St.-Rémy "airport" (a grass strip) sits Château Romanin, a vast Star Wars-ish winery installation, a poured-concrete "cathedral" (their word) to New Age ideals. Inside are crystal chandeliers, soaring cement pillars set into rough-hewn rock, and dimpled, stainless-steel fermenters stenciled with the names of the planets. The whole computer-monitored enterprise runs according to a "chronobiological" planetary/lunar calendar ("Some days we have better efficiency and health in working the vineyards than others," our tour guide explained) and the bio-dynamic teachings of the late Austrian occultist Rudolph Steiner. Does all this high-tech and hocus-pocus make for superb wine? No. The wines are good, not great, more "correct" than soulful. But the winery and tour make it worth the trip. Route de Cavaillon (D99); 33-4-90-92-45-87, fax 33-4-90-92-24-36.
29 Home Winemaking
Graveson Eloi Durrbach turned his family's sleepy vacation home into the home of Provence's most coveted wine, Domaine de Trévallon. The grounds are a Victorian storybook garden of manicured orchards and kitchen vegetable rows, a gently sloping vineyard in back, a line of shade trees along a little irrigation canal. Drink it all in, because there's no wine to buy here. The gentlemanly Durrbach, formerly a Parisian architect, will, by appointment, show you around the modest concrete basement that serves as the wine cellar, and perhaps share a sip or two from the barrel. The perfumed, spicy whites, made only since 1991, are half-Roussanne, half-Marsanne. (Chardonnay will be added starting this year.) The reds, which put Trévallon on the wine-cultist map, are a complex and potent blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, with a nose of violet, cassis, and crushed dark fruit. They usually require five years' cellaring. 33-4-90-49-06-00, fax 33-4-90-49-02-17.
30 Big List, Big Money
Les Baux-de-Provence Oustau de Beaumanière, the calm, studiedly casual Michelin two-star restaurant anchored near the bottom of the cliffs of Les Baux village, has the region's most extensive wine list: multiple vintages of Petrus and Trévallon, rafts of older Bordeaux ('61 Latour: $1,750; '29 Haut-Brion: $1,270), and barrels of white and red Burgundies. Of particular interest is the large offering of Rhône whites. $165-$250. 33-4-90-54-33-07, fax 33-4-90-54-40-46.
31 Folklore In A Glass
Cooked wine (vin cuit) was historically a Provençal holiday specialty. It was made at home by grape-growers who heated grape juice in a kind of casserole in order to reduce it by about one-third, then fermented it. The result was a concentrated, off-dry wine with hints of Madeira-like raisin, the perfect beverage to accompany the traditional "13 desserts" of a Provençal Christmas. Today several wineries bottle commercial vin cuit based on the old farmhouse recipes. La Cave du Félibrige (see number 36) carries five or six labels. Jean-Marc Banzo, the celebrated Provence-born chef of Le Clos de la Violette in Aix, is a fan of the vin cuit from nearby Domaine des Bastides (Route de Saint Canadet; 33-4-42-61-97-66, fax 33-4-42-61-84-45). It's perfect, says Banzo, with chocolate or not-too-sweet fruit-based desserts.
32 There Is Nothing Like A Dame
Les Baux-de-Provence Nostradamus expected the floods at the end of the world to stop at Mas de la Dame. You should stop here too. The setting is stunning—a green oasis of vineyards and orchards surrounded by the grotesque chalky rock outcrops known as Les Alpilles, or The Little Alps. Mas de la Dame is run by two elegant Parisian sisters, but neither is the "Dame" of the name. Depending on which story you believe, she was either a local woman who took vows of chastity and secluded herself here when her lover was killed in the crusades, or the old farmhouse was a secret meeting place for Cathars, a persecuted Christian sect, who often gathered at places with "Dame" in the name.
These days the tasting room sells the estate's delicious wines, made by consultant Jean-Luc Colombo. Look especially for the white Blanc des Roches, the red Cuvée Gourmande and Cuvée de la Stèle, and the Rosé du Mas. (The last-named has a generous helping of Syrah, which gives it a ruby-accented color and good, stout lick of fruit.) The tasting room also sells the estate's superb olive oil and a tangy local specialty, "broken" green olives marinated with fennel. Route St.-Rémy; 33-4-90-54-32-24, fax 33-4-90-54-40-67.
33 Cave Dwelling
Maussane-les-Alpilles Tucked under a massive, bulldozed berm of earth on a country road outside this tiny village, just south of Les Baux, is Maussane Millesimes, a warehouse stocked to the rafters with more than 1,000 different rare and high-end wines (1929 Y'Quem here, 1982 Petrus there). Local wines are under-represented—the proprietors figure most people will buy direct from the domaines—as are those from the Loire and Alsace, but darn near everything else French and famous is here. The prices for new wines are extremely good, since Millesimes buys in quantity and gives the same price to individuals as it does to restaurants; however, there is a $170 minimum, and individuals have to add the 20.6 percent VAT. Millesimes mails out its price list four times a year, and it is working on an interactive Web site. By appointment. 33-4-90-54-49-45, fax 33-4-90-54-49-44.
34 Superb Half-Measures
Eygalières The food at the one-star Le Bistrot d'Eygalières Chez Bru is excellent, but hostess-proprietress Suzy Bru and sommelier Pierre Mouysset have also earned reputations as committed local wine scouts. Even better, they offer one of the area's best-chosen lists of half-bottles. Perfect if you want wine at lunch and have an afternoon of touring ahead. $100-$120 Rue de la République; 33-4-90-90-60-34, fax 33-4-90-90-60-37.
35 How To Make Le Picnic Du Vin In Les Alpilles
1. Browse the Wednesday market in St.-Rémy or the Friday market in Eygalières for the supplies you'll need to confront the wilderness.
2. Drop by Mas de Gourgonnier, on the D78 just outside Maussane-les-Alpilles, to buy a bottle of wine—preferably the rich, fruity rosé.
3. Continue on the D78. The road traverses a wild, sun-struck, rocky landscape. Stop to allow the nice man to herd his sheep across the road.
4. Pull over at the first place that takes your fancy to enjoy your meal. If no place along the D78 suits try the D24 (direction Eygalières), which the D78 intersects.
36 Hearing It Through The Grapevine
Aix-en-Provence François Barré's reputation, like his stock of wines, has swollen far beyond his tiny, dusty shop, La Cave du Félibrige. (One awestruck winery owner claims that Barré has personal Tasting Notes on 16,000 wines.) Customers seek the proprietor's opinions, suggestions, tidbits of gossip, and the amiable, young Barré patiently supplies all comers. Bide your time browsing the selection on display or the much wider offerings in the "reserve book" on the counter. 8 Rue des Cordeliers; 33-4-42-96-90-62, fax 33-4-42-96-26-29.
37 Think Globally, Act Locally
Jouques Peter Fischer, a well-turned-out German expatriate, not only indulges in the Provençal lifestyle, he contributes to it. His winery, Château Revelette, outside the village of Jouques, is attached to his home, a lovely sand-colored bastide with red shutters shaded by a giant chestnut tree and with a view across the vineyards to the north shoulder of Mont Ste.-Victoire. Revelette is in a cool-climate pocket at about 400 meters (1,300 feet), a bit of luck because it extends the growing season into October.
Fischer puts a lot of technique into his wines. Revelette's Grand Rouge (Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon) and its Grand Blanc (Chardonnay) are highly extracted, liberally oak-influenced wines. (Both reflect the winemaker's training at the University of California, Davis.)
The locals balance his international perspective with a firm tether to the here and now. "The people from the village show up to fill their containers," Fischer says. "I'll hear about it when I go to buy bread or groceries—whether they don't like the wine or they do. So I try to make it good." Off the D561; 33-4-42-63-75-43, fax 33-4-42-67-62-04.
Want to sound instantly wine-wise? Take a sip of just about any southern Provençal red and tell the nearest French person you detect "a scent of garrigue." That's the general name for the Provençal underbrush, which scents the air with aromas of thyme, oregano, and rosemary. How these spicy, herbal nuances, sometimes reminiscent of the cooked versions of the herbs, get into the wines is a subject of debate and, occasionally, mysticism. Either way it takes the French concept of terroir—the attributes a wine picks up from its specific vineyard site—to a new level.
38 France's Most Gorgeous Vineyard
Cassis This resort town tumbles toward the Mediterranean Sea along a sweep of scenic promontories, but the most spectacular view of all is from inside the Sack family's walled sanctuary at Clos Sainte Magdeleine. The property lies on a high peninsula flanked by glittering bays and beneath vineyards that climb toward the vertical cliffs of Belle Arme. A tour led by the urbane, laid-back François Sack—accompanied by Faustine and Igloo, Labrador retrievers in dog paradise—meanders through olive, pine, mulberry, and almond trees, through the vines, and above the sea.
The wines are appellation Cassis, which Sack likes to pronounce "CASS-see," to distinguish it from the black-currant liqueur—"CASS-cease"—made elsewhere in France. Clos Sainte Magdeleine is best known for its white, a blend in which Marsanne is gradually gaining ground on Ugni Blanc, Clairette, and Sauvignon Blanc. It is perfumed and mildly exotic, with notes of almond and honey, a touch of unctuousness in the mid-palate, and a crisp edge. Visit once, and you'll never taste the wine again without conjuring in your mind's eye the jewel box of a garden that created it. Open by appointment. Avenue du Revestel; 33-4-42-01-70-28, fax 33-4-42-01-15-51.
39 Varied Palette
Meyreuil Palette, a vest-pocket-size appellation (about 50 acres in all), is mostly the private property of Château Simone, owned for many generations by the Rougier family. They turn out full-flavored, traditionally made reds and rosés, a blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault, and a white made from Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Picpoul, and Muscat. The wines are found on better lists throughout the region. 33-4-42-66-92-58, fax 33-4-42-66-80-77.
40 The Temple Of Mourvedre
Bandol Though renowned for their hospitality to visitors, the Peyraud family of Bandol's Domaine Tempier hasn't always been popular with the neighbors. This is in part because a generation ago they led the successful crusade to restore the high-quality, stubborn-yielding Mourvèdre grape to its rightful place in the red Bandol blend. Today the grape achieves it's highest expression here, a modest, stone-walled, 1854 house tucked among the cypresses and apple trees just off the Marseille-Toulon autoroute not far from the town of Bandol.
The Mourvèdre-oriented wines for sale in the tasting room include the cult-item rosé; such single-vineyard masterpiece reds as the deep-colored, silky La Tourtine, which comes from hillside vines visible out back; the super-concentrated Caboussou; and mysterious, almost impossibly complex La Miguoa. Ask Jean-Marie Peyraud when it's best to drink the monumental 1990 La Miguoa, and he'll smile and say, "I'm still enjoying the Tempier '52." Believe it. Chemin des Fanges, Le Plan-du-Castellet; 33-4-94-98-70-21, fax 33-4-94-90-21-65.
Most wine-lovers are familiar with the term Appellation d'Origine Controlée, or AOC, a legal designation granted to certain wine regions to define who is or isn't entitled to use the name. But did you know that there are AOCs for other locally specific products as well? Les Baux and the nearby plains of Camargue must have more AOCs for more things than anywhere else in France. Besides wine, the list includes olive oil from the Valley of Les Baux—one of only two olive oil AOCs in France—Camargue bulls, and even hay, which the queen of England is said to prefer for her stables.
41 The Mavericks
Le Castellet The Otts had to have come from somewhere else—Alsace, in fact, back in 1896—to shake things up so much. Since settling here they have planted their vineyards to Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, gone over to organic farming, and trellised many of their vines northern-style, rather than pruning them "goblet-style." They are also the only winery in the South of France, as numerous lawsuits attest, to put its wine in tall bottles shaped like bowling pins. (They're supposed to resemble amphorae, the wide-hipped, thin-necked vessels the ancient Greeks used to store wine.)
Domaines Ott is now an upscale mini-empire. The Otts make wines at three wineries, and if their prices are a stretch (the rosés are usually the most expensive on any list in Provence), the quality is in the bottle. Taste the range at the pretty Château Romassan, a long stone's throw from Domaine Tempier. The sleek tasting room is usually staffed with English speakers. 601 Route des Mourvèdres; 33-4-94-98-71-91, fax 33-4-94-98-65-44.
42 Above It All
La Cadière-d'Azur Reserve a lunch table by the picture windows at Hostellerie Bérard, a handsome, relaxed restaurant that overlooks the Bandol vineyards and the medieval village of Le Castellet, perched on the crown of a neighboring hill like a beige velvet beret. The cooking is traditional, with an emphasis on fresh local seafood. The list includes a healthy selection of regional wines, including older Bandol reds from Tempier and Ott, perfect marriages for the cheeses aged by Madame Bérard in the cave below the restaurant. Lunch: $80-$110. Rue Gabriel Peri; 33-4-94-90-11-43, fax 33-4-94-90-01-94.
43 Divine Intervention
Les-Arcs-Sur-Argens There are lots of wineries in France named for saints, but this may be the only one with the blessed personage still in residence. Five minutes off the A8 autoroute in Les Arcs, Château Sainte Roseline (below) is an up-and-coming property bought in 1994—and elaborately upgraded—by construction executive Bernard Teillaud. There are some good wines being made here in what is clearly a time of experimentation, including the entry-level Le Cloître de Sainte Roseline (white), the mid-level Château Sainte Roseline (Cru Classé rosé), and top-end Cuvée Prieure (red), which comes from old vines of Syrah, Cabernet, and Mourvèdre. But it will be awhile before the wines are the most famous thing about the place.
The tiny, preserved body of Sainte Roseline herself—she died in 1329—rests under a glass enclosure in the chapel of the 13th-century cloister that forms part of the winery complex. The coffin is surrounded by art commissioned in homage to her. Best known is the soaring mosaic Le repas des anges by Chagall, but there is also a wonderful prayer-book stand by Diego Giacometti, as well as vivid, modern, stained-glass windows by Jean Bazaine and Raoul Ubac. Winery tours by appointment. Exit Le Muy from A8; 33-4-94-99-50-30, fax 33-4-94-47-53-06.
44 Best Regional Roses
Domaine Tempier, Bandol. A cult wine in the United States, and around here too. A rich, fuller-bodied rosé made with 50 percent Mourvèdre.
Domaines Ott, Bandol and Côtes de Provence. Look especially for the silky Cuvée Marcel Ott bottling from Bandol.
Château Sainte Roseline Cru Classé, Côtes de Provence. Lively with a touch of creaminess. I prefer this easygoing wine, packaged in a sort of genie bottle, to Sainte Roseline's more expensive, oak-influenced Cuvée Prieure.
45 The World Through Rose-Colored Glasses
Cannes If I had to choose one spot to drink fine rosé it would be on a chaise at the beach in front of the Hôtel Carlton Inter-Continental. In the background: a startlingly beautiful view of the Bay of Cannes and the Esterel Mountains. In the foreground: startlingly beautiful fellow sybarites. My selections from the hotel wine list: Domaines Ott or Clos de la Bernarde. (If the color matches yours, it's probably time to go in.) 58 Boulevard de la Croisette; 33-4-93-06-40-06, fax 33-4-93-06-40-25.
46 Sample Sale
St.-Paul-de-Vence Les Trois Etoiles allows you to pick your poison—after sampling it first, of course. The spiffed-up shop is stocked with giant glass demijohns filled with an alchemist's array of homemade liqueurs (raspberry, plum, quince, among them), eaux-de-vie, Armagnac, Calvados, olive oil, vinegar, and who-knows-what-else. Take a tasting glass from the counter and ask for a tour; the demijohns have dangling lab hoses for easy fill-ups, and the potions are mostly mouth-watering. You can choose from an assortment of fancy blown-glass bottles to transport your liquid treasure home. 7 Place de la Mairie; 33-4-93-32-79-68, fax 33-4-93-58-36-92.
47 A Nice Place
Nice This is the only city in France that boasts its own appellation, Bellet, established in 1941. The appellation lies on the hills northwest of the city and consists of 50 hectares (about 125 acres), of which Château de Bellet, the best property, has 10. The château's top white, the Cuvée Baron G, is made solely of Rolle grapes from the oldest parts of the vineyard and is barrique-fermented in new oak for nearly two years. At $17 it's a bargain. You'll find it on better restaurant wine lists, and you can buy it at the château by appointment. The property is not easy to find. Have your concierge get directions. 33-4-93-37-81-57, fax 33-4-93-37-93-83.
Mourvèdre is the backbone of red Bandol, where the appellation controllée regulations stipulate it must constitute 50 percent of the blend. It's also increasingly planted by quality-conscious producers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes-du-Rhône, and in many other southern French appellations. A thick-skinned, dark-colored grape, Mourvèdre ripens late and is therefore a gamble. It adds firmness, longevity, and body when blended with softer grapes like Grenache, and it contributes a variety of aroma characteristics, from crushed dark berries to an exotic gameyness that tastes better than it sounds. Domaine Tempier's 100 percent Mourvèdre single-vineyard wines are considered the grape's apotheosis.
48 The Bottomless List
Monte Carlo Let's say you are overcome by a sudden craving for 23 vintages of Lafite-Rothschild in various bottle sizes, or every vintage of Château Le Pin made between 1985 and 1995. Satisfaction is at hand here at Alain Ducasse's Le Louis XV in the Hôtel de Paris. The enormous wine list has a well-chosen selection of Rhône and Provençal wines, not to mention lots of high-end Burgundy. But it's apparent where Ducasse's heart is (or where he thinks his customers will locate theirs). Page after page of Bordeaux wines cater to the whims of those who will spend $950 for a half-bottle of 1961 Château Margaux or $11,000 for 1961 Petrus. Want a bargain? Order the Domaine Tempier La Tourtine 1990 ($60). $280-$320. Place du Casino; 377-92-16-30-01, fax 377-92-16-69-21.
49 Cheese Course
The best wine to drink with Banon, the ubiquitous, often chestnut-leaf-wrapped cheese of Provence, is a white (as is true with many soft, mild young cheeses). I would go for a racy Bellet white (see number 47), a big-bodied Condrieu (from the northern Rhône), or even a glass of marc de Provence or marc de Bellet eau-de-vie.
50 Drinking Made Easy
France in Your Glass, as the name implies, is a Seattle-based company committed to luxury vacations centered on wine and food. Its various excursions to the South of France (each group limited to eight) offer a tempting array of exciting winery visits (Guigal, Trévallon, Beaucastel, Tempier); lovely hotels, such as Villa Gallici in Aix-en-Provence and Hôtel de la Cité in Carcassonne (but also an occasional clunker like La Regalido); and big-league restaurants (Auberge la Fenière in Lourmarin, Bastide de Moustiers, Le Jardin des Sens in Montpellier). An eight-day Great Estates of the Rhône & Provence excursion costs $4,395. For further information: 800-578-0903.
On A Rolle
A major grape in white Bellet and also a component in various other white wines from Provence to Languedoc-Roussillon, Rolle is blended in to add spice and body.