Let me take you on a journey. It’s a COVID-19 era trip without flights, trains, suitcases or hotel rooms. And with travel banned, rather than a passport, you’ll need just a glass of wine and a little imagination to hop over borders.
The French speak of tipicité and terroir. By this they mean that a well-made, carefully crafted wine should speak (sing even) of the region in which it was made. If you are one of the many ruing a cancelled trip to Provence or planning a future one, then head to your nearest wine merchant (on-line if you are not allowed out) and ask for any of the following wines.
They number among the finest in Provence and include a bottle of red, dubbed the Petrus of Provence and of course the region’s most iconic rosé. Uncork the wine well in advance, select your best glass, find a comfortable chair, pour, lean back and relax. Take your time and inhale the sticky scents of the garrigue, wild thyme and rosemary, pines oozing amber sap, and the cooling minerality of the fierce mistral. Taste the beating sun in the spicy ripe summer fruits, with their overtones of tobacco and comforting oak. Close your eyes after every sip and picture yourself in Provence.
Domaine Tempier, Bandol, red
Bandol reds are among the most sought-after wines in Provence. The vines of the appellation are planted in a sun-drenched valley behind the busy Mediterranean port of Bandol. There are numerous producers but the reference for the region remains Domaine Tempier, which produces one of the finest reds in Provence.
Bandol red ages and improves for up to twenty years. Over time the tannins grow progressively rounder and wonderful smoky notes evolve. 2015 Bandols (the last exceptional vintage in Provence) are currently drinking beautifully. Domaine Tempier itself is an unprepossessing place. An old farmhouse sits at the end of a line of plane trees. There’s no pomp or ceremony just a simple tasting room in a converted annex. Visiting is a wonderfully low-key affair, and this allows the wine to do the talking. Lucky tasters may be offered the opportunity to sample a flight of Tempier reds going back twenty years or so.
Chateau Vignelaure, Aix en Provence, rouge
The Chateau claims it is the jewel in the crown of the Coteaux d’Aix en Provence. The renowned American wine critic Robert Parker once commented that the Chateau was “one of the showpiece properties of not only Provence, but also France”. All this fuss stems from the uniqueness of the wine. Back in the 1960s George Brunet grafted from Cabernet Sauvignon vines which were used to produce the classed Bordeaux Chateau Lagune.
Much to the scepticism of the wine establishment at the time, he planted outside Aix en Provence, with the stated aim of making a wine in the Bordeaux fashion. Locals laughed as they knocked back the pastis and gossiped about the folly of the owner. They all agreed that the heat of the south of France would be too much for the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, predicting an explosion of sugars and a highly alcoholic undrinkable wine. However, today, Chateau Vignelaure reds top Provencal wine lists. They age for 20 years just like fine Bordeaux and if you shut your eyes as you drink it is possible to believe you are on the banks of the Garonne. When travel re-opens make a point of visiting the cellars which extend over 5 subterranean levels. As well as the thousands of bottles of wine, there is an art gallery.
Domaine du Paternel, Cassis, white
Seek out a bottle of Domaine du Paternel, and let your imagination take you to the sunny Mediterranean. In Cassis, pastel coloured houses line the port side and cafes bustle as chefs prepare the local speciality – bouillabaisse fish soup. A crescent of hills holds the town in a sheltered embrace, and on the sun-burnished slopes above the port, vineyards produce Provence’s finest whites. The wine is so popular it frequently sells out by the end of the summer. Even sniffy Parisian restaurants will find room for Cassis white on their Carte du Vin. A bottle of Domaine du Paternel, the appellation’s signature vineyard, is the perfect accompaniment to any seafood. Buttery in colour it offers a wonderful minerality which rolls across the palate as you taste. The wine stands up to the saltiness of oysters, just as well as it accompanies the softer flavours of a grilled sole.
Domaine Ott, Chateau Romassan, Bandol, rosé
Before Whispering Angel came along Domaine Ott was the go-to rosé of Provence. Slightly deeper in colour than the young usurper, it has a fuller flavour and is a better accompaniment to meals. Pair it with a barbecue or some Thai food to discover the wonderful depth and fruity notes of this stand out Provencal rosé. It is made (predominately) with the Mourvedre grape, which so distinguishes the reds and rosés of Bandol. The wine arrives in a beautifully shaped bottle, tucked in at the waist like coca-cola bottles, and with curves in all right the places. Back in the naughty nineties Kate Moss was papped, topless, sashaying along the beach in Saint Tropez with the distinctive bottle poking from her bag. Sales of pale rosé took off and have not looked back since.
Domaine Milan, Saint Remy de Provence, Le Jardin, rouge
One for the purists because Domaine Milan is a natural wine producer. Not only are chemicals not used in the fields (this earns you the title organic wine in France) but also there are no chemicals used in the fermentation of the wine. It is old fashioned wine making and a horse tills the soil between the rows of vines. Dubbed the Petrus of Provence, Le Jardin, shares the same soil (blue clay) and Merlot grape as, Petrus, its more well-known Bordeaux cousin. The wine always sells out and owner Henri Milan makes it a rule to increase the price every year with the aim of matching Petrus. A nice marketing quirk is that your personal price is locked in for life when you purchase your first bottle.
Jamie Ivey is the Founder of Provence Small Group Tours. Provence Small Group Tours is a boutique travel agency offering luxury small group tours of Provence.