The weather is holding, but only just, so today may have been the last window in which to have a glass of rosé at lunch, so that’s exactly what I did, with the Rimauresq Cru Classé Côtes de Provence 2009.
While never attracting the attention or high prices of some of France’s more prestigious regions, the wines of Provence are well worth exploring. The region itself in the south of France is made of up eight major AOCs, with today’s, Côtes de Provence, being the largest. The area has been home to vines at least since it was colonized by the Greeks, and possibly further back still.
The climate is Mediterranean, obviously influenced by the namesake to the south, with temperate winters and warm to hot summers with little rain during the growing season. The mistral, perhaps better known for its influence on the Rhone, also comes into play in Provence, providing cooling relief in hot summers and allowing rain to dry quickly, precluding some rot and disease pressure.
Soils in Côtes de Provence can vary considerably, as the region is both discontinuous, and covers a large area. There are patches under the AOC just north and east of Marseille, a patch just north of Nice, an island or two, but the bulk of the appellation is between Toulon and Cannes from the coast though some 30 km inland. Broadly, schist and quarts are more commonly found near the sea, with clay and sandstone being more typical inland.
In terms of grapes, there are several sources that state at least 13 varieties are permitted within Côtes de Provence AOC, though I can only find 12: Syrah, Carignan, Cinsaut, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Tibouren, Pécoui Touar (Calitor), and Barbaroux (Barbarossa) as red grapes and Ugni Blanc, Clairette, Rolle (Vermentino), and Sémillon as whites. Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in the region, though I can’t determine if it is within the AOC or as a vin de pays. As elsewhere, there are efforts to replace Carignan vines with more nobles varieties such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
In terms of wines of Côtes de Provence AOC, reds and white are certainly produced, but the rosés are the lion’s share. In reds and rosés, Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Tibouren must make up 70% of the blend. While much of the local winemaking can be described as traditional, there have been inroads of more modern techniquest such as temperature controlled fermentation and experiments with rosés and oak.
This wine in particular is a blend of roughly similar parts Tibouren, Grenache and Cinsault, though in other vintages it has also included a small amount of Syrah. Something of a Provençal icon, Tibouren is worth covering. Jancis Robinson describes the contribution it makes to the rosés or Provence as the “scent of the garrigue” which left me scratching my head and consulting Wikipedia. Garrigue is in fact a term used for a type of terrain that I would describe as characterized by shrubs and low bushes, and such land in Provence is made up of lavender, sage, rosemary, thyme, and juniper, as well as some a few plants that don’t make it into the spice rack. So I’m guessing it’s something akin to “forest floor” but you need to replace “forest” with “shrubland”.
While Tibouren is synonymous with Provence, it is not very widely planted, with only 450 HA under vine in the 20,000 HA total area. The grapes themselves are thin skinned and ripen early in direct sunlight, early ripening. The high quality of the wine they can produce is offset by the difficulty is poses in the vineyard. Highly susceptible coulure, or poor fruit set, which is compounded by the mistral, yields can vary greatly vintage to vintage. As a result, it is largely cultivated only by producers of high quality wines, and often bottled as a varietal.
Rimauresq is a Cru Classé producer based midway between Nice and Marseille, and it takes its name from the Real Mauresque, a river running through its vineyards. The Cru Classé is a designation based on a selection made in 1947 and after some years of researching the candidates, 23 domains were awarded the classification in 1955 (100 years after Bordeaux’s more famous classification). Its vines are at an altitude of between 140 and 190 meters and are on a north facing slope, which exposes them to mistral, but provides shade and therefore a longer ripening period. Their soil has both the quartz and sandstone qualities that place them roughly in the middle of the appellation. They grow Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan for their red wines, Rolle (Vermentino) and Ugni Blanc for their whites, and Cincault, Mourvèdre and TIbouren for their rosés.
This wine was made using hand picked fruit (whole bunches) with several hours of skin contact in cold maceration, and then cold stabalized for two to three weeks prior to fermentation. Post-fermentation, it was left on lees and underwent regular batonage. It did not undergo malolactic fermentation, nor see any oak.
In the glass, this wine was a lovely pale salmon colour. On the nose were elements of peach and apricot, sour strawberries. The palate was dry, with marked acidity, and notes of vanilla, white pepper, cream, and sandalwood. It had a good length clean finish.
This was a very nice wine, though I admit, I’m letting the side down a bit with this tasting note. It was a by the glass wine at the start of a lovely meal, and I didn’t initially intend to write it up until I realized how much I liked it. I’ll have to go back and have another glass (or share a bottle) to update this note. For now though, if there is any sunshine in your part of the world, this wine is well worth a taste.