Tag Archives: Provence

Hidden Côte d’Azur

We are not in Cannes, Menton, St. Tropez or Nice. This isn’t the Riviera extravaganza of tourism, movie stars and casinos. We’re in the western corner near Toulon, heading towards the Pyrenees, an area locked in the seventies even after tourism tried to finesse its way into the storefronts, boulevards and villas. In my heart there’s nowhere like this. My great aunt’s story here is a mistral echo. The genêt, lavender and thyme, opioids and the dreamy haze that captures a pinkish glow bouncing off the calanques and tree shoulders, it’s a history of war and escape, of hideouts and solidarity. There is a peace out of time here. I can taste it in the wine, read it in the trees, feel it in the water.

The port in Cassis was quiet. I remember music even if it was only in my head…I couldn’t humm it  the tune was so faint and on a strange musical scale. The closer we came to the calanques, the more concentrated the movement of the water. Miniature waves flipped and curled onto themselves, small folds of foam diamonds and translucent jade.


I can’t remember feeling this calm. The taste of fennel and parsley, the olive oil stretching every flavour. The earth was trying to tell me something, but naive and full of angst, I couldn’t read it. Now, years later I understand this was the beginning of the letting go.

It was on the occasion of my aunt’s death that some of the family decided to come together for the first time and carry her ashes to the sea. The search took all afternoon but we found the place. It felt like a place she would have gone dipping with her friends, in between searching out someone to help organise the rescue of refugees and getting them visas before it was too late.

Tour de France 2014: The Wine Trail, Part II

Wine Tour de France Map_ALTERNATE

F 15 Tallard/NimesCarcassonne Languedoc-Roussillon & Provence Grapes: Rosés made from Mourvedre, Carignan, Cinsault. Appellations: Cassis, Bandol. BONUS: nicoise olives, aioli, thyme, lavender!
G 16 Carcassonne/Bagneres-de-Luchon Pyrenees/South West Grapes: Orange Wines made from Folle Blanche, Muscadelle, Ugni Blanc. Reds from Malbec, Tannat.Appellations: Gaillac, Irouleguy, Madiran, Marcillac. BONUS: Brebis & Cognac!
17 Saint-Gaudens/Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet
18 Pau/Hautacam
H 19 Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour/Bergerac Bordeaux Grapes: famous blends created from various combinations of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot. Appellations: Saint Emilion, Médoc, Graves. BONUS: Foie Gras, Bordelaise, Canele, and Oysters of Aquitaine!
20 Bergerac/Perigueux
I 21 Evry/Paris Champs-Elysees Loire Grapes: Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Chenin Blanc, Pineau d’Aunis, Melon de Bourgogne, Sauvignon Blanc.Appellations: Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume, Muscadet, Chinon, Saumuer Champigny, Jasnieres, Cheverny, Touraine, Anjou. BONUS: Tarte Tatin, Mushrooms, Charcuterie!

And we’re back for Part II. After discovering the tastes of northern regions, you’ll notice the flavor structure start to really change as we progress down and across southern France. Take note of your preferences, as well as how the changes in the landscape and climate might give you clues as to how and why these changes occur.


The breathtaking landscapes bursting with genet & lavender, the omnipresent ocean breeze…enough to turn anyone’s head and sigh wistfully. For me, there is something unstoppable about this area, especially in Provence. Maybe that’s why it suffers under it’s own rosé cliché, but we should remember that trends and clichés originate from incredible novelty. Mourvedre, the grape most common in rosé and native to both Provence and Languedoc, is thick-skinned and bursting with flavor. In red wines, it is generally used as a blending grape due to its intensity. But as rosé, its true character is revealed: the nuances in texture, color, and aroma are finally given a chance since the thick skins are removed much earlier during the maceration period. You then realize that the subtleties you are tasting are a reflection of actually a quite rugged and harsh coastal environment: the strong mistral wind from the north, the conglomerate of soils types (limestone, shale, clay, sandstone, and quartz) and the intense dry heat of the mediterranean sun. This truth, the balance of harsh and delicate, are what make the region unique, and will always surpass the clichés.

Camille Fourmont, proprietor of the incredible La Buvette in Paris, says: “In Provence, wines from Guy & Thomas Jullien, vignerons from the appellation Beaume de Venise, Jean Christophe Comor and also le Chateau Sainte Anne à Bandol… in le Languedoc,  Jean Baptiste et Charlotte Senat in le Minervois.”


Where are we? Why are we here? This relatively unknown region has some of the most exciting wines I’ve ever tasted. Maybe it’s the influence of Spain next door, the extreme altitude of the Pyrenee mountains, or the fact that the farmers love their soil….or all 3. Dirty, barnyard, herbaceous, leather, bodacious, are a few words I would use to describe them (these are good wine words). Do yourself a favor and get acquainted. I have yet to try a wine from this region that lacks extraordinary personality.

Eric Asimov, Wine Critic for the New York Times, coincidentally just returned from a trip here, and told me his favorite producers include: Domaine Ilarria, Domaine Brana, Herri Mina, Amextia Etzaldia and Arretxea.


The definition of old world: Eleanor of Aquitaine, “Entre-Deux-Mers”, “Cru”, St. Emilion, Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion….it all came down to a few grapes that were cultivated, blended, reshuffled, sampled, and labeled, over time becoming so prestigious that the region is sometimes all we know about the wine. But what makes a Bordeaux, anyway? Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec are the most common red grape varietals, blended in varying percentages depending on the appellation and chateau. The thing is, there are so many blends, crus, vintages, etc. it’s easy to get lost without finding a bottle that actually satisfies your palette and your budget. I’ve had a lot of trouble with this myself, and asked another favorite wine friend for her suggestions.

Cat Silirie, Executive Wine Director for the Barbara Lynch Gruppo, says: “It can be tough to parse through the prestige of the region and find a bottle that actually gives a sense of place. When looking for a bottle, think about the geology and microclimates, focus non classified growths and appellation-emphasized bottles. The variations are incredible:  some wines offer a delicate, minerality while others a more structured, textured body, high in tannin. The right bank  tends to produce more Cab Franc & Merlot, while the left bank is heavier on Cabernet Sauvignon. The emphasis should be on the vigneron, not on the cellar. A producer I love and have been working with for over 20 years is Chateau Haute-Segottes (St. Emilion), and local shop the Wine Cask in Somerville has a lovely, affordable selection.”

Wine Stop I: LOIRE

I’ll be honest: the Tour doesn’t actually go through the Loire this year, but it would be a tragedy not to include this region in our otherwise comprehensive wine expedition. The Loire is home to some of the most exciting, progressive wines on the market today, thanks to the efforts of small-vineyard farmers who, more than anything else, uphold the value of quality over quantity. Much of the region is situated on or fed by the Loire River, creating an extremely fertile and abundant span of countryside to cultivate grapes. Popular grapes are Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne, Poulsard, Pineau d’Aunis, Gamay, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir, to name a few. You might recognize some of these as their appellations or subregions, such as Muscadet, Chinon, or Sancerre. Needless to say, there is such a diversity and abundance of vineyards and production methods, no two are quite alike and the result is an extraordinary array of elegant, bizarre, texture-filled wines.

Zev Rovine, Wine Importer Extraordinaire, recommends anything by these producers: Robinot, Tessier, Paonnerie, Clos Rougeard, and Domaine la Chevalerie, just to name a few.

So that’s it. Think you appreciate French wine a little more? What region(s) do you prefer? Which grapes? Why? Send me your thoughts.

Le Château de Mercuès, 2000






I’m not normally a big Malbec fan. Having had my fair share of Argentine wine growing up, I became decidedly against not just the grape, but the relentlessly bold style. This wine made me reevaluate; because once again, time and place are everything, and such is the case for appreciating wine. First of all, the French have a totally different approach to Malbec than the Argentines, generally letting the wine sit longer in the barrel to develop a deep, rich and evolving character that is powerful, yes, but not whiplash. The vines too, are much older. This Chateau Mercuès was super energetic and made me want to eat lots of red meat, but I never got that rubbery tongue sensation as before. Do you know it? It’s almost like rubbing menthol on your tongue and then trying to taste or ingest anything else- it sucks. Anyway, I would summarize this wine as a graceful powerhouse. Maybe it was the addition of the Merlot, maybe it was the company, but I definitely would have it again.

Domaine Les Fouques, Cuvée de L’Aubigue Rouge

crispy fall air makes me crave heat; pepper and jam, something lighter bodied but with grip, and bolder tannins.  a word to the wise: do not underestimate biodynamic vineyards. they nail seasonal cravings, like this little vineyard in provence has done. lately i’ve been extremely curious about southern france (provence, languedoc-rousillon and south west regions). i was surprised to learn from this wine that in France, syrah is not limited to the Rhone Valley.  it turns out that understanding the soil, climate, a grape’s needs, the seasons, how to blend varietals… all really, really, help even the most jaded taster to overcome her fears.