2012 Château Simone Palette Blanc: A Shedding Chrysalis

Posted on Posted in Chateau Simone, Rosenthal Wine Merchant News, RWM Contributor

By any imaginable metric, Château Simone, the undisputed “Grand Cru” of Provence, is among the very greatest estates in all of France. In their home country, one would be hard-pressed to find a serious wine list without them represented; in the United States, however, they remain a bit of a secret of the cognoscenti. Plenty adore them and acknowledge their stature, but they deserve a far wider audience. Of course, as their long-time national importer, we are perhaps biased, but one cannot prize terroir and pre-technological winemaking and responsible farming and not be utterly enamored with this singular estate.

Part of the intrigue is historical. Château Simone has been in the hands of the Rougier family for over two centuries, and there are small parcels of vines planted in the mid-1800s that still yield fruit today. The wines are vinified and aged in a jaw-droppingly labyrinthine subterranean cellar that has never seen modern gadgetry or outside yeast strains, and which is filled with an impressively diverse arsenal of old and varyingly sized barrels. The wines ferment naturally, clarify naturally, and are bottled with a bare minimum of sulfur dioxide, added only at bottling, and never exceeding 40 milligrams per liter in total. And it has always been this way.

Simone owes much of its greatness to its unique terroir, and, as virtually the only producer of Palette, their name is synonymous with the appellation. Situated just 15 minutes outside of Aix-en-Provence, Château Simone’s vineyards comprise a 20-hectare limestone amphitheater of north-facing vines planted between 500 and 750 meters of altitude and surrounded by hundreds of acres of dense old-growth pine forest. The northerly orientation of the vineyard mitigates the scorching southern French heat, and the forest shelters the vines and contributes unmistakable organoleptic elements which emerge fully as the wines age. Like Hermitage, Corton, or Carema, Château Simone is defined by a unique geological formation which stands in contrast to its surrounding terrain and which elevates it above its neighbors—both literally and figuratively. Unlike those vineyards, Simone encompasses a breathtaking array of grape varieties both well-known and obscure, which all blend together in the final products.

Though justly celebrated for their red, a wine of swaggeringly rugged elegance that nods both toward Bandol and Burgundy, as well as their magisterial rosé, it is with their white wine that Château Simone displays its full magic. Comprising half of their production, the Palette Blanc is built on the back of Clairette, a relatively neutral variety that allows Simone’s limestone-rich soils to voice their minerality with force and resonance. Rounding out the blend are Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Ugni Blanc, Picpoul, Muscat, along with such oddities as Pascal, Terret Bouret, and Aragnan; all are pressed whole-cluster and co-fermented. It spends a year in large barrels, a second year in smaller barrels, and a year in the cellar resting.

Château Simone Blanc is a wine that emerges slowly and deliberately from its youthful cocoon, eventually revealing startling depth and easily outlasting its red counterpart. Dense and viscous upon release, it typically begins to unfurl around four or five years past harvest, with glimmers of Provencal herbs and raw almonds peeking out from its profoundly mineral-driven vortex. An unmistakable note of pine resin, speaking to the forests which surround the vineyards, amplifies with age, and the limestone which throws uppercuts in youth turns to something more refined, long, and graceful, keeping the wine focused and linear as its other elements spread their wings. Then, at around eight years past vintage, Simone Blanc shifts into overdrive, with notes of marzipan, fresh cream, and nougat locking into formation with the emerging pine character and the blossoming lemon-curd fruit element in a vibrant dance that points toward a shockingly long evolution. In southern France, perhaps only Hermitage Blanc can rival Simone Blanc in its evolutionary fireworks.

We, astonishingly, still have a bit of 2012 Simone Blanc available—and at its original release price no less. With nearly any other truly iconic age-worthy French wine, one must not only pay far, far more but must cellar the wine oneself in order to catch it in bloom. Here, you have a vintage of impeccable poise and acidity, entering the aforementioned overdrive phase and offering a spellbinding and completely singular drinking experience today. One case hits the NYC delivery minimum; three cases receives a 5% discount; and five cases receives a 10% discount. If you’ve never had Simone Blanc, or if you’ve only had it young, you must experience this 2012 while it’s still around.

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