France harbors a vast multitude of talented growers, fascinating appellations, and deep veins of viticultural history. Even among this embarrassment of riches, however, the Rougier family’s Chateau Simone is a true jewel—an estate with a singular terroir, owned by the same family for many generations, with no break in tradition along the way. A bottle of Simone from fifty years ago was produced in the same way, in the same cellar, with literally the same vines, by the same family, as the soon-to-be-released new vintages. Producers like this are vanishingly rare, and in our view, they provide the most profound experiences possible in the world of wine. In an industry that moves more quickly than ever, with more choices available from more places than ever before, an estate like Simone is an anchor of meaning—a nexus of beauty that unites old with new and reminds us of the inexhaustible beauty of tradition.
Geologically speaking, Chateau Simone is a twenty-hectare limestone amphitheater of north-facing, steeply terraced vineyards situated just southeast of Aix-en-Provence and blanketed by an expanse of dense pine forest. The northern exposition offsets the intense Provencal heat and ensures slow ripening; the limestone bedrock lurking just below the poor topsoil imparts a forceful mineral presence; and, although it sounds a bit mystical, those hundreds of acres of pines manifest in an unmistakable note of fresh, deep resin—particularly in the iconic white wine. Vines between 60 and 130 years of age (Jean-Francois Rougier claims that the oldest individual vines in France are to be found among Simone’s vineyards) engender astonishing depth and mitigate the effects of difficult growing seasons even as the wines express vintage distinctly and unabashedly. In terms of grape varieties, Chateau Simone is a true field blend of cepages both classic and obscure—each wine a complex mélange that confounds our left-brained cravings for specific percentages and quantifiable varietal contributions.
The Rougiers create wines of bare-minimal intervention, though they tastefully resist fetishizing the nature of their cellar work through labeling or marketing. Vineyard work has been organic since Jean-Francois’s grandfather’s reign; everything is harvested by hand; grapes are pressed painstakingly in an old-style vertical basket press; no outside yeast strains have ever been introduced at Simone; wines ferment and age at the natural subterranean temperatures of their vast maze of a cellar; and the wines are bottled without fining or filtering and given ample rest in bottle before being sold. The final products reveal the naturalness of their upbringing not in brash brushstrokes, but in their unfettered expansiveness and seamless harmony—these are quietly proud, subtle wines of grace and poise. Those attuned to the nuanced whispers of great Burgundy, or to the chiseled wildness of old-style Northern Rhone Syrah, or to the savory dust of Chateauneuf-du-Pape before it found steroids, will find cause for celebration in the wines of Chateau Simone. But, at the end of the day, Simone is Simone—and it is a pleasure simply to revel in its singular beauty.
In early February, Rosenthal Wine Merchant will receive its annual shipment from the Rougier family, comprising all three wines and providing a glimpse into three distinct vintages. We are pleased to offer special pricing on both the 2015 Palette Blanc and the 2014 Palette Rouge through the end of March, and we sincerely hope you will join us in celebrating these new arrivals. All lovers of wine owe it to themselves to explore the jewel of Chateau Simone.
2015 Chateau Simone Palette Blanc
Perhaps the most distinguished wine of Chateau Simone, the Palette Blanc comprises half of the estate’s production and is unquestionably one of the greatest white wines produced in the south of France. The attentive taster can easily pick out Simone Blanc blind in a lineup, so distinctive is its personality. Among its classic notes of pine resin, almonds, and white flowers, primary fruit plays a background role, and one that becomes increasingly minor as the wine ages. (Age it does, and does astonishingly well, as the many old bottles we have consumed potently testify.) Built on the back of humble Clairette—a grape variety of structure and amplitude that at Simone takes on remarkable depth—there are splashes of numerous others in the blend: Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Bourboulenc, Picpoul, Muscat, and Semillon. Aged for one year in large oak foudres, followed by one year in smaller barrels (with new oak used only to replace non-properly-functioning casks), the 2015 Blanc is a tour de force. Given its markedly cool microclimate and the Rougiers’ non-aggressive touch with extraction, Chateau Simone always excels in warm vintages, and this wine—hailing from a very warm, very sunny growing season—is among the finest young white wines we’ve ever encountered here. The nose is goosebumps-raising in its depth, already outrageously expressive and showing tons of pine resin, along with a subtle and enchanting note of petrol. Rich and luscious in texture, it nonetheless remains firm and focused as it takes complete command of the palate, bursting forth with notes of almond nougat, crystallized ginger, sage, and candied lemon. The acidity has a clean, tonic character, and the wine comes across as exceedingly refined overall—a remarkable feat given its massive build. This should easily reach its 30th birthday in fine fighting condition.
2014 Chateau Simone Palette Rouge
Chateau Simone’s red wine is composed of a staggering cast of characters: Grenache and Mourvedre take center stage, but Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan, and Cabernet Sauvignon also play their parts—and rarely-seens like Tibouren, Picpoul Noir, Theoulier, Castet, and Manosquin round out the crew. Always a difficult wine to pin down, Simone Rouge reminds one of the Cote de Nuits with its refined elegance, yet evokes Bandol or Chateauneuf-du-Pape in its spice-drenched, rugged wildness. In the end, however, its complex personality reflects the reality of Chateau Simone’s unique terroir: a cool-microclimate wine made within a warm macroclimate, with all potential contradictions that implies. Like the white, it spends two years in barrels—one in foudre, one in smaller vessels—although it spends an additional year resting in bottle before being put up for sale. Hailing from a relatively cool growing season, the flat-out gorgeous 2014 Palette Rouge leans more toward Burgundy than usual. Its nose is lifted and ethereal, a dazzling array of red fruits and Indian spices, with a marked stony character. The palate is haunting in its sense of silken refinement, with tannins already fully integrated, and perfectly pitched acidity keeping the overall impression sleek, driving, and clean. Though Simone Rouge is never forbiddingly tannic, this 2014 will provide for especially charming early drinking—though it certainly has the bones to evolve in bottle for some time as well.
2017 Chateau Simone Palette Rosé
The Rougiers’ justly legendary rosé—composed of the same field blend as the rouge, and produced by blending direct-press and free-run juice in equal proportions—may as well be from another planet as the sea of technologically produced pink concoctions flooding the market. Even serious growers often make rosé as an afterthought, using quick and inexpensive methods and rushing it into bottle to sell it before the first glimmer of spring warmth. At Chateau Simone, however, the rosé ferments spontaneously, and spends a full year in large oak foudres developing remarkable depth. Like all great wines, the best rosés require time—note that Simone is releasing their 2017 when almost every other producer is issuing their 2018—and a bit of risk in the cellar. And, whereas rosés fall apart within a year or two of being bottled, Simone’s is notorious for improving for over a decade, developing the savory notes and umami complexity of an aged red wine over time. The 2017 growing season dished out challenge after challenge—hail, frost, hydric stress, even hungry birds and pigs—with a subsequent 30-40% reduction in yields from 2016 (which was itself 15% down from 2015). Given that the rosé comprises only ten percent of the estate’s production to begin with, there is painfully little 2017 to go around. Those lucky enough to snare some, however, will encounter a wine of terrific expression, as those grapes that survived the season’s myriad challenges ended up remarkably healthy and concentrated. Amply fruited but with a core of lean minerality, the 2017 Palette Rosé offers excellent tension, and its flavors of juicy red apples, Provencal herbs, and softly smoky earth are particularly well delineated.