With its dazzling geological diversity, its ideal latitudinal situation, and its long, proud winegrowing history, France is an embarrassment of vinous riches. It is no accident that it was the French themselves who coined the term terroir—the magical union of soil, climate, grape variety, and knowing human touch which produces that elusive but undeniable sense of somewhere that true wine lovers so dearly cherish. Even in a land teeming with wines of such striking expressive power, however, Chateau Simone stands alone. In few other places will one encounter an estate, family-owned-and-operated from the beginning, that controls nearly the entire distinct appellation—and none whose wines comprise such a complex and unique array of grape varieties. Furthermore, one might argue that no other winegrower in the world produces a white, a red, and a rosé all of which are among the very greatest examples of their kind to be found anywhere.
Chateau Simone’s singular nature, as enchanting as it is, may also partly explain their relative obscurity. If the Rougier family (proprietors of Simone since 1830) plied their trade in, say, Chambolle-Musigny, or Pomerol, or Hermitage, their wines would be stratospherically expensive and exceedingly difficult to obtain. As it stands, they produce some of the greatest wines on the planet at prices below that of much villages¬-level Cote d’Or Burgundy—not inexpensive, certainly, but attainable by mortals and offering enormous quality and long age-ability. In a sense, drinking Chateau Simone offers one of the most pure experiences of terroir one can have, but therein perhaps lies its challenge. Without a plethora of other reference points in the area, or a dominant varietal expression on which to hone in, and without an exaggerated or obvious winemaking signature, the taster is forced to confront Simone on its own. If, as Randall Grahm so evocatively put it: drinking a wine of great terroir is “like shaking hands with a mountain,” then drinking Chateau Simone is a full-on embrace. We, as wine lovers, are fortunate that it exists, and to tease the experience apart further is ultimately to diminish its power and profundity.
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 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 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 natural qualities of their upbringing not in broad, brash brushstrokes, but in their unfettered expansiveness and seamless harmony. They are quietly proud, deeply subtle wines of grace and poise. But, at the end of the day, Simone is Simone—and it is our duty simply to revel in its singularly beautiful spirit.
In late January, 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 through the end of March (the lowest in many years) on both the 2014 Palette Blanc and the 2013 Palette Rouge, and we sincerely hope you will join us in celebrating these new arrivals. All lovers of wine remotely interested in the mysteries of terroir owe it to themselves to explore deeply the treasure of Chateau Simone.
2014 Chateau Simone Palette Blanc
Perhaps the most distinguished wine of Chateau Simone, the Palette Blanc comprises 50% of the estate’s production and lays legitimate claim to being the greatest white wine produced in the south of France. Though each vintage is unique (as should be the case with a wine of great terroir), a common thread emerges every year: a marriage of viscous, resinous (yes, piney) sap, tense acidity, and a deep wave of honey/nougat/hazelnut without being cloying. In fact, the attentive taster can easily pick out Simone Blanc blind in a lineup of many, so distinctive is its personality. Primary fruit plays a background role, one that becomes increasingly minor as the wine ages—and does it ever age, as the bottles we have consumed at twenty-plus years of age deliciously testify. Built on the back of the humble Clairette—a variety of structure and amplitude that at Simone takes on shocking depth—there are splashes of numerous others within: 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), this 2014 expresses the growing season’s relative coolness in its electrifyingly mineral core. The nose blossoms with air to reveal a profound limestone essence, a salty onslaught of seashell flavors that corset the ripe pit and orchard fruits struggling to burst forth. The tension inevitable in young Simone Blanc is amplified here by the wine’s linearity, but as always it is approachable and complex even in its relative youth—though this dynamic wine has a very long life ahead of it.
2013 Chateau Simone Palette Rouge
Chateau Simone’s gorgeous red wine is composed of a mind-bending array of varieties: Grenache and Mourvedre steer the ship, but Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan, and Cabernet Sauvignon also play their part—and oddballs like Tibouren, Picpoul Noir, Theoulier, Castet, and Manosquin round out the crew. Always a difficult wine to pin down, Simone Rouge winks at the Cote de Nuits with its refined silken character, yet evokes Bandol and Chateauneuf-du-Pape in its spice-drenched, rugged side and its aromatic wildness. In the end, however, its complex personality is a vivid reflection of the reality of Chateau Simone’s unique terroir: a cool-climate wine made within a warm climate, with all the tension and 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. Made from a relatively cool growing season like the 2014 above, the 2013 Palette Rouge is additionally the product of extended hang-time, as maturation progressed more slowly in the spring and summer’s uneven weather. As such, it possesses a sleek, cool character, its savory and classic sauvage elements offset by a taut sense of elegance and restraint. Seamless and fine, with gentle yet vibrant flavors of tobacco-tinged cherries and dried Provencal herbs, this 2013 will amaze those who are sensitive to Grenache’s occasional flamboyance and plumpness. Though not forbiddingly structured by any stretch, this wine will blossom to reveal its depths over the next decade, and should provide beautiful drinking for at least twenty years. Anyone serious about fine French wine should be purchasing and cellaring Chateau Simone Rouge.
2016 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 saignee juice in equal proportions—may as well be from another planet. Even serious growers often make rosé as an afterthought, using quick and inexpensive methods and rushing it into bottle to be sold 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 and a bit of risk—and, whereas most rosés fall apart within a year or two of being bottled, Simone’s is notorious for improving over a decade, developing the savory notes and umami complexity of an aged red wine. This 2016 is perhaps the most ravishing young Simone rosé we have ever encountered, offering an almost Volnay-like sense of warm spice and cool, regal fruit buttressed by a broad limestone core rarely encountered in a rosé, yet delivered with explosive energy. It is exuberant and intense, yet almost impossibly elegant—like the red, a wine of seemingly contradictory elements united in complete harmony, and a wine that could come from nowhere else except Chateau Simone. Comprising only ten percent of the estate’s production, the rosé is always the first Simone to sell out, and we expect this 2016 to make but a brief appearance in our warehouse.