ON THE ROAD WITH JEREMY, NEIL AND CLARKE
VISITING THE GROWERS AND REPORTING FROM THE FIELD
PROVENCE AND THE LUBERON
As was the case throughout the south of France, the defining characteristic of the 2017 growing season in Provence was the profound drought. Our growers in the Cotes de Provence, Bandol, Cassis, and the Cotes du Luberon experienced nary a drop of rain between May and mid-September, which severely reduced their yields. A startlingly early flowering due to a mild winter—which facilitated scattered instances of devastating frost—combined with an intensely warm summer, resulting in one of the earliest harvests in modern history. Often, in vintages marked by hydric stress and notable warmth, the roses suffer from excess flesh and aggressive levels of alcohol (a great red-wine vintage is not necessarily conducive to great rose). However, we were surprised and delighted to discover roses of vivacity and tension in these 2017s, some of the best and most thought-provoking roses we have encountered in recent memory. The most striking feature of these 2017 Provencal roses is their concentration—with plenty of solar energy but only a scant amount of water through which to translate it, each vine, each grape, becomes a particularly strong-voiced deliverer of vinous material. Happily, the resulting roses are neither unduly rich nor cloyingly fruit-driven—they are merely dense. In fact, the 2017s read at this early stage as among the drier-seeming roses in quite some time, and they pull off the difficult feat of being both exceptionally vinous and deeply delicious.
Between a bout of late-April frost and the intense summer drought, our stalwart producer of Cotes de Provence rose suffered a devastating 50% blow to their normal crop size in 2017. They realized early on—after the frost—that they were facing a vintage of meager production, however, and took proactive measures to secure a few additional sources of grapes with which to augment their severe losses. They joined forces with two growers in their home zone of Flassans-sur-Issole, plus two additional growers in the nearby Vallee du Borrel, early enough in the season to be able to oversee the management of the vineyards and the harvest itself—an important detail, since the delicate timing of Peyrassol’s relatively early harvest is a key to their wines’ characteristic chiseled poise. We are thrilled with the results, which prove that—even in difficult circumstances—this domaine has the vision and skill to remain at the very top of their category.
2017 “Commanderie de Peyrassol” Côtes de Provence Rose
As always, the 2017 version of the workhorse of the Peyrassol cellar is built on the backs of Cinsault and Grenache, with Syrah, Rolle, Ugni Blanc, and Clairette playing minor supporting roles. Pouring a classic silvery salmon color, the fruit is pitched toward red: ripe strawberry, red apple, stony cherry. The dense yet tightly focused palate shows the natural concentration of the vintage, and the finish is prolonged by a mouthwatering, very gently bitter sensation of tannin.
2017 “Chateau Peyrassol” Côtes de Provence Rose
Made entirely from estate fruit in 2017, “Chateau” is primarily Cinsault, with increasingly smaller amounts of Grenache, Mourvedre, Tibouren, and Syrah. This is a higher-toned, more floral, more filigree wine than its brother above, with subtle herbal notes framing clean, lifted fruit on the nose. Though equally as dense—and perhaps more penetrating due to its more overt mineral character—it is no richer than the “Commanderie,” and it expresses the vintage’s firm tension with elegance.
2017 “Le Clos Peyrassol” Côtes de Provence Rose
Made from the estate’s best and oldest parcels of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre, and Carignan, “Le Clos” represents a minuscule fraction of Peyrassol’s total production. While this 2017 offers greater richness and intensity than the previous two wines, it nonetheless displays the fat-free muscularity and drive of the vintage, with a salt-dominated and tight-grained finish that promises mid-term age-ability. Interestingly, “Le Clos” is the most glisteningly light-colored of the trio, proving once again that color and intensity are completely independent phenomena.
The heir to an enviable swath of holdings in Chassagne-Montrachet and Santenay, Sylvain Morey broke the mold in the early 2000s and purchased this small domaine in the Luberon—a beautiful inland expanse in the northern reaches of Provence known more for producing everyday drinkers than wines of intellectual stimulation. Sylvain, however, brings a playfully experimental, uncommercial, risk-taking sensibility to this humble zone, displaying a combination of instinctual procedural precision and a laissez-faire trust in the terroir that is somewhat distinctly Burgundian. We were surprised and excited by the quality of last year’s rose—the first vintage in which we had partnered with Sylvain—and this year’s is shaping up to be even more compelling. Bastide du Claux suffered the trifecta of difficulties in 2017: flowering issues, frost, and drought, resulting in a 50% crop loss. Tellingly, none of the three component cement vats of the 2017 Cotes du Luberon Rose we tasted had yet been sulfured at any point along the way—and Sylvain has never introduced a foreign yeast strain at the domaine. The impromptu assemblage of the three vats, comprising a close approximation of the final blend that will be bottled in a month’s time, was exuberantly aromatic, with crunchy red fruits carried along by a compelling herbal streak. The overwhelming sensation here is one of small, tight, ultra-concentrated berries, in keeping with the natural density of the vintage. Approximately 70% Grenache, with a dollop of Syrah and a scant amount of Carignan, the 2017’s color is pale without looking forced into a market-ready salmon coat, giving an impression of energy rather than tranquility.
The always-warm and inviting Genovesi clan expressed justifiable enthusiasm over their 2017 Cassis Rose—a wine of painfully low production (Bagnol suffered over a 50% crop loss in ’17 due to hydric stress and early-spring frost, the second severely compromised harvest in a row here quantity-wise) but vigorous character. Always among the most coveted of our roses, this vintage is even more blatantly saline than usual, with a sense of dense power lurking below the unabashedly pretty candied strawberry and quinine-inflected freshness. The finish really announces the vintage’s concentration, with a high-toned drive and a sense of mineral-driven solidity.
In a great session with Etienne Portalis, who displays an ever-increasing confidence and mastery of his craft, he mentioned that 2017 was a vintage especially suited to their uncompromisingly powerful and structured style of rose. Whereas producers looking for polite, barely-there poolside wines may have felt stymied by the vintage’s natural concentration, Chateau Pradeaux produced among the most compelling examples of the genre we have encountered in quite some time. While their vineyards were spared by frost, hydric stress—plus a mean-spirited episode of localized late-June hail—slashed their yields by upwards of 40%. The resulting roses are brimming with intensity, lean yet broad-shouldered, and utterly stuffed with material.
2017 Cotes de Provence Rose
Made from 45% Cinsault and 40% Mourvedre, with the balance split among Grenache and Carignan, this year’s pale-iron-colored Cotes de Provence Rose is closer to Bandol-level complexity and concentration than we have yet seen from this wine—a result of the vintage’s atypical concentration. A core of sappy, glycerol red-cherry fruit anchors a firm, punchy minerality, and the finish is remarkably persistent. The vineyards that comprise this wine were, in fact, classified as Bandol AOC as recently as 2012, and this 2017 clearly distinguishes itself from among the vast ocean of Cotes de Provence rose by virtue of its terroir’s unique pedigree
2017 Bandol Rose
Comprising, as always, 75% Mourvedre and 25% Cinsault, the bold, robustly expressive 2017 Bandol Rose offers notes of red licorice, dried sage, crunchy apple, and savory earth. The palate is ultra-intense and staining, with an almost oily core that still scans as bone-dry. Perhaps more than any other wine in the region that we encountered, this shows 2017’s rare ability to delivery sheer power without any undue fruitiness.
2017 Bandol Rose “Vesprée”
Though we are still a year away from the release of this long-aged pure-Mourvedre rose—only the second vintage produced—early signs are immensely promising. Etienne gently reduced the gross-lees exposure (from five months with the 2016 to three and a half months with the 2017), seeking greater freshness without compromising the wine’s depth—and the eight-hectoliter barrel that comprises a fourth of the final blend marks the wine more gently (having been used already now). The other three-fourths of the wine is currently resting on its fine lees in a beautiful cement egg—a vessel Etienne is particularly smitten with, and which he is aiming to incorporate in a more meaningful way for all his roses. The combination of energy, complexity, and power here is downright stunning, and we look forward to tracking this wine’s evolution.
MORE REPORTS TO FOLLOW AS OUR TRIO OF TRAVELERS PROCEEDS THROUGH FRANCE!!!