Côtes De Provence
by Kermit Lynch
The most interesting wines come from a great terroir in the hands of a great talent. François Raveneau at Chablis, for example. That has to be one of my favorite discoveries, the austere decomposed oyster shell soil and the cranky demeanor of old man Raveneau. And now I present somewhat the same sort of combination, this time from a hidden corner of Provence. Hold on, here we go! Let’s begin with the punchline: When I tasted the dry white from Villars-sur-Var’s Clos Saint-Joseph, I said to myself, “If Raveneau had vines here, this is what his wine would taste like.” (Notice, I did NOT say that it tastes like a Raveneau Chablis.)
Once upon a time, north of Nice, an inland sea dried up some 150 million years ago and left behind sedimentary layers of sea creature remains. Tectonic movement provoked violent upheavals that churned up strata, including marl. Layers were exposed that had been squeezed upright to vertical by various natural forces. Here and there, rocky formations like petrified innards spilled up and out of the earth’s surface. As I gazed in wonder at the dramatic landscape, it felt like those same forces were still at work, alive and kicking. I imagined grapevine roots digging deeper and deeper into such a geological gumbo.
My son, Anthony, came up with the lead, and both of us drove to the exotic landscape of the Côtes de Provence appellation at Villars-sur-Var—Villars on the slopes above the river Var—to investigate, and convince proprietor Roch Sassi, even though everything was sold out, to add us to his customer list. Unlike Raveneau, Roch is far from cranky.
Red, white, and rosé: see what we have in stock and ask our staff about older vintages.
As for Roch’s rosé, you will not find a Côtes de Provence rosé closer to satisfying my particular palate. Nary a hint of artificial or enological bullshit to be found.
From the very first gentle, stony sip of Roch’s rosé, we knew we had something special. This is a terroir-driven rosé brimming with class.
The cool 2021 is what Roch refers to as a millésime alpin, and indeed, the bright, pure wines born from it are more Alpine in character than Mediterranean. You will taste the abundant limestone in the soil, as well as the chilly winds that blow down from the surrounding mountain ridges, in each glass of this refined blend of Rolle, Ugni Blanc, Sémillon, and Clairette.
Traditional southern grapes including Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Carignan yield a mid-weight, violet-scented red on the rocky slopes of Villars. You’ll experience an elegant, soft-spoken side of Provence you never knew existed.
A pure Syrah, vinified with whole clusters and aged eighteen months in demi-muids. Dense and chewy, with floral notes and gravelly tannins, it is one of the great Syrahs of the south. Give it time to breathe, or better yet, tuck it away for a few years before indulging.
In a mixed parcel planted by his great-grandfather in 1925, Roch identified a long-lost local variety called Grassenc. He took cuttings and replanted a few rows to yield a single barrel of this delicate, low-alcohol red characterized by intoxicating notes of white pepper and rose petals. It’s a rare and special wine, best served chilled, that I will be savoring throughout summer and beyond.