Just a mere 2,618 years ago, a small group of Greek colonists found their way to Provence and settled in some grottoes (baùmos in local dialect) on a hilltop. From vine cuttings packed along in their belongings they began a tradition, miraculously uninterrupted since then, of making sweet Muscat, which remains to this day the claim to fame and calling card of the village of Beaumes-de-Venise. Much ink about this Muscat, one of the great sticky wines of the world, has been rightly spilled in these pages over the last forty years. Yet don’t forget about the rouge, the sun-filled, hearty, and meaty everyday wine locals drink without pomp or circumstance between bottles of the sweet stuff.
If you take a summer stroll on the slopes of the Pic Saint Loup, you may find wild grapevines climbing the rock here and there, providing a few bunches of grapes that are soon taken by the abundant wild boars and birds. Evidence shows that those wild grapes, native to the Pic since prehistoric times, were used by the first human inhabitants of the area, making our friends in Beaumes-de-Venise look like newcomers to the game. Perhaps it’s the horse-farmed, chemical-free vineyards, far from present-day pollutants, or perhaps it’s the minimalist winemaking and unfiltered bottling, but there is something timeless to La Roque’s Pic Saint Loup, its herbal bouquet and rich, fleshy texture, all free from any hint of modern trappings.
Lou Maset” refers to the old stone hut amid the vines at Domaine d’Aupilhac in the Languedoc town of Montpeyroux. In the pre-Technicolor film reel I have spinning in my head, I can see the vineyard workers, tired after a long morning out in the hot sun, taking refuge in the cool, dark hut. One man, his tanned brow dripping sweat over the dusty floor, holds a saucisson and produces a pocketknife from his overalls. The crew gathers as he begins slicing. Another man—Pascal, we’ll call him—yanks the cork from an unlabeled jug filled with a deep-purple liquid and takes a swig. The wine tastes like freshly pressed wild blackberries gently warmed by the sun, with an herbaceous quality recalling the shrubbery growing on the vineyard’s perimeter. It is a bit coarse on the palate, but not in an aggressive way; when Pascal gnaws on a thick slice of saucisson, there is a strangely beautiful harmony between earth, sun, and man, and for but a brief moment, everything is just right. The wine Pascal drank, of course, was the “Lou Maset” from Domaine d’Aupilhac—the perfect refresher after a hard day of work, and the ideal companion to a roast chicken, grilled merguez, or even just a few slices of a colleague’s charcuterie.
Beef and brawn abound in Maestracci’s rouge, so much so that the estate lets it sit a few years in old casks to mellow out before getting it in bottle. Once it is finally ready, though, it is unmatched in Corsican bang for the buck. While its complexity dazzles, it remains delightful and delicious to drink. And, as always chez Maestracci, there is plenty of elegance to boot.