This fourth year of production for the cuvée Bel-Arme definitively establishes Cassis among the most exciting white wines in production across the Mediterranean basin. It is composed primarily of old-vine Marsanne, growing on steep terraces towering over the sea and fermented and aged in concrete eggs. The aroma is what the French would call gourmand: open, forward, giving; irresistibly floral and fruity. The dry, crisp finish tautly conveys chalk and sea salt—unsurprising, given the vines’ stony seaside habitat.
An old fishing village turned top tourist destination for its mind-boggling scenery, Cassis boasts a local cuisine based upon simple fish preparations. Lunch on the port, with a view of the towering Cap Canaille in the background, might consist of moules marinières (mussels in garlicky white wine sauce), supions à la plancha (sauteed cuttlefish with garlic and parsley), or grilled sardines with a squeeze of lemon. Washed down with a bottle of Cassis blanc, naturally!
Cassis is what Kermit calls “an earthly paradise.” The vineyards of Clos Sainte Magdeleine are particularly stunning, jutting out on a private cape to meet majestic limestone cliffs, poised spectacularly above the sparkling, azure Mediterranean. Only a handful of vignerons today are fortunate enough to produce A.O.C. Cassis, and the small quantities available are largely consumed locally with fresh fish—the best way to enjoy them. The Sack-Zafiropulos family has been making wine here for four generations and continues to craft wines of grace and finesse. Their success lies in an uncanny ability to capture nerve and sun-kissed unctuousness in the wines, making them both incredibly food-friendly and delicious entirely on their own.
Perhaps there is no region more closely aligned with the history to Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant than Provence. Provence is where Richard Olney, an American ex-pat and friend of Alice Waters, lived, and introduced Kermit to the great producers of Provence, most importantly Domaine Tempier of Bandol. Kermit also spends upwards of half his year at his home in a small town just outside of Bandol.
Vitis vinifera first arrived in France via Provence, landing in the modern day port city of Marseille in the 6th century BC. The influence of terroir on Provençal wines goes well beyond soil types. The herbs from the pervasive scrubland, often referred to as garrigue, as well as the mistral—a cold, drying wind from the northwest that helps keep the vines free of disease—play a significant role in the final quality of the grapes. Two more elements—the seemingly ever-present sun and cooling saline breezes from the Mediterranean—lend their hand in creating a long growing season that result in grapes that are ripe but with good acidity.
Rosé is arguably the most well known type of wine from Provence, but the red wines, particularly from Bandol, possess a great depth of character and ability to age. The white wines of Cassis and Bandol offer complexity and ideal pairings for the sea-influenced cuisine. Mourvèdre reigns king for red grapes, and similar to the Languedoc and Rhône, Grenache, Cinsault, Marsanne, Clairette, Rolle, Ugni Blanc among many other grape varieties are planted.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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