Our latest find in Provence, Clos Saint-Joseph is a true gem: a tiny domaine tucked away amid the limestone of the Provençal pre-Alps, at the confluence of Mediterranean and Alpine climates, run by a friendly young couple who have espoused biodynamic farming in the name of creating terroir-driven wines from their unique corner of the world. Thirty minutes due north of Nice, Villars-sur-Var falls under the Côtes de Provence appellation, although it is isolated from the rest of the AOC and subject to a notably cooler climate. Roch Sassi and partner Constance Malengé are the village’s only full-time vignerons, eking out just enough nectar from the limestone to supply us with a precious pallet or so each year. This latest edition of Clos Saint-Joseph’s rouge, you’ll notice, is exceptionally labeled “Cuvée Spéciale”. A devastating hailstorm in June of 2017 destroyed all but the totality of their crop, forcing Roch and Constance to search elsewhere for fruit to save the domaine. Salvation came in the form of a generous donation of grapes from Rouge Provence, an association of vignerons whose mission is to promote the region’s historic reds, also offering solidarity and support to domaines affected by natural disasters such as the hail that struck Villars. Unable to fill even a single barrel from their own harvest, the couple nonetheless filled their cellar with their usual blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The donated fruit comes from the appellations of Bandol, Les Baux de Provence, Coteaux d’Aix, Côtes de Provence, and Coteaux Varois, including contributions from Tempier, La Tour du Bon, and other top producers. These grapes were all sustainably farmed and purposefully sourced from relatively cool parcels in order to maintain consistency with the restrained style of the domaine’s wines. While the generous aromatics are slightly sunnier than in other vintages, the hand of the vigneron shines through: Roch’s low-intervention methods—no inoculation or filtration—preserved a signature purity and elegance. Scents of garrigue and sun-ripened fruit from all four corners of Provence abound, and the region’s top terroirs each contribute their distinct complexities. After all, this is a blend of the best fruit in Provence, interpreted through the singular lens of Clos Saint-Joseph.
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.
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