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If you’ve shopped with us at all since the late ‘70s, you have probably heard Kermit rave about Clos Sainte Magdeleine in Cassis. Looking back at old newsletter articles, it is evident that the breathtaking seaside view from the property, the invitingly crisp, sparkling cyan waters off the coast, and the local diet of fresh-caught seafood—often grilled over vine cuttings with vigneron François Sack—had become objects of his affection. He also mentions wine once or twice in those articles: a white, produced from varieties like Marsanne, Clairette, and Ugni Blanc, that captures the sunshine, the sea, the stony vineyard soil, and the abundant wild herbs and flowers in beguiling fashion. Much has changed since the ‘70s, and it’s time we fill you in on recent developments at Clos Ste. Magdeleine. The new winemaker, François’ son Jonathan, has made a point to explore the full potential of this seaside terroir, going organic in the vines and testing new techniques in the cellar that push the limits of what can be done in Cassis. Cassis is well worth raving about, but the village is much more than a beautiful postcard or posh vacation destination: it is the source of seriously delicious whites and rosés. The recent changes at Clos Ste. Magdeleine make this property among the most exciting in southern France right now—these three sun-drenched, sea-infused new arrivals can certainly attest to that.
2018 Côtes de Provence Rosé $28 There is a brand new wine in the Clos Ste. Magdeleine portfolio! Perhaps the ultimate Mediterranean quaffer, this rosé is sourced from a parcel situated roughly halfway between Cassis and Bandol. The vineyard’s proximity to the sea lends this wine a salty finale that makes it right at home alongside the domaine’s other bottlings.
2018 Cassis Blanc $38 The 2018 vintage marks the first time the cellar has seen any wood, with two demi-muids having been introduced for fermentation and aging of the domaine’s flagship white. While it only represents a small percentage of the blend, the oak seems to contribute a lovely mid-palate weight, providing greater depth without losing any of the wine’s trademark nerve and salinity.
2017 Cassis Blanc “Bel-Arme” $55 Since 2012, Jonathan has isolated the domaine’s oldest vines—primarily Marsanne, planted on limestone terraces overlooking the Mediterranean—in the cuvée “Bel-Arme,” which is fermented and aged in concrete eggs. This unfined, unfiltered white is broad-shouldered and almost creamy in texture with a richness of terroir-driven aromatics, making it one of the most unique whites in southern France vintage after vintage. The just-released 2017 is no exception.
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.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
Inspiring Thirst, page 171
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