Summer is almost here in Northern California. When it starts smelling of warm, clean air I always think of Provence – one of my favorite places on earth. I love its landscape, blue sky, radiant sun, warm Mediterranean sea, the smell of fresh herbs and lavender… and of course the great food and wine! California has similar weather – blue sky, strong sun and dry air – but no warm sea (the Pacific Ocean off California is cold), no cicadas (a bit noisy, but that’s the sound of summer I grew up with), no sudden thunderstorms in the afternoon, and then there’s the lack of rustic coziness (we are surrounded by everything big and modern here).
In the next few posts I would like to write about food and wine from Provence, starting with something about the wine.
The most well known wine from the south of France available in the U.S. is probably Côte de Rhône (a red wine made with grenache grapes). The grenache grape is adapted to hot and dry climates and makes warm, strong, fruit-flavored wines, with a slightly pale color and high alcohol content. Smooth and low in tannins, the wine is particularly good for summer barbeques of grilled chicken or meat. Another good thing about Grenache wine – it’s generally quite affordable.
However, when I think about Provencal style vegetable and seafood dishes and fresh goat cheese in the summer, my first choice would be rosé wines. Rosé wines are most often made in the same way as reds, but the dark grape skins are removed after only a day or two. Provencal rosé is light, medium-dry (not sweet) and the perfect companion for a summer meal especially its ability to pair well with garlic and fresh herb based dishes. They are best when young and chilled.
2011 Andrieux & Fils Côtes de Provence Rosé
This rosé has a beautiful pale pink rose petal color with aromas of raspberries, strawberries and hints of exotic fruits. The palate offers an array of fruits with touches of apricots and white peaches. The well balanced finish is both satisfying and refreshing. Pairs well with Pissaaladière, Salade Nicoise and Crespèu (open-faced omelet). $14.99 at K&L Wines.
2010 Quinson Fils Côtes de Provence Rosé
A typical simple, light and dry but fruity Provencal rosé at a great price. I have been enjoying this wine very much but I’m afraid it’s going to be sold out before we reach mid-summer, because wineries in Provence are relatively small and production limited. I bet Trader Joe’s purchased the entire stock of rosé from this winery. $4.99 at Trader Joe’s (don’t tell anyone!).
2011 La Ferme Julien Luberon, Rhône Valley White
According to the description on the bottle: “This elegant and fruity wine comes from vines grown high on the slopes of the Luberon Mountain, one of the Rhône Valley’s coolest vineyards. It has been meticulously selected and blended by the Perrin Family, who is known for producing some of the very best wines of the Rhône Valley.
The blend of Bouboulenc, Gernache Blanc, Ugni Blanc and Roussanne grapes has produced a typical Rhône Valley white wine.”
I’m not sure if it’s elegant or not, but to me it’s a simple, dry and slightly herbal white wine that’s good for any food/meal in hot weather. Same price as the Quinson Fils rosé... I bought a case. $4.99 at Trader Joe’s.
Note about Provence Wines:
Provence encompasses the southeastern portion of France that borders the Mediterranean. The largest appellation in the region is the Côtes de Provence (mainly known for rosé), which spans 49,600 acres in and around Marseilles. Thirteen different varietals are grown in this appellation, with the most important grapes being Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, and Mouvedre (none makes great wine alone, but blended together they can make very interesting wines). While much of the production is dry rosé, there are many more serious wines (e.g., red Bandol -- tannic, dark, and rich in black fruit flavors) being made from the area. Some of the most important smaller appellations within Provence include Bandol, Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence, and Coteaux Varois, which produce nice red wines beside rosé.
Provence Wine Map: