Sunday, June 27, 2010

Part 1:                       

The Wine and Food of Les Baux de Provence 

     Les Beaux de Provence is nestled in the heart of the Provencal countryside, in the Alpilles mountain range near Avignon, Saint Remy & Nimes. Alpilles means little Alps as they are considered foothills of the storied Alps range. The landscape is unlike anything I have ever seen or have known for a wine region. The cliffs, hills and mountaintops are a mix of huge, bulky, but smooth granite boulders and scrub green foliage. The region and its many charms were the subject of many paintings by the famous painter Van Gough and many other artists.

To me Provence meant fresh food and traditional cooking. Provence is a special place where organic and locally grown produce has always been the way of the land. This method is not a trendy new way to eat healthy like we are now seeing here in America; it is the only way they eat. But in Provence, especially in Les Beaux, one can find not only world class cuisine, but world class wines, olive oils, vinegars, mustards, herbs, aioli, and anything else you can make out of an olive or grape.


The best wines in Provence, like most wine from France, express the “terroir” they are raised in. Terroir is a French word that does not have a direct English translation. Terroir is more a term in France that describes the unique aspects of where a wine comes from and the physical elements surrounding and affecting a vineyard and its fruit that will determine the character of the wine. For example, a vineyard that may have herbs from Provence growing in or near them may have a slight essence of rosemary, thyme, or lavender in the aroma or flavors of the wine. Like the famed wines of the nearby Rhone region, Provence also benefits from the legendary Le Mistral wind that blows strong through the area. The Mistral keeps the air and sky clear and bright (lots of sun for the vines), as well as dry out any rains that may fall upon the vines that could cause ruin by the onset of rot. As you walk through a village, you can feel the effects on yourself from the Mistral. The sun is high and strong from a lack of clouds, but you hardly feel hot from the cooling breeze of the Mistral. This kind of weather is perfect to grow grapes in to maintain steady and even ripening of the fruit.

The wines from Provence offer great value as they are relatively unknown in the United States, but for maybe Rose wine. If I sold wine or was an importer, these would be a strong focus for me because of the value you get for the price of these wines that ranged from 8-25€, or roughly $10-30. As you will see below, we have film and plenty of written details on these great wines. Many of these wines I have found to be available in the US, but you have to look thoroughly using 


The traditional red grapes grown in Provence are Grenache, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. I was surprised how much on average Cabernet Sauvignon (20% sometimes) is blended into the wines. Given Provence’s proximity to the Rhone I would have expected that Syrah would share the spotlight evenly or more so than Grenache. A traditional Provencal blend is approximately 50% Grenache, with the rest split between Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Syrah and sometimes Mourvedre. The blend could be a few or all of these grape types.

The first Domaine I would like to spotlight is Mas de Gourgonnier. We shot a few videos tasting these wines and I highly recommend you find these wines for their superior value and Provencal terroir. The videos in this entry are on two of the better wines we had purchased while in Provence from Mas de Gourgonnier, located on the outer fringe of Les Beaux de Provence. We visited Mas Gourgonnier late in the day on our first full day in Provence and tasted through most of their wines. They had a charming tasting room where they were pouring all of their wines and found most of them to be good with two being quite exceptional, costing 9 and 16€ respectively! The rose was good, not great, as I expected a little more from it, but for the pittance they asked it is a good deal, as well as the Traditional rouge blend which we found charming. Rose wines from Les Baux seem to have a style that reflects more acidity, minerality and a focus on the citrus character. The following wines were our favorites from the tasting, of which we purchased both and drank them in the following videos.

Cuvée Sans Soufre Ajouté 2008, Mas De Gourgonnier ($12, available in US)(Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon)


Le Clos du Paradis 2006, Mas De Gourgonnier ($20, available in US)
(40% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon) 


Earlier that day our first visit was to Domaine Mas de la Dame and we were impressed with their lineup of wines. The famed Rhone Valley oenologist/negociant Jean Luc Colombo is consulting here on the Grenache and white Rhone based wines “Coin Cache”. We tasted both and enjoyed them thoroughly; though they seemed a touch more new world than their other wines that leaned more to the classic red Provencal style. The Rose du Mas (50%Grenache, 30%Syrah, 20% Cinsault) was the better of the two rose wines they have in the lineup. Given the “Coin Cache” wines are from the oldest vines they own, I am sure they are still tinkering to get the right expression. We tasted an excellent white “la Stele blanc" that was mostly Vermentino (80%, 20% Clairette) that we liked very much and purchased one to drink back at our patio at La Riboto de Taven. Vermentino is traditionally from Italy and is one of our favorite white wines to have around the house and to entertain large groups. All of these wines are a great value so go find some!

Home in Provence = La Riboto de Taven 

We made Riboto our home for all of our days in Provence, and most of our meals. The warm welcome we received from Christine and Philippe made us feel at home and by the time we were leaving we had grown accustomed to their hospitality so much they felt like an aunt and uncle to us and we were sad to leave them. We had dinner at Riboto 3 of the 4 nights we spent in Les Beaux, I cannot recommend staying and eating here more! The morning breakfast was spectacular and a mix of croissant, fruits, cheeses and jams. Philippe happened to be a wine aficionado and guided me to many excellent Provencal wines to try at dinner from the surrounding regions. The dining room is ornately decorated with a Provencal and French country charm that seemed formal, yet relaxed at the same time. A high ceiling rose to the center of the room where a beautiful antique chandelier set the mood with its delicate light blanketing the room while beautiful paintings adorned the walls. On warmer evenings when the mistral was not blowing as hard or cool, eating on that patio seems to be the perfect spot to enjoy a Provencal meal under the stars with your sweetheart. A typical meal would look as follows, but the menu changes each day as the Chef extraordinaire Jean Pierre Novi turned out wonderful classic Provencal dishes, some freshened up with a new not-too-modern twist. I typically do not reach for dishes made with squash and eggplant, but the best dish I had at Riboto had both of those in them. The dinner menu covers were these gorgeous interpretations of the most loved Provencal foods being prepared. These were created specifically for Riboto by a cousin of Picasso, for sure a nod to the famed artist’s style.

La Riboto de Taven Menu (night 4)

Royal asparagus points in a herb vinaigrette


Small red peppers filled with brandade moure

Filet of Barbue (flat fish) with l'encre de seiches sauce


Noix de veau (veal) rotie auc champignons “cornes d'abondance” (Horn of Plenty)


Cheese course (ALWAYS at meals after the main course btw!)


Meringue with fresh house fruit sorbet (desert)

Meringue was such a nice surprise! Who still does meringue in the US these days? I can’t think of the last time I had it here. It was ALL over Provence. I cannot recommend visiting and eating your way through Provence!

Below are the wines we had during our meals while in Provence.

Wine 1, Mas Sainte Berthe Tradition Rouge 2008. Les Baux de Provence, Classis Les Baux blend, great value. A tradition red which we had with dinner on our first evening in France at La Riboto de Taven. The MSB was a classic version of a Provencal blend (Grenache 49%, Cabernet Sauvignon 26%, Syrah 25%). Black and red berries mixed with garrigue and herbs de Provence to deliver a classic Provencal red wine experience.

Wine 2, 2003 Cuvee Bastide “Dalmeran” at Le Petit France in Le Paradou. Nice to see an older wine still holding its own. Classical red and blue fruits mixed with delicate notes of spice and fall leaves. This paired nicely with veal.

Wine 3, Sine Nominee, de Lauxieres n◦ 5762 “Grenache Noir and Petit Verdot, from a “Sine Qua Non-like” maverick like winemaker. Petit Verdot is illegal in Provence if you want to use the Provence AOC on the label of the wine. It is also illegal to put a vintage year on the label. Thus the 5762 = 2002, a secret algorithm as the date is illegal to be on the label of a “table wine” in France. The winemaker here is a big maverick and goes against the grain. Cheers to him and his creativity! Read more here!

Wine 4, Chateau d’Estoublon 2005. Classic, more pinot noir like in character, floral, supple red fruits and aromas of flowers, with a freshness to the flavors and aromas. Chateau d’Estoublon is owned by the family that owns Breitling.

At the end of our stay at Les Baux we were sad to leave such a beautiful and charming place, but we had a lot to look forward to as our journey through France continued on to Bordeaux next. For classical French local country eating and drinking, it does not get any better than Provence!

Cheers, être continué,

See here all of our Photos from Provence!

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