Forget plopping an ice cube in a cool glass of rosé to freshen it up, I was never really excited about the colour in general and least of all when it came to wine. I always thought “Why drink rosé when I can have a good white?”. But after my trip to Provence this weekend, all my a prioris have been properly shattered.
After almost two years at Frenchie, I have come to notice that my wine-ordering is dictated by the weather: in summer I order more rosé, crisp whites or light reds and in winter, more tannic reds and richer whites. I also don’t think of stocking much rosé over fall and winter since it’s mostly a “summer thing”. As true as that is, I have recently tasted a 1993 rosé from Domaine de Terrebrune and the experience has left me dumbfounded. I never thought a rosé could carry such a striking minerality and tertiary aromas that would make for great pairings. It was, of course, not any rosé. Terrebrune was my favorite tasting in Bandol: the wines’ incredible minerality is due to a unique terroir ex-sommelier Georges Dellile discovered and fell in love with in 1963. He spent years restoring what is today 30ha of vines around Ollioules. These unique and rare soils are from the Trias era, are limestone-rich with a characteristic brown clay that inspired the name of the domaine. The vine roots plunge deep down in this singular terroir and convey to all the wines at Terrebrune an incredible minerality and finesse rare in Bandol wines.
The biggest selling point of my trip to Provence was definitely our boozy sunday lunch at Domaine du Gros Noré. To say that Alain Pascal and his incredibly energetic and lively daughter Fanny know how to host a group of wine-lovers would be the understatement of the century. Before his son Alain took over the domaine and started bottling his own wines, Honoré Pascal would send most of it to the coops. In honor of the man who tought him work well done and love of wine, Alain baptised his Domaine Gros Noré, a nickname his father acquired because of his imposing stature and big heart.
We arrived at Alain’s after a great tasting at Domaine Tempier that put Bandol on the map. Kermit Lynch, who had helped organized our tastings at the various domaines, informed us that we were expected at noon at Gros Noré’s for a quick tasting and then welcome to join them for a typical provençal déjeuner du dimanche. What I had not realized was that this lunch was going to forever bind me to Provence in an irremediable way. After Alain walked us through his various cuvées and had us taste the delicious brut de cuve grape juice (not yet fermenting) that would be next year’s Rosé, he asked if I wanted to taste the 2011 Rosé now or just have it with food. Kermit suggested we just get on with it and go out in the sun. Indeed, trying that rosé in the dark cellar would have been a shame now that I think back. It was a moment wine. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t objective, it means that I was about to drink that wine in a setting it deserved to be in and fit so perfectly.
Alain had set up a fire right on the ground in the middle of the vines. On it was a deliciously smelling pan of rosemary adorned sizzling mussels (the sound will make your hungry) cooking only in their juices. The smell was intoxicating and the sun was shining. I took a swig of that rosé and, in that moment, it was the best wine I’d ever had. As I looked around at all the hearty people drinking the same wine as me, I knew they must also feel this.
Among the bottles, there was a delicious Meursault Perrières 2001 by Roulot but I actually preferred the Gros Noré Rosé and that says a lot… I realized then and there, you can taste and judge all you want, but imagination is also part of experiencing wine and using it more while tasting is a dimension I had not yet understood so fully.
While we were waiting for the mussels to cook, Alain brought out violets. The rock-like, ugly but delicious crustaceans are actually dubbed “water figs” and taste like oysters but are in texture, closer to mussels. The violets were incredible and as we all huddled around, licking our fingers, sucking out their tender flesh, I was glad to have that rosé nearby to wash down the delectable sea taste. The mussels came next and were set directly on the table after the violet’s carcasses were discarded. We plunged back in. Rosé glass tucked under my arm, salty juice running down my face and fingers working fast to pluck the perfumed mussels, this was hands-down the high point of the trip. Well… perhaps second to watching Fanny Pascal jump in the pool while taking a swig out of a bottle of rosé!
We then made our way to the set table where Alain brought over the lamb shoulders, cooked over rosemary branches freshly picked from his garden. This was provençal by excellence and watering it down with some Gros Noré 2000 was simply divine. The magnum of Clape’s Cornas 1995 also found a good place at the table.
The afternoon ended by the pool, cooling down when the sun became too harsh, sipping rosé and chatting with the group.
I could definitely get used to this!
Vive la Provence!