Bottle shapes old and new from Provence, Tim Pawsey photo

If wine is about place, chances are what’s in your glass (aside from—hopefully—tasting good) may also rekindle memories. My tasting last week with the folks from Vins de Provence did just that, as it transported me back several years to an unexpected four-day stopover in and around Aix-en-Provence, during which I was able to leisurely take in what must some of Europe’s most stunning scenery and historic sites. Armed with a Michelin map and little else I spent hours exploring the well preserved, medieval and Roman towns and villages that dot the nearby hills, such as BonnieuxCereste, and La Bastide-des-Jordans.  One of these days maybe I’ll dig up some of those pre-digital pics and post some scans. Or, better still, I’ll go back …

The first wine in our Provence line-up was Chateau Gassier Sables d’Azur, grown in the foothills of iconic Monte Sainte Victoire. It’s a drop that wins a perennial nod for good value, and this occasion proved no exception.

Here’s our North Shore News piece in full…

Rosé on the Rise

DESPITE last week’s soggy clime, the Hired Belly encountered at least a couple of sunny spots, or more, most of them in a glass of some kind.

Cast your mind back a few years and you might recall that the May passage into June used to be warm. Well, even if the weather isn’t quite co-operating yet, one harbinger of summer is the now annual BCLS salute to Provence rosé (through June), which this year again sees a good range of drier style; food-friendly drops, perfect for warm weather dining.

If you’re thinking rosé’s fortunes are on the rise, you’re right. The French have been showing the love for some time now, with consumption surpassing that of all white wines since hitting the passing lane in 1994. And we’re doing our bit here in Canada, where Provencale rosé is also on the rise. One reason for this, suggests Vins de Provence export manager Valerie Lelong, is that both at home and abroad, rosé is taken more seriously as a food-friendly option, especially for sea-foods and lighter sauces.

Our changing dining habits are also proving favourable, as we shift from formal styles to more casual meals and a plethora of small plates.

Provence is understandably proud of its rosé heritage. Its citizens trace the history of winemaking back to the Greek settlement of modern day Marseille, around 600 BC, well before the Roman conquest that saw the spread of vines across Europe. All that explains why 88 per cent of wine produced in Provence’s three dominant appellations is rosé.

No question, also, that the region has woken up to the potential of the export market, embarking (in some cases) on edgy bottle designs that will more than grace any dining table.

However, for value-driven, everyday drinking it’s tough to beat the refreshingly dry Gassier Sables d’Azur (Côtes de Provence) Rosé 2011, a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsaut that delivers a burst of lively berry notes, some citrus and a hint of mineral in the traditional shaped “skittle” bottle. BCLS $15.99/88 points.

Up the ante a bit for Gabriel Meffre (Côtes de Provence) Rosé 2011, which yields more mouthfeel and a suggestion of savoury herb notes with a streak of mineral before the clean finish. Very stylish, and screw-capped for freshness and convenience. BCLS $19.99/89 points.

Some of the more premium offerings are also worth noting.

Château de Saint Martin Eternelle Favorite (Côtes de Provence) Rosé 2011, a blend of grenache, cinsaut and indigenous Tibouren is more subtle up front, with red berry and floral notes before a distinctly earthy and mineral lighter palate underpinned by moderate acidity. Think pink salmon, for sure. BCLS $28.99, in an elegant, contemporary cylindrical bottle – 90 points.

La Bargemone Cuvée Marina (d’Aix en Provence) Rosé 2011 offers the most radical departure from the traditional package, arriving in a rounded, more squat bottle that’s reminiscent of bourbon.

Does the shape of a bottle contribute to how a wine is perceived? Unquestionably (and this tasting wasn’t blind). However, in this case the contents seduce with fresh wild strawberry notes and an elegant fruit intensity with some orange notes on the broad but balanced palate. It can take a little heat on the plate, and we enjoyed it with fresh halibut and gently piquant cassoulet at now vanished O’Doul’s. BCLS $28.99/90 points.