If you are curious as to why the wines of Provence seem to be popping up everywhere these days, you need look no further than husband-and-wife winemaking team of Gilles Pons and Pascale Massenot.
Wine, especially rosé, has always been an integral part of Provençal life. But Provençal wine also has, until recently at least, enjoyed a less than stellar reputation—and that's putting it kindly.
Wine was introduced to the region by the Greeks, more than 2,000 years ago. Through most of the intervening history, it was just another agricultural commodity, produced by a peasant farmer who might also own a peach orchard, grow some melons, and hunt wild boar in the fall. For the most part, this farmer didn't even bottle the wine himself. Instead he sold his grapes to the local cooperative and, as they paid him by the kilo, he produced as much as he could and as cheaply as he could, with no regard for quality.
These days, though, the wine world has changed, and few people want this rough peasant plonk anymore. Happily, there is a growing market for quality wine, and the formerly sleepy and conservative world of Provençal winemaking is now alive with dynamic change. It is largely being driven by people from outside the region who are well-educated, well-capitalized, and extremely conscious of the world wine market.
Meet Pons and Massenot. In their former lives they owned a Parisian graphics design business and, after a period of rehabilitation studying viniculture and oenology, bought some old vineyards overlooking the Mediterranean between St. Tropez and Toulon. Their acquisition had two advantages: It had no winery so they were able to start from scratch and build one to their own specifications, and it had some extremely old vines.
Now old vines are a problem if you are making bulk wine because they deliver low yields but are a treasure-trove for a quality producer because the few, very small grapes they do produce contain intensely flavored juice. So, while the former owners sold their fruit to the local cooperative and bemoaned their poor returns, Pons and Massenot are using the best modern winemaking techniques to turn these same grapes into superb wines.
One of their best is the lovely Château Les Valentines, Côte de Provence Rosé 2008 ($25). Yes, it's expensive for a rosé, but wait till you taste it. A delicate pale salmon in color, it has a subtle intensity of flavor, feminine charm, and an earthy minerality. In other words, rich, mouth-filling flavor and elegant restraint at the same time. It's the perfect wine with which to toast one's valentine.
To find this wine near you try www.wine-searcher.com.
When to Drink: Now
Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary
Food Pairing: Meatier fish dishes, chicken, Mediterranean food
Grapes: 50% cinsault, 30% grenache, 10% syrah, 10% mourvedre.
Appellation: Cõtes de Provence
Web Site: www.lesvalentines.com