In the summer of last year, myself, Nathan and his family stayed in the Provence region in the South of France, near Avignon. I, unlike Nathan, was new to the area, and was awe inspired by the stretches of vineyards framed by the ever-looming Mont Ventoux, nicknamed rather appropriately ‘The Beast of Provence’.
Provence has many draws, including the beautiful area of Sault, known for its stretches of undulating lavender fields (see image below). When we visited the little town, there was a market selling all sorts of local delicacies, including lavender honey, and on the way home we stopped in on a lavender oil distillery, where we were taken through the process in near perfect English (and wore a smokey lavender smell on our clothes for the rest of that day, not altogether unpleasant!).
However, the highlight of the trip for me was visiting vineyards to do some wine tasting and, of course, buy some bottles as a result! I’m far from an expert but I’m enjoying the learning process, and below is a summary of each vineyard we visited and the wine that we bought there.
This was the first and smallest of the vineyards we visited, but was where we bought the most wine – red, white and rosé. As you’ll see from the photo above, they had roses planted at the start of some of the vine rows which made it feel like someone’s expansive and well cared for garden rather than a commercial vineyard. The red wine we bought, juste avant les sangliers 2010, translates as ‘just before the boar’, as the grapes were carefully harvested at the time of year just before the wild boar help themselves. We fell in love with the story (and the wine label with the little boar on!) and of course the flavour. We even got a free ‘drop stop’ and bottle stopper – fancy!
The red was opened at Christmas and we have yet to open the rosé, and in hindsight probably should have done it during the heatwave we had a few weeks ago.
We ventured a little further out to Chateau Unang, and it was well worth the trip. We’d struggled with communication a little at Grand Jacquet, and this was of course part of the charm, but when we were greeted by a friendly woman with a distinctly English accent it was rather nice to be able to ask some more in depth questions and have a general chit chat. We didn’t actually meet them, but James and Joanna King who own the vineyard are both Scottish in descent, and whilst it gets me dreaming about packing it all in and buying my own vineyard, they clearly know their stuff and work very hard – the proof is in the pudding.
Out of all three vineyards we visited, Chateau Unang had the best selection of reds, in my opinion, and as a predominantly ‘red person’ it piqued my interest. The La Croix Ventoux 2011 that we bought was rich and smooth, I remember someone at the tasting saying it’s the kind of wine that should be enjoyed with a roaring fire, and this is exactly what we did when we opened it in February when Nathan and I rented a log cabin in the Forest of Dean. Those are the best kinds of wine, in my (very) humble opinion.
The Chateau Unang website has a fantastic and full description of this particular wine and does it justice in ways that I certainly’ can’t – ‘The tannins are soft, present, and support the black fruit (bramble jam) which is underpinned by the soft, inky and elegant length.’
The wine tasting took place in ‘the caveau’ (unfortunately with these places you can’t see the Chateau itself, I was probably naive to think you could!) and then ventured downstairs to the vats and barrels. It was a well rounded trip and I learned the most about the processes/grapes and so on here than anywhere else on the trip, possibly because of the lack of the language barrier.
Until this visit to France I hadn’t really had much dessert wine, nor would I have gone out of my way to try it. I am utterly converted. We took a trip to beaumes de venise, which is famous for its sweet wines made out of the Muscat grape.
One batch of tasting when we visited Domaine-des-Bernardins and we knew what we wanted – the Muscat de Beaumes de Venise 2013. Its nectar sweet taste and honeysuckle aroma, headily reminiscent of honey and peach won me over in a heartbeat. We were relying on the good graces of Nathan’s parents to transport any wine bought on the holiday back to the UK with them in their car, so we bought two small bottles. We haven’t yet opened them…it’s silly really – it’s so nice that we’re afraid of running out and we are trying to find a moment special enough to try and recreate when we first tasted it in France!
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Provence, and will certainly go back, perhaps even taking a car next time to fully stock up. The vineyards and the lavender fields of Sault were the highlight, and I definitely recommend that anyone who likes wine but has not yet ventured to a vineyard should do so. There are also plenty in the UK, I intend to venture to as many of these as possible too – watch this space!