A kindly giant who watches over the aromatic garrigue scrubland and the carefully tended vineyards, Mont Ventoux shelters wines conducive to sharing and close companionship – celebrated with a fragrant, flavourful centrepiece.
~ CHRISTOPHE TASSAN Sommelier and Rhone Ambassador
The Tour de France 2016
Stage 12 of the Tour de France will route cyclists from Montpellier in the Gard department, through Bouches du Rhône deparment on to the Vaucluse to cap the top of mighty Mount Ventoux, 1912 meters in elevation. This stage will pass through St. Rémy de Provence, one of my favorite locations in Provence which is included in the Les Baux de Provence AOP.
The Meaning of July 14
This is exciting for cyclists and fans because the athletes will reach this stage on July 14, also known as Bastille Day. 14 Juillet is a celebration of French pride commemorating the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, a revolutionary day in Paris. Some years later, the French nation tagged the day as Fête de la Fédération honoring the unity of the French people on in 1790, again on July 14.
I’ve set the stage to imagine the excitement, pride, effort and fun that will take place when the Tour de France athletes push themselves (and the inspiration of their fans) to the top of Mount Ventoux. Viewers from home can toast the event by spoiling themselves with some of my favorite wines of Provence and Southern Rhône, the region that hosts Stage 14.
Because 14 is the relevant number, here are 14 things you need to know about the wines of Mount Ventoux AOP:
- The Mount Ventoux site is honored as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, thus preserving the natural elements that lend themselves to the terroir of the local wines. Oak, cedar, birch, larch and pine trees thrive there. Deer and birds of prey make this spot, rich in rare plant life, their home. Here Mediterranean and Alpine setting merge as the altitude change allows for diversity.
- According to Rhône Wines, “the appellation’s red and rosé wines are made mainly from the following grape varieties: Grenache noir, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Carignan. Secondary varieties – Bourboulenc, Clairette, Counoise, Grenache blanc, Marsanne, Marsellan, Picpoul noir, Roussanne, Vermentino and Viognier – are permitted, but may not exceed 20% of the blend. In particular, Marsellan and Vermentino may not account for more than 10%…
- …and the main varieties that go into the region’s white wines are Bourboulenc, Clairette, Grenache blanc and Roussanne, with Marsanne, Vermentino and Viognier playing a secondary role. They may not account for more than 10% of the mix.”
- Ventoux AOP became official in 1973, but archaeologists have discovered pottery that suggests wine was present in the region as early as the first century BC.
- The Pope once called nearby Avignon home, prompting rich and meaningful development of the area’s vineyards. The Pope and his entourage were served Ventoux wines.
- It’s no doubt that these big-timers appreciated the flavors of the regional wines: Smooth reds with diverse flavor profiles from “red-berry fruits and spices to leather, liquorice and truffle”. (Rhône Wines).
- The area produces 60% red, 4% white and 36% rosé.
- 35% of production is exported abroad. Yes, American friends…you can find this wine in your shops!
- The geography of the area is relevant, of course, to the terroir of the wines. “The vineyards lie to the east of the Rhône Valley, extending cover 51 communes in the département of Vaucluse. Delimited in the south by the Cavalon and protected from the mistral by Mt. Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail, they flourish in a natural setting listed by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve.” (Rhône Wines)
- Le Mistral, the legendary big wind that blows through the area has an impact on Ventoux vineyards. “Lasting anywhere from a few days to more than a week, the winds, which have been clocked up to 62 miles per hour (but usually averaging about 31), blow primarily in the winter and spring, often accompanied by clear, fresh weather. Known locally as mange-fange (“mud-eater”), the mistral is said to bring good health to people and grapes alike. It helps avert diseases in the vineyards and enables the wineries to practice sustainable viticulture. It ensures ideal conditions for growing and harvesting grapes.” (Rhône Wines)
- The region produces one of my favorite wines under $10, which has become a bit of a house wine chez nous. I should state here that this is my own opinion; I’ve not been provided samples or influence from the estate. I just love the stuff…La Vieille Ferme Ventoux Rouge AOC Ventoux. I haven’t tasted the 2015 yet, but previous vintages of this Famille Perrin wine have never disappointed!
- 2015 Mount Ventoux and Southern Rhône wines are looking good! Françoise Dijon, Head of the Observatoire du vignoble (Wine Monitor) is happy to predict that “we can look forward to flavourful wines with excellent ageing potential.” and “…we can look forward to some outstanding blends – it’s going to be very exciting!”
- Rhône Wines provides an online education platform, engaging users in video-game style, for consumers to learn more about the wines of area.
- There are outstanding restaurants and hotels in the area. Not only will the generous vineyards welcome visitors, but so will the people. This is a highly recommended (in my book) part of any trip to France. While the world may encourage us to experience Bordeaux and Burgundy first, this is a region that should not be ignored. Cheers to Mount Ventoux and the Southern Rhône. Let this be a welcome to all athletes, support crew and spectators that enjoy Phase 14 of this year’s Tour de France.
Earlier this year, our Wine Pairing Weekend group focused on meal pairing for Southern Rhône wines. To get a full set of ideas, bottle suggestions and regional background visit: Spring Meal Pairings for Southern Rhône Wines.