Provence is full of surprises and perhaps what should not be surprising is that the discoveries that make a vacation in Provence so delightful today, so often have deep and rich historical significance. Wine is an excellent illustration as we discovered on our visit to Rochemaure Castle.

Enter stage left my French brother-in-law Loic < l-o-eek>. He is so reserved and stoic <st-o-ick) that in my nearly 15 years of knowing him I can count the times that we have had a good belly laugh together on one finger.  So any sudden change in his demeanor can be an excellent litmus test to validate whether something is truly special, such as the new and yet unsurpassed fruit of the vine we discovered in Provence a couple of weeks ago. Loic’s family has been in the wine business for generations. While he is no longer in that business himself, he certainly knows a good wine when he tastes one.

French Merguez BBQ

The other night  as we settled into the kitchen at Loic’s fabulous country home near St. Paul Trois Chateâux for a simple meal of grilled merguez and rare artisanal country sausages,  it was a fair assumption that the standard Côtes du Rhône set out on the table might not be the only wine we would be drinking that night.  Côtes du Rhône has been called the “anti Cabernet” and is known for it’s versatility in matching with a range of foods from filet of beef to pizza.  Therefore is was a wise selection for grilled sausage.  Towards the end of the meal, however, Loic quietly left the table and emerged from his storage room with a couple of new bottles. He casually opened a bottle of what looked like a white and began to fill a small aperitif glass. I immediately noticed the odd bottle which resembled a cognac bottle.  In the glass the wine looked like a Chardonnay but had a more yellow colour to it.  It certainly didn’t smell like any white I have ever encountered.  The fragrance resembled cognac. In his usual stoic manner Loic explained to me that the wine had been aged in special oak barrels for a long time and the process was extremely unusual. He urged me to taste it.  I looked at Loic in astonishment. I asked him “what is this?  It tastes like a crisp light white wine but smells just like cognac!” That’s when Loic broke out in an ear to ear smile and with a laugh he exclaimed “Isn’t it incredible? I can’t explain it and it’s like nothing I’ve ever tasted!”

With that rare reaction from my bro, I knew we were enjoying something special. He asked me if I have ever heard of “yellow wine”. The answer was “no” of course and I could do little more than invite humble instruction at the foot of the master. I was also shocked that he was actually laughing and talking (he really tries to avoid speaking English at all costs.)

Vin Château Chalon

The Emperor Napoleon was once served a wine at a sitting with the Prince of Metternich in Germany.  Napoleon complimented the Prince by declaring this wine that he had just tasted from the Prince’s region was the best wine in the world.  The Prince looked at him, so the story goes, and apologetically informed the Emperor that the wine was not from his region but in fact came from a small town within Napoleon’s own empire..a town called Chateâu Chalon.  What we were enjoying at dinner is perhaps the most unique wine I have ever tasted.  Chateâu Chalon continues to be claimed by some as the best wine in the world. 

Château Chalon Abbey

In the year 280 A.D., Roman Emperor Probus declared Chateâu Chalon as having exceptional soil for grapes and mandated that vines be planted there.  The process of making Chateâu Chalon is unique in that the wine is fermented in small oak barrels for the minimum legal duration of six years and three months.  The barrels actually have a gap in them for evaporation of what is called “the angel’s portion” of the wine. 

Napoleon 1

The wine is derived from a special grape called the Savagnin, which itself has mysterious and historically significant origin.  It has been served to kings and nobles throughout history including Tsar Nicholas II at his coronation.  Loic was able to taste a bottle that his friend had brought back from a wine trade show.  He and some friends went in on a case, which he chose to break out at dinner.  Another attribute worth mentioning is that the unfinished bottle is still corked and resting peacefully at our home in Provence.  You see this wine is also called “vin de gard” because you can keep it a very long time after opening.

So when visiting Provence don’t forget to ask the butcher for a bunch of merguez, some secret local sausages and a wine with “cachet”. You’ll never know what surprises come next.

Ciao for now!