Baux-de-Provence (Thursday, June 13)

Baux-de-Provence
Stark white bauxite (aluminum ore) outcroppings form a memorable landmark around Baux-de-Provence

Lauriann and Luc
Lauriann Greene translates for Luc Cartier at Mas de Gourgonnier
Mas de Gourgonnier

After an early morning visit to Baux-de-Provence, a hilltop medieval village that's a bit of a tourist attraction, it was on to the nearby Mas de Gourgonnier for the day's first tasting.

This property is an old favorite, a producer of organic wines of real quality and flavor interest that I've been enjoying for many years. Winemaker Luc Cartier, who runs the property with his brother Fred, made us feel welcome for an outdoor tasting under a grove of trees in front of the winery building. ("Mas," by the way, is Southern French for "Maison" or "house," and - along with "Chateau," "Domaine" and "Clos," it is one of only four French words that may be legally used to define a wine estate under the Appellation Contrôlée regulations.)

In addition to its 50 hectares of grapevines, Mas de Gourgonnier also owns 20 hectares of olive trees. They make fine organic oil as well as wine, and the winery also offers retail sales of other specialty foods made by organic producers.

We tasted through the winery's full range of current releases and a couple of older wines:

Mas de Gourgonnier 2001 Côteau d'Aix en Provence Blanc - Bright straw color. Aromatic and appealing floral white fruit, figs and almonds; crisp and tart flavor, good body. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and the obscure Rolle (Vermentino).

Mas de Gourgonnier 2000 "Réserve du Mas" Côteau d'Aix en Provence Blanc - White fruit and banana oil, pronounced oaky vanillins; sweet oak dominates the fruit in a full, round flavor. Needs time. (Kept for six months in a combination of one-third new oak, one-third one-year-old barrels and one-third two-year-old barrels.)

Mas de Gourgonnier 2001 Les Baux de Provence Rosé - Pretty bright-pink color, fresh berries and ripe fruit, herbal and crisp and bone-dry. Classic Provence rosé at its best. A blend of Grenache, Cinsaut and Carignan, with just a touch (5%) of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Mas de Gourgonnier 2001 Les Baux de Provence - Inky dark garnet, a whiff of the barnyard aroma that the French call "animal," serving as a highlight to ripe berry fruit. Marked leathery character over bright, crisp red fruit and tart acidity. Rustic and appealing, a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah, with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon added to the U.S. export bottling.

Mas de Gourgonnier 2000 Les Baux de Provence Réserve du Mas - Dark garnet. Ripe red-fruit aromas, barnyard present but subtle. Full "sweet" fruit and acid in balance. Excellent wine. The blend is one-third each Grenache, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, kept one year in foudre (large casks) and then one year in bottle before release.

Mas de Gourgonnier 1999 Les Baux de Provence Réserve du Mas - Inky garnet color. Complex aromas, animal and cedar, tobacco leaf and leather all over abundant red fruit. Big and tannic, impessive wine, needs time.

Mas de Gourgonnier 1994 Les Baux de Provence Réserve du Mas - Clear, dark ruby, brick edge. Barnyardy and ripe, complex, opens up in layers on the palate. Outstanding, holding up very well.

We also tried one wine produced by Cartier's brother Pierre at a new winery in Arles:

Domaine de Beaujeu 2000 Vin de Pays de Bouche-du-Rhone - Deep purple, shows ripe red fruit, dried-cherry and tobacco-leaf aromas. Full and round, juicy fruit framed by snappy acidity. Very good wine!

Gourgonnier is represented in the U.S. by about a dozen regional importers, including Michael Skurnik Wines in Syosset, N.Y., North Berkeley Imports in California, Vintner Select in Cincinnati, Stacole Co. in Florida, Dionysos Imports in Virginia and The Wine Company in Minneapolis.

Cheeses
A memorable plat de fromage
Lunch at La Pitchoune in Maussane-les-Alpilles

A pleasant lunch in the courtyard of a pretty Provencal restaurant brought us more of the same wines (no further notes), with the Mas de Gourgonnier 2001 Rosé accompanying a rustic, delicious pork terrine maison with prunes, and Mas de Gourgonnier 2000 Rouge with a thyme-stuffed lamb and mustard sauce, zucchini souffle and, a delight, mashed potatoes pureed with black-olive tapenade, followed by a cheese tray and tarte tatin.

Domaine de Trevallon

Trevallon
Stony vineyards at Domaine de Trevallon.
After lunch, a short bus trip moved us along to the highly respected Domaine de Trevallon, where the Floriane Dürrbach, owner of the property with her husband Eloi, was our hostess and guide.

Trevallon's wines are idiosyncratic blends for the region - Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon for the red, and Roussanne, Marsanne and a little Chardonnay in the white - prompting the domaine to label its wines simply vin de pays.

The region was not originally in a controlled appellation, but eventually came under Côteaux Aix-en-Provence, a designation that the Dürrbachs felt was inappropriate since Trevallon is 80 kilometers away from Aix. When the authorities proposed limiting the appellation's vineyards to 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon ("a matter of jealousies and politics," Mme. Dürrbach said), the domaine decided to abandon the use of the appellation entirely.

We tasted both current releases and an older red:

Domaine de Trevallon 2000 Vin de Pays du Bouches-du-Rhone Blanc - Clear straw color. Heady fruit and oaky vanilla on the nose; oak seems quite dominant on the palate, but complexity and balance suggest that this wine has some growing up to do. It's 45% Roussanne, 45% Marsanne and 10% Chardonnay.

Domaine de Trevallon 2000 Vin de Pays du Bouches-du-Rhone Rouge - Ripe cassis and aromatic black olives on the nose and palate. Structured and balanced, impressive.

Domaine de Trevallon 1995 Vin de Pays du Bouches-du-Rhone Rouge - Dark ruby. Marked barnyard over black-olive, black pepper and smoke aromas, all supported by a firm structure of ripe black fruit and acidity. Still quite tannic - the wine maker says "in 10 more years it will be really good to drink." It's mighty good now, I say.

The winery Website is at http://www.trevallon.com/, with its English-language pages at http://www.trevallon.com/ang/sommaire.html. The U.S. importer is Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif.

Dinner at Hotel d'Europe in Avignon

Back in Avignon at day's end, we gathered in the evening for an excellent dinner in the courtyard at the one-starred restaurant of our hotel, Hotel d'Europe.

The meal began with a pair of amuse-gueules: a refined gazpacho, fresh and cold, with a drizzle of olive oil; and a delicious cup of cream of sorrel soup garnished with salmon roe.

Then, with the first course, a generous portion of rare duck foie gras with a cube of jellied Sauternes dusted with poppy seeds, tiny green beans garnished with hazelnuts, and pain grillé, we chose from the list a non-traditional but excellent accompaniment:

Clos Boucher 1998 Condrieu - Clear gold in color, showing fresh apricot and floral scents; crisp in fresh, rich in texture, clean, tart and long ... really a better foil than the traditional Sauternes to this rich course.

With pan-sauteed filet mignon of veal with Asian scents and saffron and an eggplant accompaniment:

Gilles Robin 2001 Cuvee Papillon Crozes-Hermitage - Very dark reddish-purple. Peppery black fruit on the nose and palate; full, juice and ripe, showing well despite its youth.

A long, luxurious meal finished with tiny creme brulees with fresh strawberries and a buttermilk crepe with honey ice cream.

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