Perhaps one of the surprises for the first time American visitor to Provence is the outstanding quality of the wines of the region. Provence is famed for its southern Mediterranean cuisine as well as its casual lifestyle and is the name given to an entire region which has actually been made into several departments by the government including Bouches-du-Rhone, Var, Vaucluse, Basses-Alpes and Alpes-Maritimes.
Although it is reported that the first vines were planted in Provence by the Phocaeans, its wines have become serious in quality in this century. And have been taken to the heart by both local people and visitors. You will be hard put to find a restaurant or a chef in the Cote de Azur who does not feature the Cotes de Provence wines.
Actually the Cotes de Provence appellation wasn't established until 1953 and this decree also allowed the best vineyards to Classified Growth status. Much of Cotes de Provence wines' fame rests with its Roses which have been compared to the world's best.
On our recent visit to the French Riviera we had the opportunity to taste many of the region's wines in some of the area's best restaurants. And also visit the original estates of one of the pioneer vintners of the region, Domaines Ott. One of the interesting things about the wines of Provence is the large number of grape varieties in use for the reds, whites and roses. And that each of the four principal regions--Bandol, Palette, Cassis and Bellet produce some distinctive vintages.
One of the pioneer vintners of the region and one responsible for proving the quality of the grapes of the area was Marcel Ott. Originally from Alsace he settled with his family in Provence and created high quality vineyards and wines. His family continues those traditions to this day. Domaines Ott now has three estates-- Chateau Romassan at Le Castellet; Clos Mireille at La Londe-Les-Maures where the vineyards slope to the Sea, and the original estate, Chateau de Selle at Taradeau which is where we visited.
At Chateau De Selle we were treated to a fantastic lunch created by Clement Bruno, chef-owner of Restaurant Chez Bruno in Lorgues. With a lobster minestrone our wine was Clos Mireille Blanc de blancs and with a lamb gigot Rouge Chateau de Selle Clair de Noirs.
Winemaker Florent Gillard at Chateau Romassan is no stranger to California since he spent a year working with several vintners in Napa.
At Cap D'Antibes we were hosted by the Sordello family which operates Le Restaurant de Bacon, famed all through the French Riviera for its Bouillabaisse. Our wines with this French traditional dish that lived up to its fame included a 1994 Domaine De Valette Blanc and a 1993 Chateau De Miraval Rose.
All the wines we tasted in Provence had a unique quality with much freshness and fruit and matched the foods perfectly. A dinner at La Reserve de Beaulieu, in a picture perfect dining room, we had a white Cotes d Provence Chateau Simone and a red from Bandol, a 1990 Domaine Tempier. Chef des Cuisine at La Reserve is Jean-Paul Bonin who continues a tradition of culinary excellence at La Reserve that dates back almost 100 years.
One of the highlights of our visit to the French Riviera was dinner at Roger Verge's Le Moulin de Mougins. Roger Verge has brought the cuisine of the Cote de Azur world-wide fame with his "Cuisine du Soleil" . The book "Cuisine of the Sun" has been published in the U.S. by Macmillan.
Our dinner at Moulin de Mougins included two local vintages--1994 Clos St. Magdeleine from Cassis and a 1992 Chateau Payan of Cotes de Provence.
A second memorable dinner at La Reserve featured wines like a rouge Commanderie de Peyrassol, a Bandol 1990 Chateau de Pibarnon rouge and also from Commanderie de Peyrassol, their Tourmaline Rose.
No trip to the French Riviera should be made without visiting Chateau Eza, at the 1,000 year old village of Eze situated l300 feet above the Mediterranean sea and offering views of the entire Cote d Azur coast.
Chateau Eza is now a hotel and restaurant, but earlier served as the summer residence for the Swedish royal family. The restaurant has both inside and patio dining with views in every direction and a reknown chef named Andre Signoret. Also at Eze is the Exotic Garden situated among restored houses and quaint streets.
The wines of Provence are somewhat of an unknown quantity for Californians but the wines of Domaine Ott are available here. They are distributed by The Henry Winegroup of Benicia, Calif. Call (707) 745-5075 or FAX (707) 745-4217 for more information.
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