An art gallery curator once gave me some surprising but sound advice. As I was on the verge of meandering around an enormous exhibition, prepared to study each painting with diligence, he said: “Ignore the ones that you don’t like and spend more time with the ones you like, the paintings that resonate with you”.
So it is with wine. When all is said and done, when you’ve lapped up the legends and myths, navigated the terroirs and cépages, and tasted your way around endless appellations, the oldest adage remains the best – drink the wine you can afford and the wine you like.
Only now I’m looking to add a new dimension. I want to drink wine that brings memories with it; I want to be reminded of a special place, a day to remember, of good company and precious moments.
It’s something of a tall order, perhaps, but I am working my way down this road, enjoying new wines that have introduced themselves to me in the company of interesting winemakers or in the special ambiance of a historic domaine or a sun-filled vineyard. And I’m not just in the quest for new-found wine-friends – I want to revisit wines that bring back pleasing memories.
France enjoyed an Indian summer last year, and when I returned to our offices in the UK in September I feared I had left behind the warmth, but the same southerly breezes from Africa blew the late summer warmth into England too. We were sitting out late in the evenings even into October. Into this surprisingly balmy atmosphere came an old friend I had forgotten, a pink wine in a statuesque bottle from the Provence Vert – Château de Berne Rosé. There it was, in my local Majestic Wine of all places, a long way from Provence, but calling out “Remember me!”.
I certainly do remember. I visited Château de Berne a few years ago and discovered a tranquil haven set among more than 1,200 acres of vineyards, olives and wild garrigue countryside criss-crossed with cycle ways and footpaths. At the heart of this unique private estate in the Var near Lorgues is a romantic confection of old ochre Provençal buildings set amidst stone-paved courtyards, winding pathways and shady terraces offering a five-star hotel, top-notch restaurant, spa and an impressive winery. The last couple of years have witnessed even more investment with a brand-new Cinq Mondes spa building, a new chef, Benjamin Collombat, ambitious for a Michelin star, a new cookery school worthy of the grand old kitchens of French manor houses and newly redesigned pleasure gardens for guests to explore. It’s clearly time to revisit, but until then at least I have the company of one of their wines to fall back upon.
JAM AND HONEY
A visit to the cave and wine shop at the château reveals just how abundant the estate has become. They sell a beautifully fruity estate-pressed olive oil as well as locally sourced truffles, jams and honeys all from the estate’s orchards and beehives. Of course it’s the wine that is the big attraction, and they produce over 750,000 bottles per year of Côtes de Provence AOP rosé, red and white. Thanks to the estate’s diverse micro-terroirs they can grow many grape varieties including Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Sémillon, Ugni-Blanc, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Rolle and Mourvèdre. This diversity enables them to experiment and blend to create some very fine wines including, for example, a unique Provençal red created in collaboration with Hubert de Boüard, co-proprietor of Château Angélus, the legendary Premier Cru Classé Bordeaux red.
But it’s the every-day drinking Château de Bern Rosé I’m so enamoured with. Back in the evenings of our Indian summer the elegant bottle looks so inviting as the low season’s sun illuminates a magical colour, a pale salmon-pink with just a hint of apricot. The wine pours silkily into the glasses and at the first sip you must pause and use your imagination – if you do, it’s easy to be transported back in time, back to a place of eternal summers.
This rosé is a fresh and zesty mouthful but then there’s little acidity; it somehow has a complex blend of fruits and flowers and is smooth and easy to drink at the same time. What could be better? Here’s a wine to drink with friends on your sunny days in Boston, Byron Bay or Bournemouth. But even better, each mouthful will provide you with a memory of Provençal sunshine, or in my case, a vivid memory of the delightful green oasis at the Château de Berne where the winemakers’ crafts and the art de vivre are in good hands.
WHERE TO BUY
From France Today magazine