Provencal rosé is staggeringly popular in this country. It speaks to a universally shared idealisation of - and nostalgia for - southern France. And at its best it is indeed redolent of its terroir; of garrigue and wild herbs and sunshine.
Perhaps the archetypal Provence rosé is that of Bandol, with the vineyards set into red soil hills behind a picture-perfect fishing village. Yet even here, and even with the prices commanded by some of the great Bandol rosés, it is still a bit of an afterthought. Mourvèdre grapes from the best sites and oldest vines go into the structured and age-worthy reds that are pride of the producers themselves.
At Clos Cibonne though, things are a bit different. The best grapes go into making their rosés, with some of the reds coming in slightly cheaper.
Here the grape is Tibouren, an ancient Provencal variety, but unpopular now because of how tricky it is to grow. The situation of the vineyards is 800 metres from the sea at the base of a bowl surrounded by hills, allowing the grapes to ripen evenly and consistently.
We often speak blithely of 'family-run' domaines, loosely inferring the inheritance of not just land but of tradition and knowledge, while passing over how long that might have been the case. The vineyards of Clos Cibonne were purchased by the Roux family in 1797. Taken over by Andre Roux in 1930, the domaine soon established itself among the great estates of Provence, becoming one of just eighteen granted Cru status in 1955 as he uprooted Mourvèdre and replanted with Tibouren. Now the 15-hectare estate is overseen by his granddaughter, who has built a modern winery housing traditional élevage, with the rosé getting twelve months in large oak foudres.
Ageing combined with unique terroir creates a wine that's both weighty and racy. There's a richness of fruit, herbs, spice and orange zest on the nose. Lushly textured in the mouth but with acidity that will see it age for a while yet.
Drinking a bottle last night it was interesting to note that straight out of the fridge the body and acidity of the wines seemed disjointed, and the fruit muted. It was all out of place. However, half an hour out and it settles into itself, in the manner of a serious and weighty white. Sod it - why not chuck it in a decanter and taste it change and evolve over hours?
We sold out of this wine within two days of receiving our first shipment, and though we've managed to snap up a bit more (including some in magnum), this is the last we can get this year. And it's going as fast as I can drink it.
by Oli North