Provence wine tasting
Jamie Ivey goes off the beaten track to discover a very special Provence wine tasting
I have a friend who invested in a vineyard in Patagonia. He could not stop talking about the special soil and climate. His plan was to produce wines the equal of Bordeaux’s finest. In order to get to this slice of vinous heaven, he needed to board several flights, the last of which was a light aircraft. He then had to spend hours bumping in a 4×4 across the barren Patagonian landscape, until he reached wine nirvana. Unfortunately for my friend he never produced a bottle, because his partner ran off with the investment money.
I was reminded of this story recently when visiting Domaine des Masques, in Le Tholonet just outside Aix. The information leaflet I’d picked up for the vineyard promised an extraordinary visit – a southern French vineyard with a unique micro-climate, perched on the Plateau du Cengle just underneath Mont Saint Victoire. At 500m of altitude, summer temperatures drop comparatively low overnight, allowing the growth of varietals such as Chardonnay and Viognier, which are not commonly used in Provence wine. However, it was the picture of the vineyard, which really intrigued: an old mas, clinging for its life to the lower slopes of Mont Ste Victoire, lest a particularly fierce gust of the mistral sent it spiraling Wizard of Oz style into the planes below.
I had to visit. 20 minutes down a dirt track and having already forded a river I came to a sign:
“Fire vehicles only beyond this point.”
I called the vineyard and was told to continue. Apparently the sign is wrong it should read:
“Fire vehicles and thirsty tourists only beyond this point.”
The track ran on for another 4 bumpy miles, and as my head bounced once more off the roof of the car, I sympathized with my friend and his day long journey over the Patagonian desert. To make a special wine, he once told me, you have to make sacrifices.
His sacrifice was greater than mine. While it was uncomfortable to jolt along for 30 minutes, the view more than made up for any inconvenience. The road to Domaines des Masques, is simply sensational. Even if you have no interest in wine, I urge you to travel on it. I can’t think of any place in Provence from which you get such a sensational view of Mont Saint Victoire. There’s also the wonderful feeling of being totally alone in the Provencal countryside. For the last few hundred metres the track bumps along parallel to the edge of the Plateau du Cengle and visitors are welcome to stop and stick their head over the precipice.
The vineyard when it comes into view is a delight. Rows of lavender chase up to the door of an old mas, and cypress trees pierce the sky outside the cave. The tasting room is to one side of the ultramodern wine making facilities. There are 4 whites, 5 reds, and a rose to taste. All the wines available offer a pleasing minerality and lightness on the palate, attributable to the altitude. Of the whites my favourite was the exception chardonnay (€11 per bottle), which displayed non of the heavy clumsy buttery flavours which can wreck this grape, instead calling to mind a decent Chablis. Of the reds I liked the 100% Syrah exception, which with its ripe fruits and pungent earthiness represents good value at €11 a bottle.
Provence Guru – The Insiders’ Guide to Provence, top tips:
Le Tholonet and the countryside around Aix en Provence is a fantastic place for a Provence villa rental. The Guru selection of vacation rentals in Provence is one of the most comprehensive and reliable on the internet. All our villas have pools and have been independently vetted. Check out our listings now.
We also have a great selection of Provence boutique hotels for shorter stays.
Planning a wine tour of Provence, then see all our Provence wine, vineyard reviews.
And in advance of your trip, why not try one of the recipes on our Provence food pages.