Les Vins de la Nouvelle Provence
[Wines of Nouvelle Provence]
To many people the name France conjures up visions of the wonderful wine that has been made there since Roman times. Think of those delicious drinks that have captivated the world for centuries: Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé, Champagne, Monbazillac, the list is endless! Nouvelle Provence could hardly escape the viticultural traditions of its motherland and indeed the Département is the largest producer of wine outside of Earth.
The French have an awesome and world-renowned heritage of winemaking. There was never any danger that this art would not be transplanted to Nouvelle Provence. Alongside the French came many Catalans and Italians, nations whose viticulture expertise predates that of France, even if their achievements have never quite rivalled those of the French.
The barriers to vine-growing were, however, formidable. Firstly the overall climate was not quite to the liking of the French growers. Some of France’s finest wines, such as Chablis, Sancerre and Champagne are actually grown quite far north in France, up to the latitude of Paris. Although these regions enjoy a continental climate they are noticeably cooler than most parts of Nouvelle Provence, despite the vicissitudes of the Grand Seasons. This was, however, mollified by the warmer climate experience of the Catalan and Italian immigrants. They were able to pool their knowledge with the French to select a range of grapes that might grow in the climate.
Secondly, and far worse, the planetary ecology with its Grand Seasons was a major obstacle. On Earth vines fruit once a year and are closely tied to the Terran climatic cycle. The Grand Seasons quickly scuppered early attempts to produce vines. The plants could not adapt easily. The early years of settlement saw appalling privation for the Tiranais drinker as the vines would not take root. The obvious solution was to either select local grape analogues or to genetically modify the vines. Neither solution was popular. Local grape-analogues proved to be unwilling to vinify in ways familiar or palatable to the humans. They would not succumb to traditional techniques, producing weak and acidic flavours with little character. Work on adapting winemaking processes to cope has progressed at a snail’s pace, both through apathy and the sheer difficulty of the task, but some progress is finally being made.
Seeking a Solution:
Conservative and intensely traditional at heart French wine-growers have long cherished family lineages of grapes, which have proven to produce the desired wines if grown in the correct soils. They naturally opposed genetic engineering as flying in the face of tradition and approved practice, having never adopted the technology on Earth. They prided themselves, instead, on their ability to selectively breed existing stocks to suit changing needs. However, the situation on Tirane grew desperate as the population grew and the cost of imported wine soared due to transportation difficulties. In 2161 the French authorities, mindful of tradition and the sense of French identity they wished to foster funded the establishment of the Conseil de Viticulture Neo-Provençal (Fr: the Nouvelle Provence Council of Viticulture) or CVNP. This organisation was given the task of uniting the Provençal wine-growers and finding a workable solution to the problems of Tiranais winegrowing.
The first act of the new Conseil was to survey the colony for likely regions for fine wine production. In France there has always been a distinction between the regions famed for fine wines and those whose products are regarded as mediocre. This is intended to give clear guidance to the buyer as to the quality of the wine. In practice the definition of geographical areas is fraught with complexity as the incredible variety of wines, even within an area, is daunting. The Tiranais system was made as simple as possible, although modelled on that of Earth. The method for this was to ask the experienced wine growers which regions they believed would be the best and then to subject the subsequent production to scrutiny and confirmation. The immigrants had deliberately and painstakingly staked out locales they believed would be ideal, checking altitude, facings, slope gradients, soil types, exact climate patterns and other variables.
Action is Taken:
Now all that was needed was a supply of grapes. After long discussion it was accepted that the old French system could be adapted to genetic modification. Unlike most other wine-growing nations the French have always set more store in the geographical origin of wine than the grapes used. French wines have always been labelled by maker and origin and rarely state the grape. It is the belief among French producers that the Terroir (French, approximately ‘growing environment’, meaning the climate, soil, etc on which the vines are planted) is the key and the grapes are a raw material to be modified and perfected by the Terroir. It was agreed that this was to be extended to Nouvelle Provence and therefore the use of GM vines could be glossed over. However, the still traditionalist producers insisted that the stock be derived only from the finest lineages of France, Italy and Catalonia and be of standard varieties. Therefore, none of the New World hybrid vines were imported and few grapes without a strong heritage in the France, Spain or Italy. Once the decision was made the creation of the necessary vines was simple. The scientists were urged to produce as little change in flavour and character as possible, altering merely the ability to exist in the Tiranais climate. The first major crops were sown in 2163 and the wine was found to be excellent.
Of course the unique Tiranais climate of Grand Seasons presented its own problems, since regions which are sometimes tropical can slip in and out of a Mediterranean climate as well. This has broadly been overcome by vineyards planting out differing varieties to cope with differing climate states, for instance an estate in northern Bijagos might retain Riesling for the cooler times and then switch over to Muscat Blanc for the warmer periods. Also growers tend to produce only during the Grand Summer and Grand Autumn seasons, cropping several times and then using advanced techniques to preserve the grapes and wine for later vinification or consumption. The Conseil maintains a large database of techniques for Tiranais viticulture as well as actively pursuing new methods, albeit ones that fall within the generally conservative and traditionalist approach of most growers.
Ever since the wine industry has grown and expanded at a phenomenal rate. It has still been mostly limited to the more Mediterranean climate zones, but has begun to move into suitable micro-climates all over the colony. Wine production began mostly by small scale family producers, aiming at quality and the establishment of a firm reputation. These small scale wineries, mostly clustered in specific ideal locales forms the backbone. It is they who ensure the wine is of a constant quality and a bewildering variety. There were always mass-producers of cheaper table wines. However, these were initially limited in scope, but the expansion of the market and the growth of exports has ensured that large scale firms now operate in the vin de table (French: 'table wine', i.e. a cheaper wine suitable for quaffing with meals but not of any character or standing) field. Thus around the Appelations d’Origine Contrôlées fine wine regions are clustered massive swathes of Vin de Pays wineries.
N.B. French wines have usually been categorised into two regional distinctions. The senior distinction and the more sought after is the Appelation d'Origine Contrôlée. This loosely means that wines may only claim the specific origin if authorised to do so. E.g. a sparkling white wine may only be called Champagne if it was produced within the Champagne AC. These regions are geographical but may be split into many small areas often widely dispersed. Champagne, to continue the example, has three main sections to its AC, all seperated and then several other small territories. Basically the designation tries to take in all the land on which a specific, identifiable and high quality wine (or wines) is produced. This may be in one valley but not the next.
The Vin de Pays (French: 'wine of the region') means a specific type of wine from a geographical region, but outside an AOC. Any wine grower worth their salt wants to be in an AOC, but not all can be. These are recognised as decent (often excellent!) wines but on a slightly lower plane than the AOC vintages. VP areas tend to be large and extensive without the Balkanisation of the AOCs.
These terms are explained in more detail further on.
The Industry Expands:
As wine growing has sunk its roots the allied industries of retailing, wholesaling, etc have also expanded. In 2173 the Institut des Sommeliers de Nouvelle Provence (Fr: Nouvelle Provence Institute of Wine Waiters) was founded to regulate the various allied professions of wine tasters, waiters and other experts. Wine merchants of various types from the high-brow to the street corner variety have proliferated. Wine guides are published in a variety of types. The most popular is the Guide Lomé initially set up as a wine expert’s fan pamphlet. The tasters would nominate their favourite vintages of the Grand Season and list them with extensive notes. Soon the public cottoned on and the guide has now become an annual institution under the auspices of the Institut. Growers submit their best pressings to a taste panel who sit in Lomé at the end of Grand Summer when the new wines are drinkable. They pass expert judgement and produce a huge book of their findings. They issue medals and certificates to growers which can be displayed and are highly prized.
Perhaps the oddest factor in Provençal wine making is that the Département has had to build up its own entire raft of known wines. Since the French do not label by grape wines cannot simply call themselves after known types. The Appellations jealously guard their ‘brand names’ and the only wines which can legally be known by these reserved names are the ones made in those Appellations. So there are no Chablis, Mâcon Villages or Crozes Hermitages on Tirane. All these names belong to regions of l’Hexagone and cannot be legally used. So Nouvelle Provence has had the joy and difficulty of developing its own broad wine heritage with dozens of well-known names now grown exclusively within the Département.
Overcoming the Additional Problems:
There has also been a long and successful struggle to ensure all the necessary additional requirements of the wine trade. These are many and varied but the two most crucial are cork and oak. French wine has always been traditional and used corks to stopper bottles, never switching to artificial closings. On Tirane there is no cork, nor any close analogue. Local trees were tested and found to cause strange reactions with even young wines. Several growers’ stocks were ruined and reluctantly artificial stoppers came into use. However, over a number of years the Conseil funded and supported the foundation of GM cork plantations. In the last 50 years these have enabled the supply of sufficient cork. In the opinion of the wine experts this has also led to a marked increase in quality as the cork is vital to storage and maturation.
Oak is a more fundamental problem. It has always been used to manufacture barrels for the maturation of wine. Other solutions have been tried, largely to avoid the expense of whole oak barrels. The main one is to throw oak chips into the wine. To the French this is anathema and anyone suggesting such a process is in danger of losing all credibility. On Tirane there is no oak and GM oak is too long-term and difficult to be practical. Luckily the common local Gland Vert (French ‘Green Acorn’) tree has proved a close analogue and has imparted a very similar service to local maturation. In fact to many minds the effect is actually superior, more subtle and enriching than oak. This lucky chance has helped the Tiranais wine industry to prosper and given rise to the idea of a unique Tiranais wine palate.
N.B. Islam and Wine:
Mohammed specifically forbade the drinking of wine, as stated in the Qu’ran. Observant Moslems should not and usually do not drink. The less observant may do and so do the lapsed, those who have become secularised, etc. However, the religious elements constitute a fair part of the population and so wine consumption is more limited than might be obvious. Also Moslems are offended by heavy drinking, drunken behaviour, high profile alcohol advertisements, etc. There has always been a pressure towards reasonable behaviour among those in the Département who do drink.
Perhaps surprisingly then relations between Moslem leaders and wine producers are quite good. This is because wine in French society represents a moderate and sensible side of drinking, one usually in moderation and not so strongly linked to the adverse effects which Mohammed railed against. Wine is a part of society and treated as such, it is enjoyed, loved and revered but it is not used as a way to drink to excess under normal circumstances. Most families have wine with dinner, or a relaxing drink with friends. Few if any go out drinking 5 bottles to get drunk. As a result in the spirit of compromise and reasonableness which tends to characterise the good inter-communal relations in Nouvelle Provence the Moslem community prefers to see this sensible drinking than Anglo-Saxon style beer bingeing, or heavy spirit consumption. Wine producers and Moslems often stand shoulder to shoulder on issues of excessive drinking as neither condone nor support such activities.
As in France wine growing regions are divided between the small and highly specialised Appelation (d’Origine) Contrôlée (Controlled Name of Origin) regions and the larger and less well thought of Vin de Pays (Wine of the Country) areas. The CVNP has abandoned the other various minor French wine designations to list only these two, in an effort to cut confusion. The AC label is a badge of quality. It defines a strictly delineated area within which wines of particular quality are produced, due to the special character of the Terroir. It also defines the methods and grapes to be used in the production of authentic wines of these areas. This does not mean that they are all the same, but merely that the specific locale produces truly excellent wine. In Nouvelle Provence there are far fewer AC than on Earth, and they are generally larger, but they all represent genuine nodes of exceptional production, characterised by dozens of small, family-run or cooperative wineries producing exceptional quality wines from the finest grapes and soils.
The VP designation in Nouvelle Provence covers all the other regions of quality wine production. Many of these are the site of real quality production, especially by small firms in extremely limited regions, not large enough to attract an AC. However, the majority of wine made here is bulk-produced by larger firms. It must, however, meet strict standards to maintain the nomenclature. Essentially these regions produce New World style mass-production and decent quality wines for normal drinking. They are mostly of better standard than those of virtually any other nation’s wine making. Beyond the VP are more regions where production occurs, but is not a major industry. Some of these make wine for local consumption, but the majority are not used for wine, grapes grown there are generally for eating or juice making.
The body who controls the allocation of AC and VP status is the Conseil. It is a large body which controls and regulates the industry. All individual winemakers in the Département are members as are many employees of the wine firms and dozens of others. The majority are associate members, who are consulted on major issues and kept abreast of developments. The smaller inner circle are directly employed and serve as executives running the Conseil. They are largely made up of experts, former business leaders, retired growers and other wine professionals. Beneath them is a large bureaucracy which serves a number of roles, such as logging grape yields, monitoring diseases, checking quality and purity, etc. The Conseil regulates wine production and is very influential.
The other important organisation is the Institut des Sommeliers de Nouvelle Provence. Literally this means the Institute of Nouvelle Provence Wine Waiters. However, it has grown to be a professional association for all wine professionals and is an umbrella group who serve as a repository for wine lore and a pressure group for wine professional’s causes. For example, they pressure for refusal of new AC designations if they feel it is inappropriate, etc.
Both groups are based in Cité de Charles de Gaulle, the Cité du Vin (City of Wine). This also makes the city the centre of Provençal wine production, sales and knowledge. Both groups host extensive museums, archives and facilities. There are large labs devoted to testing, meeting halls for conferences, etc. Alongside these have grown up the major offices of corporate wine production as well as a plethora of smaller businesses catering to all manner of wine needs, from corks to wine merchants for the discerning.
Categorising Neo-Provençal Wines:
Alongside the AC and VP designations the Provençal wine trade has also adopted a second broad categorisation for its wines. Because French wine has always relied on a myriad of factors in its production and can vary enormously even in one AC it has always been of an intensely variable nature. To combat this wines of similar types are ranked in a system to show how good a representative they are of their type. They are then further defined into ordinary and superior vintages to aid the buyer.
The Conseil pilfered the simple and well-known Chablis system to avoid any complex spread of designations. All these designations are subject to review and can be changed over time, for which purpose the Conseil retains a large team of expert inspectors. All Tiranais wines therefore fall into the following categories:
- Grand Cru (French ‘Great Growth’). These wines are the very best of their type, produced from the finest Terroir, with the best lineages of vines and by the most skilled producers. E.g. Ambre Provençal Grand Cru, a truly magisterial and much sought after wine!
- Premier Cru (French ‘First Growth’). These are superior to most wines of their type and produced by better-than-average wine makers.
- Standard. Such wines will not be labelled with any designation and can be assumed to be of average quality for their type.
As well as the permanent (subject to review) status of the vineyard, there are a number of designations allowed to denote particularly fine vintages (i.e. a year of particular quality for the type of wine) two good examples of this are:
- Cru Classé (French, loosely ‘classified growth’) a particular vintage listed by the Conseil as being of particular note.
- Millésime (French, lit. ‘date’) used to draw the buyer’s attention to the year of vintage, i.e. denoting a quality vintage, but not always Cru Classé.
N.B. Varietal Wine Labelling and the French - Or What to Expect on a Provencal Wine Label:
The French do not have a particular attachment to single grape varieties. In fact many excellent French wines are blended, in quantities which can vary from year to year (although within strict AC limits). They tend to view grapes as important, but not as important as the land on which the wine is produced. It is believed that the enormously complex interplay of factors such as soil type, wind, sun, etc in any given area gives it unique characteristics. One must choose the right grapes to make the most of this, but it is the Terroir which is paramount.
As a result French wines are not labelled as any particular grape type. Instead you may find the following:
PRODUCER: The main element of any French wine label is the name and details of the producer. This is usually the name of the estate or bottling firm who bottled and sold the wine. For those with a deep knowledge of Neo-Provençal wines (or a convenient pocket guide!) this may be all the information you need. Most wine experts tend to seek out particular producers and ask for them by name.
As well as the simple name of the producer bottles may also give other useful and interesting information on the status and origin of the wine. There are myriad different identities but these are some of the major ones:
- Château (Fr, lit: Castle). A large estate centred around the impressive house of the estate owner.
- Domaine. A less prideful denotation of an estate. On Tirane this is usually taken to mean a more businesslike approach with less pretention.
- Coopérative. These wines are made by a growers' cooperative, a very common set-up on Tirane.
- Casa and Azienda. These are both Italian terms for wine estates that are commonly seen on Neo-Provençal labels.
- Proprietaire-Récoltant. This denotes a small-scale owner-producer, a winemaker with a small estate and usually artisan wines.
- Vigneron. This denotes someone who owns a wine business, usually meaning someone who produces and bottles their own wines.
N.B. These terms are not exclusive and can be combined. E.g. one might buy a wine from the Château Vert, owned by Olivier Merle Vigneron and part of the Coopérative de St. Juste.
PLACE OF ORIGIN:
Given the importance of the Terroir you will certainly be told the origin of the wine in geographical terms. In Nouvelle Provence this will be either the Appellation d’Origin Contrôlée or the Pays. ACs can be obscure and small regions or easy to recognise references to big towns or localities, they are often also broken down into sub-areas, although the CVNP has tried to avoid this and maintain a clarity within the classifications. VPs are broad brush areas kept as simple as possible to avoid confusion.
Whilst the French do not consider grapes to be the key element as in the New World varietal wines they do sometimes feel the need to mention them. For example, Sauternes is made from Botrytised (see later) Sémillon grapes and Champagne is made from a blend including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. However, grapes clearly are a vital element, the French simply believe the Terroir is more important. If wine labels mention the grapes they will refer to Cépage (French ‘derived from [the following] vine stock’).
Since many French wines are blended there are a number of terms to cover this process. Most winemakers do not bother to state that they blend, nor in what quantity they do so. It is generally accepted that good producers know what they are doing and their product speaks for itself. However, there are times when such terminology is used:
- Cuvée (Fr: Mixed or Blended). This denotes where wines are blended. It is not so much about the grapes themselves but more the fact that grapes were taken from a number of different sources and blended off the estate in a large concern. This is the traditional method for making Champagne. It can also denote a really cheap, mass-produced table wine of the lowest quality.
- Edelzwicker (German: Noble Mixture). An Alsatian term used to suggest a truly high quality grape blend, often found on delicate aperitif wines and so on.
- Sélection des Grains Nobles (Fr: Selection of Noble Grapes). The French equivalent of Edelzwicker.
OTHER IMPORTANT TERMS:
A French wine bottle is a very complex thing. Proper wines, as opposed to those made for export will not have any explanation on the back of their strength, grapes or what to drink them with. This is considered to be obvious to anyone with sufficient knowledge to be drinking the stuff in the first place! Drinkers have to garner what they can from the label. Other pieces of information might include:
Colour: this will be Blanc (White), Rouge (Red) or Rosé (Pink).
Bottling: This is important to those who want to know every detail of wine production. It is either mis en bouteille au chateau/domaine/etc or Négociant. The former means it is bottled on the premises by the producer, typical of fine wines, or the latter which means bottled by a bottling firm.
Miscellaneous: There are numerous colourful and interesting terms one might find, such as:
- The quality of the vines used to produce the wine. This is usually linked to the age and supposed subsequent quality of the grapes. The most common such claim is Vielles Vignes (Fr: Old Vines).
- Character of the wine. It is common, especially in sparkling wines, for the bottle to set out the character you might expect of the wine. Common terms include: Brut (Fr: 'Crude or Unrefined', meaning very dry), Sec (Fr: Dry), Demi-Sec (Fr: 'Half Dry', medium dry), Doux (Fr: 'Soft', i.e. sweet). Due to the multi-cultural nature of the French-Italian-Catalan Neo-Provençal wine industry it is not uncommon to see terms from those languages on bottles, e.g. Dolce (Italian: 'Sweet') is now favoured as a more aesthetically pleasing alternative to Doux.
- Sparkling wines. For some reason sparkling wine seems to feel the need to announce itself clearly. The word Champagne is jealously guarded by the Champagne AC on Earth and even the use of something like Méthode Champagnoise is forbidden. However, there are many terms that make the situation clear. E.g.: Crémant, Pétillant or Spumante (Italian creeping in again!), Méthode Cava (I.e. the use of the Catalan sparkling technique, used to make Cava). Wines wishing to claim some sort of cachet generally denote themselves as being produced using Méthode classique or Méthode traditionelle (Fr: Classic Method or Traditional Method). Both these mean a wine made using Champagne method. However, to complicate matters on Tirane these terms are also used to denote any wine utilising traditional French winemaking styles.
- Oaking. As explained above the Tiranais winemaker does not have access to oak. So the old French classification of Fut de Chêne to denote oaking is obsolete, replaced by Fut de Gland Vert. For those who prefer unoaked wines the Spanish term Joven is widely used to explain that the wine is unoaked.
- Strength. This is not usually considered an issue, but sometimes growers like to mark their wines as Supérieur, meaning higher in alcohol than the norm.
Although the French do not view grapes as the predominant influence upon the production of wine, they are necessarily the key raw material and wine can only be produced in the desired fashion with the correct grapes. As a result, whilst the Terroir is the most sought after resource the grapes are also vital and receive extensive consideration.
In France grapes are generally linked to specific geographical regions, e.g. Pinot Noir in Burgundy, Syrah in the northern Rhone valley, Grenache in Provence, etc. This is not so much due to choice as the natural spread of breeds in limited areas from before modern transportation. Conditions on Tirane have always permitted the wine grower to choose whatever grapes they wanted. Many travelled from Earth with clones of their favourite root stock, but finding the conditions unfavourable they now rely on the Conseil to supply vines. The Conseil maintains stocks of dozens of vines, as agreed at the start of the GM process. Due to the intense conservatism of the industry these are almost exclusively French varieties with some Italian and Spanish grapes in there too. Stock can be ordered from the special Conseil rootstock farms.
Major Grape Varieties: these are the most common types chosen in the Département, especially by VP mass-producers. Families often use an array of varieties.
Grechetto (or Greco)
A long established Italian white wine grape. It is a warm weather grape and has been heavily used in Nouvelle Provence, not simply because of its tolerance for the warmer regions but also because it is very versatile and can produce a range of interesting flavours and characters. Its most important characteristic is that it always produces wines of flavour and vitality, never a dull and characterless Chardonnay-esque mass market product.
Ø Albariño: produces fresh, fragrant white wines.
Ø Aligoté: a second-rank French white grape, tends towards crisp, sharp whites, ideal for mixing into Kir (blackcurrant liqueur).
Ø Bourboulenc: red.
Ø Cabernet Franc: a mediocre red grape, producing soft, silky reds of little character, used for ease of growth and commonly blended with Merlot.
Ø Carignan: the most common grape in l’Héxagone, liable to mediocrity and used only for tradition or ease of production. Nowhere near as common in Nouvelle Provence, but produced for blending and mediocre VP. Red.
Ø Chenin Blanc: can make very good dry, light white wine but tends towards mediocre off-dry mass-market stuff.
Ø Cinsault: a bulk-production mediocre red grape. Frequently blended.
Ø Clairette: an interesting white grape, producing light whites with low acidity.
Ø Dolcetto: a dry Piedmontese Italian red grape, producing soft and dry wines.
Ø Folle Blanche: a grape with low acidity and little taste when vinified, but ideal for brandy which is its major use.
Ø Gamay: a light northern French red grape, the origin of Beaujolais Nouveau, wines are light and fragrant but must be drunk young.
Ø Gewürztraminer: with a name meaning spiced in German this is a very recognisable grape. Sadly it tends towards sugary sweetness and only the best growers appear to be able to guard properly against this, but when used properly makes excellent tasty and individual wines.
Ø Gros Manseng: red.
Ø Lambrusco: the origin of the lightly sparkling Italian red of the same name. Can be cheap and tacky, but can also be excellent, refreshing stuff.
Ø Malbec: a red grape, traditionally thought of as hard to grow. Nouvelle Provence has a sufficient range of habitats to surmount this problem and it makes some very heavy, tannic, dark wines.
Ø Marsanne: soft, full-flavoured whites.
Ø Montepulciano: red.
Ø Mourvèdre: red grape needing a sunny climate, so most grown in the southern wine regions. Produces heavy, strong tannic wines and often blended with Syrah or Grenache.
Ø Muscadet: should make refreshing, light, dry whites and regularly does, but is often mass-produced into mediocre plonk.
Ø Muscat Blanc: a decent quality white grape producing much decent sweet white and decent sparkling efforts such as the famous Italian Asti style.
Ø Petit Manseng: red.
Ø Petit Verdot: red.
Ø Pinot Blanc: in the right hands makes light, dry, interesting white wines. Sadly tends towards the characterless.
Ø Pinot Gris: can produce a very unique kind of soft, pungent, light white. Can also produce tart and unsavoury plonk.
Ø Refosco: needs a warm climate, so commoner in the southern ranges but makes deep, well-flavoured red wine.
Ø Tannat: very tannic red.
Ø Trebbiano: mediocre grape, producing mediocre reds of moderate palatability.
Ø Ull de Llembre: used in the production of Rioja in Spain, makes aromatic, pale reds.
Ø Vernaccia: produces dry, strong whites, usually fortified into Sherry-like wines.
Ø Viognier: warm climate white grape, makes strongly alcoholic wines for quick drinking.
N.B. Botrytis: On Earth many of the very finest dessert wines of complex, syrupy and sweet character have been produced by encouraging grapes to contract Botrytis or Noble Rot. This rot actually improves the character of certain grapes and has led to some wonderful wines: Tokay, Monbazillac, etc. Only certain grapes, notably Riesling and Sémillon will benefit but the process is a great boon to wine making. On Tirane this is not possible for obvious reasons, releasing such organisms is not popular on the new planet.
Making wine is a very skilled and complex activity. Vines have always traditionally grown best in a Mediterranean climate. However, this very much depends upon the variety, for example Gewürztraminer grows better in a cooler temperate climate. The genetic modification of vines would have allowed vines to prosper in most places. However, the French wine makers were so wedded to the concept of Terroir that they rejected this, demanding grapes for traditional climate areas. As a result viticulture in Nouvelle Provence is limited to certain areas.
There are two primary areas or zones of viticulture. The first is linked to the optimum growing conditions of grapes. These are restricted effectively to the Mediterranean climate zones in the north and south of the Département. Sadly for the devoted wine makers of l’Hexagone Nouvelle Provence is actually too tropical to present any equivalent areas to Alsace, Champagne the Loire valley or Burgundy. They had to make do with warmer regions, more in keeping with Bordeaux, the Rhone Valley or Provence. This also helped to bring the Italians into the frame, flush with expertise in growing in warmer climates than the French. These regions are the coastal and hinterland regions of Les Calanques, Bijagos, Isle de Tirane and Vars in the north, together with Tassili in the south. Alongside the coastal areas these zones extend inland in higher altitude hills and uplands, presenting several areas more southerly than might otherwise be possible, especially in Vars.
The second major venue for wine making exists in various micro-climates across the Département. Wherever the local climate is cool and otherwise suitable wines are generally made. This takes the Massif region, around Lac l’Oeil and some of the foothills of the Alpes Orientales, especially around Bamenda.
Introduction: The islands of the Bijagos are well-situated for the cooler weather grapes such as Riesling or Pinot Noir. They also have rugged terrain providing a wide variety of slopes for the wine maker to select. For this reason they are a popular target for viticulture. However, their yield is heavily limited by their size and the rugged terrain which makes large areas unusable for this sort of agriculture. This does, however, ensure that the wine making here is mostly of the small-scale quality led type since it is unsuitable for large commercial concerns and mass-production.
Bijagos as a whole has only Côtes du Nord (on L’Oustaou), Miquelin, Fôret Central (on L’Oustaou) and Solesmes (on Guadeloupe) as AC designations, with no VP designation. The terrain is highly suitable for small-scale production and there are no major wine concerns based on the islands.
Wines of Note:
Reds: the climate is not best-suited to reds, although some of the colder weather varieties do well. Some vineyards have planted stands of the ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon, although few of these have much of a reputation. On the other hand two varieties have prospered and produced impressive local staples. The first is Gamay, the grape used to produce Beaujolais. Maturing well in cooler climates and producing light, fruity wines best drunk young it has adapted well to the inland vineyards of the larger islands. Wine of this variety in Bijagos is usually known as Bijolais (barely legal, but upheld by the French courts). It has a following among lovers of the fresh and refreshing wine, best enjoyed on hot evenings. Bijolais is produced on the southern pair of islands, especially in the Fôret Central.
The second major variety to be brought here is Pinot Noir. This is a grape which has never worked well beyond its Burgundian homeland. In Bijagos it has been persuaded to produce a range of light and subtle wines, contained within the Côte du Nord region. A further success has been the blending of Pinot Noir and Gamay to make some very interesting hybrids. This usually occurs in the vineyards lying between the coast and the inland hills either in Côte du Nord or Fôret Central. The resulting wines include some notable vineyards: Bafoussam Sud (a rare northerly success on Miquelin), Les Trois Collines and Petit Rade.
Whites: the great glory of Bijagos is its white, sparkling wine. It is grown using the Champagne method and utilising the same advantages tapped by the northerly Hexagone region. Although fairly cold by wine standards Bijagos has a climate moderated by the sea and this enables the grapes to mature better. The methods of production have been imported more or less exactly. Grapes which would produce sharp and light wine are refermented in bottles and have sugar added to boost the process. Because the traditional method is to blend the grapes a wide variety of mixtures are permitted (although the bulk has to be Chardonnay). The blending produces a wine known as Cuvée (French ‘blended’). Better quality versions are dignified with the title of Cuvée Préstige.
The popularity of the so-called Isles variety of sparkling white has pushed out all other significant attempts to produce white wine here. In a departure from Hexagone growing methods the Isles is not produced by large houses which buy in and blend from several vineyards. Instead it is mostly produced by co-operatives who share their crops. This has meant less homogeneity and more distinctive brands, spread throughout the islands wherever wine can realistically be produced. Famous brands include: Grande Tour, Épernay Nouveau, Bijagois (all very dry), Vague Océanique, Barcy, Cuvée de Miquelin (dry), Vielles Îles, Entre Deux Frères (semi dry), LeClerc (medium-sweet), etc.
Production of Isles dwarfs that of all other types in the islands. However, a number of northerly vineyards have worked well with German and Alsatian vines, especially Riesling, but also Gewürztraminer. The Miquelin AC has a fair number of producers, characterised by tangy, spritzy aperitif wines. The best of these is sought throughout human space, the Ste. Colombe vineyard situated in the hills south of Bafoussam.
Dessert Wines, Liqueurs, etc: none of note are produced on the islands, since the production of Isles takes up most of the space and the rest is taken up with various reds.
Introduction: Clanaques is the mightiest and most respected of the Tirane wine regions, producing the greatest varieties of wine and the largest quantities. The region is divided into myriad ACs, numbering 103 with several new ones pending. These AC tend to be small, often centred on only one village and can vary staggeringly in the space of a few kilometres from heavy, dry reds to dessert wines. The common feature of most of the vineyards of Calanques, however, is their situation. Virtually all occupy suitable ridges and hills or sloping areas, of which Calanques boasts literally thousands. The favoured region for the traditionalist French immigrant growers Calanques has been picked over for the finest Terroir, and some experts believe that as much as 20% of the usable wine growing land may now be under use!
Calanques is also famous for the gradation of its grape growing, encompassing a bewildering variety of strains. In France specific regions tend to be associated with certain grapes (e.g. Burgundy with Pinot Noir, Sauternes with Sémillon, the Rhône valley with Syrah, etc). However, on Tirane this heritage is mixed according to the personal preferences of the grower. The unifying factor is that the bulk of the grapes are French, with Sangiovese the main notable exception. Therefore, the following description is based on the famous wines of the region and not on the grapes.Calanques is divided into a number of broad wine regions, each with dozens of AC. From west to east these are: de Gaulle (the north-west coastal hinterland), Langhe (the western parts of Mandara), Serra de Mar (the central hills behind the coastal strip), Lateaux (eastern Mandara), Vaucluse Est and Grand Vaucluse.
Wines of Note: Calanques is without doubt the wine heartland of Nouvelle Provence, producing the bulk of the Département's wines and also most of the best quality ones. Indeed it has been labelled Bordeaux de Tirane (Fr: Bordeaux of Tirane) to denote its viticultural pre-eminence. It has literally hundreds of wines to boast of, many of which are revered throughout human space. A sample are listed below. The region is also home to a large amount of VP growth, with large corporations setting out large vineyards, especially in the eastern parts where land is more accessible. This leads to mass-production of table wines, many of which are low-quality Cuvée blends of the cheapest character.
Reds: Calanques boasts a truly awesome variety of reds, no single person could hope to deal with all of them or even gain a passing knowledge of them all. Even the experts of the Conseil do not attempt this feat. Instead their inspectors specialise in certain AC or broader regions.
Whites: Once again Calanques has a wonderful and well-deserved reputation for its white production. It is on a smaller scale than the red and covers less hectarage but has built up a tremendous reputation. Calanques growers have consciously sought to avoid mass-market bland whites and gone in for a number of extremely high-quality wines of genuine character.
Dessert Wines, Liqueurs, etc: Calanques is home to dozens of interesting and famed speciality wines. Perhaps most famed of all is the Navarrenx the Tiranais equivalent of Cognac, made using a similar technique but with a more spicy finish. It is made by several famous houses in Charles de Gaulle, the leading members being Mendionde, Fausserges and Boussenac. There are several other brandy type wines, such as the Boisson de Montagnes distilled in Serra de Mar or the Eau Brun of Vaucluse Est. Alongside these are a large range of liqueurs. Foremost among these is Crème de Tirane, a liqueur unique to the planet, made from local Sqala berries and Noissines nuts. There are also the famous coloured liqueurs of the Prieuré de Limbrassac, which come in rouge, blanc and bleu and have the unique quality of being able to be layered like the French tricolor!
Calanques also produces the Côtes de Suave style of dessert wine. This is an attempt to recreate the excellent wines of Earth such as Sauternes and Monbazillac. However, without the Botrytis rot available to create the correct decay in the grapes this is simply impossible. Growers have struggled with this problem for decades and have taken to growing dessert wines only in the warmest and sunniest locales then blending the wines from the sweetest grapes of several varieties such as Muscat, Riesling and Chardonnay. The Côtes de Suave style is not confined to any specific AC but is produced right across Clanques it is the generic name for the composite style dessert wine of the region.
Isle de Tirane:
Being close to the huge cities of the north coast and with easy transport links the vineyards of Isle de Tirane are mostly producers of mass market, decent table wines. The whole central section of the island makes up the Isola VP area. Here are the main operations of many of the Département's major wine producing conglomerates. The climate allows for the production of mostly sweet whites and medium reds with bulk production of rosé as well. Most of these wines end up in restaurants are in plastic jerry cans in supermarkets. However, some are very good, such as the Philosophes range produced by Vins Supérieurs, a medium scale operation who try to produce the best wines they can from their yields, varying their processes and blends every year. Their range always comprises a heavy, tannic red called Voltaire, a medium red called Rousseau and a drinkable medium white called Descartes. These bottles are regulars on the tables of the less well-off and have a mild respectability in all quarters.
In this region it is also common to encounter the widespread production of varietal wines, a real rarity in the French market. These are produced for export mostly and are shipped off to other colonies in huge amounts under names such as Isle de Tirane Chardonnay or Northern Provençal Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a standing joke in Mirambeau that many printers in the backwoods know foreign languages from printing the varietal wine labels!
Introduction: Vars is undoubtedly the second most important of the wine regions of Nouvelle Provence, with a varied and cooler climate than most of Calanques it can produce more traditionally French tasting wines. The three main wine regions are divided into the names of their chief cities: Lomé, Petit Bassam and Bordella. As one travels east the ground rises and becomes more and more mountainous, with better but smaller wine lands. Thus the character veers from the ultra-commercial to the artisan-based as one travels along the coast.
Wines of Note:
Reds: Vars is less wedded to reds than Calanques, although the majority of production is still red.
- Lomé: this is the domain of the mega corporation and is basically a huge VP stretching into the hinterland behind the city. This is the home of the southern French and Italian mass-produced wines. Huge amounts of Rhône, Provence and northern Italian style reds pour out of here every year. As usual some is very good and some terrible.
- Petit Bassam: Large-scale wine production is still practised here but much is of human and artisan scope. The main AC is Châteauponsac, which produces many Syrah and Grenache based wines of distinction, including the famed Rhone-like reds of Château Nuria.
- Bordella: a traditionally Italian-based area maintains its roots with large production of wine that might be Chianti or Barollo. The main ACs are Bordella, Bordella Sud and Côtes de Bordella. Bordella is thus a term for heavy, earthy wines of strong flavour.
Whites: Vars is home to a large number of whites many of character.
- Lomé: again dominated by mass-production Lomé is the main home for the production of Vins Doux Naturels, a wine variant where part-fermented grape juice is mixed with alcohol to produce a sweet white. This can be excellent when in the hands of experts, or bland and boring in the mega-corporations' hands! It is common in supermarkets and is often served as a dessert wine in restaurants.
- Petit Bassam: the region is home to many of the better independent Vin Doux Naturel producers. These are clustered around the southern AC of St Mandé where the craft has reached its height. For a refreshing and sweet wine ask for this AC.
- Bordella: The far east is a fascinating region for wine with a massive diversity of exciting white wine makers. The area deals with some of the more exotic grapes such as Aligoté and Gewürztraminer amongst many others. The growers of Alsatian and German-type grapes have produced their own spicy and delicate variety of wine known as Rural. This is produced in the Perelada and Durfort AC in the hills south of the city. The greatest exponent is the Domaine des Arbres in Perelada. Dozens of other small-yield artisan wineries produce everything from conventional Rieslings and Chardonnay to incredibly subtle blends.
Dessert Wines, Liqueurs, etc: Bordella is home to many exciting and interesting drinks of renown. The chief liqueur of the region is known as Écaille because its swirling colours resemble a tortoise shell. It is a sweet concoction drunk after meals. Its partner is a bitter-tasting drink known as Amer de Tirane (Fr: Tirane Bitter). This is mixed into cocktails and used to make some very interesting wine based drinks. The profusion of Aligoté allows for the production of a local Kir, which is a blackcurrant-flavoured liqueur based on the grape. Finally in the canon is Porto Novo a Tiranais spirit of firey character. It is not actually made at Porto Novo, but in the southern plains of Vars where a local bamboo-like plant, called Porto Novo, produces sugar for distillation.
Introduction: Tassilli is the home to all of Nouvelle Provence's southern vineyards. It is split into two main sections. The eastern area is the hinterland of the coastal strip. This is quite flat and generally planted out with vines by mega-corporations. Much of this production is consumed in the coastal cities or exported via the ports there. Behind these in the cooler hills are the bulk of the high quality winemakers of the south, although in lower concentrations than the north.
Wines of Note:
Reds: The bulk red of the coast are of warm weather grape varieties and are often heavy reds of Italian, Greek or Spanish style. Some more adventurous growers aim for the spicy Lebanese or north African style, producing a wine know as Côte de Tassilli. Inland a number of artisan growers make high quality reds. Chief of the wine AC is the large one base don the town of Guarbecque. Here reds of predominantly warm-weather type are made, some like Rhône reds and others of a more spicy nature. Château de Salas makes the finest Côte de Tassilli currently available. The second famous product of the region is a bizarre red, known as Froid de Guarbecque because it is designed to be drunk chilled, like a refreshing white. It is a light wine with a fruity and refreshing character.
Whites: The Guarbecque, Bahia Blanca and Escouloubre ACs make up the Sigean region of wine production. Here are to be found a variety of whites, although tending towards either light and delicate or very dry and full-bodied.
Dessert Wines, Liqueurs, etc: Sigean is famous for its flavoured liqueurs a notable favourite in southern Nouvelle Provence. There are many makers but all supply high quality drinks such as: Eau du Sud (a white wine and honey liqueur), Mont d'Olmes (an amazing olive flavoured liqueur - yes it is nice!), Bras (flavoured with the bark of a local bush the Bras de Ferre, giving a smoky and peachy flavour, Chocolat Mousse (speaks for itself! Often poured into coffee) and Alligny (an apple and pear drink). Tassilli is also famous for its fortified wines in the port or sherry style, especially the Ambre Provençal (Fr: Amber of Provence) a golden coloured port-style wine. The finest examples of which come from the Polette AC.
Mandara Massif: The central sections of the Massif lie outside the main regions of Calanques. These are technically too tropical for wine production, but the high altitudes of the region often allow viticulture. The region is mostly wild and sparsely settled so the actual area planted with vines is strictly minimised. The wine production of this area is therefore all of the small, old-fashioned family producer variety. This and the isolation of the area means the production must be of interesting character and superb quality to actually merit its transportation out of the highlands.
Most of the vineyards of the Massif lie within easy transportation range of the town of St Christaud, which is almost central to the upland. This town has a series of specialist wine warehouses and the facilities to store and ship wine. The vineyards of the region spread over a wide area around this town, sprawling over the higher ridges and plateaux of the central highlands. Among them are some of the most unique and characterful of the Provençal wines, although many of them attract a serious price premium.
L’Aleixar is a vineyard producing exceptional sparkling rosé. The French tend to look down on rosé wine, regarding it as the runt of the viticultural litter. However, l’Aleixar is quite remarkable, made from a secret blend of grapes and a champagnesque process of bottle refermentation. It is served in many fine restaurants or as a refreshing drink in exclusive bars. Its fame has attracted many imitators, although none can even come close to the quality of the original and the proprietors jealously guard their name and reputation. The region to the north of St Christaud is called the Colli d’Emilia and is famous for its range of sweet whites, largely based around Muscat and Muscadelle grapes but also involving Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sémillon and other minor varieties. The Colli d’Emilia AC produces a fantastic range of aperitif, dessert and sweet wines. The best are Dom de Fervacques Riesling, a sweet wine for drinking with hors d’oeuvres, S Giuseppe a wonderful pudding wine made from a wide blend of grapes and Château Belmontet an aperitif wine of renowned clarity and light, fresh flavour.
Lac l’Oeil: The eastern slopes of the Mandara Massif are a warmish climate for winemaking and are dominated by avant-garde winemakers producing wine with Italian grapes and warmer weather French varieties. These are mostly reds, often of a very powerful type and usually full of character and flavour. Several ACs exist around the villages on the middle flanks of the Massif.
Bamenda: The slopes of the mighty Alpes Orientales are huge and provide a number of spots for wine production. Once again these are mostly micro-climates so the wines are mostly artisan AC types.
Before you start: It is a common place, but also a truism, that it is very hard to buy bad wine in France. The same is true of Nouvelle Provence. The Provençal populace prides itself on its wine, even the Muslim community is proud of the income and cachet which the trade brings to the Département. French palettes are very discerning and it is broadly impossible to pass off rubbish and get away with it. So you can be guided by price. It is generally true that the more expensive wines are the best, modified of course by current trends and fashions. However, you can always be safe with a mid-ranging bottle. Restaurateurs will be mortified if you do not like something sold in their establishment as they have pride and reputations to maintain in a cut-throat industry!
If you really must scrape the bottle of the barrel at least beware of wine sold in plastic jugs or small barrels. This is usually the worst stuff and can be terrible, especially the whites and rosés. I have never heard of a Provençal red that was not at least drinkable!
To give you a simple introduction I have rated the following wines according to this 5 point system:
* = cheap, mass-produced but palatable.
** = decent but unremarkable
*** = a fine wine but nothing outstanding
**** = excellent, worth seeking out
***** = famous throughout human space and worth the exorbitant cost!
I have also placed in inverted commas names which are vernacular, in common use but not official terms.
Apéritif: The wine drunk before the meal or with a starter. It is impossible to categorise as the definition is not scientific but more one of personal taste. It can be stated, however, that aperitif wines tend to be delicate, dry and light.
- Ste. Colombe: this is the best apéritif wine currently available in the Département and the equal of anything produced in France! It is usually hideously expensive as it produced by only one vineyard (albeit a big one!) in Bijagos. It is intensely characterful, with a subtle blend of spicy and fruity tastes overlaying a spritzy and refreshing base. It is famed for its olive green colour derived from the ripeness of the grapes used. *****
- 'Miquelin': other than Ste. Colombe the Miquelin AC produces a number of other good quality aperitif wines, all of similar character and ranging in price. The region is highly sought after so none are cheap and many connoisseurs like to boast of their own secret favourite vineyard. ** to ****
- Château Belmontet: the most famous of the light refreshing aperitif wines of the Colli d'Emilia AC. *** to ****
- Domaine de Fervacques Riesling: a wonderful spritzy aperitif wine from the Mandara Massif, but pricey. ****
Sparkling: The history of sparkling wine is cloudy and perhaps goes back as far as the 16th century. However, the process was accidental but is now well-understood. Wines produced in Champagne were blended (with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot and Meunier grapes) and allowed to ferment until the onset of autumn. At this point fermentation stopped due to the cold and the wines were bottled. Somehow it was discovered that these wines had not properly fermented, but the process was interrupted by the cold weather. Instead they began to ferment again once bottled and cellared in warm enough climates. This secondary fermentation produced bubbles et voila! - Champagne.
This process is now the basis of all production of sparkling wines in Nouvelle Provence, even those imported by the Italians and Catalans because their Spumante and Cava methods respectively simply took the Champagne method to different grapes.
N.B. There is no Champagne in Nouvelle Provence as the name is held, so the locals have adapted and there is instead a range of sparkling wines.
- Isles: definitely the equivalent and equal of Champagne. It is made by the same process but tends to have a more characterful body due to the blending of different grapes into the mix. ** to *****. Seek out Grande Tour Brut (****), Cuvée de Miquelin Sec (***), Entre Deux Frères Demi-Sec (****) and LeClerc Doux (***).
- Domaine de Nuit: an incredible rarity, this is sparkling red. It is a potent and dense wine with a taste not to all palettes, but those who like it love it! *****
- L'Aleixar: a sparkling rosé from Mandara, quite commonly available. ****
- Crémant d'Anoia: a decent and widely available sparkling white. *** to ****
- Crémant de Tirane: a mass-produced, Cava-style sparkling white from the Lateaux region of Calanques. * to ***
- Pol Diouf: unremarkable sparkling wine, but perfectly drinkable and the equal of almost any foreign stab at Champagne-style wine. *
Blanc: White is the lesser sibling, the younger son, of the French wine industry. Poor quality white can be dreadful and oceans of rubbish is produced every year. However, the triumphs are truly wonderful as growers on Earth prove with Sancerre, Sauvignon de Touraine, Chablis and so on. Tirane has its own major whites and if anything more parity and equality than on Earth, yet without resorting to mass-produced varietal wines.
- 'Gardais Blanc': term used to describe the Loire or Burgundy style whites of the Gardes and Gardes Est ACs in De Gaulle. Varies between sweeter Sancerre types and drier Sauvignon de Tourraine types. ** to *****
- Salbris: Famous AC in Langhe, producing medium and sweet whites from Muscat. ** to ****
- Domaine de Rialesse: most famous whites of Salbris AC. ****
- S Lorenzo: AC just off the Côte de Grâce, producing whites often favourably compared to Chablis, Macôn Villages, etc. *** to *****
- Forbach: AC in Vaucluse Est, specialises in light, delicate whites. *** to ****
- Vin Doux Naturels: a style blending sweet grape juice with alcohol. * to ***
- St Mandé: by far the best Vin Doux Naturels, the artisan produced variety. ****
- 'Bordella': region grouped around city in Vars. Various spritzy, Alsatian or German style whites. ** to *****
- Colli d'Emilia: upland of the Mandara Massif, famous for sweet whites. *** to ****
- Descartes: the white from the Philosophes range of freely available, mass-produced wines. **
Rosé: French winemakers tend to look down upon Rosé as a sort of poor relation, a deformed or embarrassing sibling to be hidden from public view! Rosé is produced largely for export and there are few 'good' ones you can buy. However, this is less true in Nouvelle Provence where hot weather means that quaffable and refreshing summer Rosés are in demand. There is an increasing trend towards very expensive and upmarket Rosés alongside the cheap mass-produced dross.
- Château des Ducs de Joyeuse: a high quality rosé from a large estate in Petit Bassam. Commonly available and made to exacting standards to ensure its status as the best rosé on the market. Dense and complex in flavour but light enough to be refreshing, often served chilled.****
Rouge: France and red wine are inseparable. It is the drink of choice for most Frenchmen and the accompaniment to most meals. However, in the hot climate of Tirane this is less true as more refreshing whites and rosés take more prominence. However, the reds are still produced in a startling variety and predominant quantity.
- 'Bijolais': semi-official title for the light, refreshing, fruity reds of Bijagos based on the Gamay grape. * to ***
- Bafoussam Sud: light and refreshing treasure of Bijagos' better quality reds. ***
- 'Cléry': the wonderful wines of the Cléry ridge. Best from the Cléry-Grand AC, but also excellent from Cléry and Cléry-Petit. *** to *****
- Combourg AC (especially Manoir de Toul = *****) ****
- 'Sept Soeurs': famous wine ridges of Serra de Mar, Calanques. Many differing styles, but all marked by the stamp of quality and mostly medium dry. *** to *****. The very best is the Domaine des Vieux Soldats (*****).
- Banthelu: famous AC of Langhe. ***
- Vaucluse Est: a regional term for fine medium reds. ** to *****
- Côte de Grâce: the supreme winemaking area of Grand Vaucluse. Any wine with this on the label is going to be good. *** to *****
- Hémering: AC of Lateaux, closest wine on Tirane to Rioja. ****
- St Quentin: region of Vaucluse Est, famed for medium reds. *** to *****
- Châteauponsac: famous AC of Petit Bassam, producing southern French (Rhône and Languedoc) style reds, earthy and dry. Wonderful! ** to *****
- 'Bordella': series of AC around the town, known for Italian style reds and grapes. ** to ****
- Côte de Tassilli: interesting variety of spicy reds from southern Nouvelle Provence. ** to *****
- Voltaire and Rousseau: the two reds from the Philosophes range. **
Pudding/Desert Wines: For those unfamiliar with French wines the dessert wine can be a shocking revelation. Having been plied with heavy and earthy reds they are suddenly confronted with something sweet and almost syrupy. The very best French pudding wines such as Sauternes and Monbazillac are created by the process of Botrytisation, when mould is allowed to grow on the grapes. This is impossible on Tirane so the winemakers usually go for the other option, to allow suitable white varieties such as Muscat to ripen very fully in hot climes and become sweet. Alternatively a different style can be made by fortifying wine in the sherry or port style to produce a strong but still sweet wine to finish a meal.
- Ambre Provençal: a popular and interesting port-style wine from Tassilli. Can be overly heavy, but the best are excellent (Polette Ambre from the Polette AC is best ****). ** to ****
- Côtes de Suave: the major area of dessert wine production is Calanques where a sophisticated blending technique has produced a very good, syrupy, sweet wine. There are several good producers. ** to ****
- S Giuseppe: famous dessert wine of the Mandara Massif. A sweet and sophisticated wine, wonderful for the palate but not the wallet! **** to *****
- Vin de Kalemie: a fortified wine in the sherry style produced around the city of Kalemie. It is variable, from mass-produced rubbish to high quality artisan-produced varieties. Look for Marc Gaie, the best available at present (****). Comes in Sec, Demi-Sec and Dulce styles.
Liqueurs and Spirits:
- Navarrenx: the local equivalent of cognac or brandy, the best of the Tiranais variants and one that often stands equal to the Earth version. * to *****!
- Boisson de Montagnes and Eau Brun: two further brandy-like drinks. ***
- Créme de Tirane: liqueur made from native nuts and berries with a very interesting and indescribable taste! ****
- Prieuré de Lambassac (rouge, blanc où bleu): a series of three coloured liqueurs of differing taste and character but able to be layered into a popular drink known as the Tricolor. No prizes for guessing that these are coloured red, white and blue. ***
- Écaille: a liqueur named after tortoise-shell because of the slightly distrubing swirling colours of the drink. It looks odd but is a characterful and sophisticated sweet drink. ***
- Amer de Tirane: 'Tirane Bitter' is produced from local berries known as Amers (Fr Bitters). They are not very palatable on their own but this is a mixer used ot add interest and character to cocktails. **
- Kir: produced by making weak and uninteresting wine from Aligoté grapes then adding blackcurrant. This produces a pleasant liqueur ideal for making wine cocktails or drinking on its own. Look out for Kir and Isles mixtures. **
- Porto Novo: local dark Provençal rum. Not subtle or for the faint hearted but a good strong pick-me-up type of drink. Be careful, it is often over 50% alcohol and rises to 90% in some cases! * to ***
- Eau du Sud: a white wine and honey liqueur from Tassilli. Sweet and can be nasty, but well made it is full of warmth and refreshment. * to ***
- Mont d'Olmes: a bizarre olive liqueur but nowhere near as horrible as it sounds! Well worth a try. ***
- Bras: 'Branch', so-called because it is made form the bark of the local Bras de Ferre bush, giving it a smoky, peachy flavour. Not sweet, but well-rounded, generally seen as quite sophisticated. ***
- Chocolat Mousse: a chocolate liqueur sweet on its own but excellent in coffee! **
- Alligny: an apple and pear based fruit liqueur, very common and much mixed. *