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2004 Chateau du Rouet "Cuvee Belle Poule" Blanc, Cotes de Provence, France

belle_poule.jpgI drink wine from as many different countries as I can, as often as I can. I firmly believe that the only way I keep learning anything as a wine lover will be through continued exploration.

There are times, though, when searching out new countries, grape varieties, and appellations just takes too much energy. At times like these, usually after a long week, I just want a nice meal and a good glass of wine to go with it. Like most people in these situations of part-exhaustion, I tend to stick to the predictable -- the least risky choice that is most likely to yield the most pleasurable result.

So when I found myself dining alone the other night, and not wanting to think much about which white wine I wanted, I reached for a safety wine. I had never had it before, but I knew it was: white, a blend of different grapes, French, and it was from Provence.

There aren't many sure bets in the wine world. There's a lot of crap out there to be sure. But if you're gonna order wine, sight unseen and untasted, I think it's pretty hard to go wrong with most of the wines in the Cotes de Provence. At least the ones that end up getting imported here.

So there I was, sitting alone at the big communal table, watching the chefs do their thing from behind the pass. I was reading some notes I had taken from a meeting earlier in the day, and only barely noticed when the waitress put the glass down by my plate. I reached out between sentences and took a sip, and in the kind of moment that keeps me drinking wine, I was forced to pause, to savor, and to say a silent prayer of thanks for my luck at living a life in which I get to enjoy good things like this glass of wine.

Don't get me wrong, this wine was not epiphany-creating-stuff-of-the-gods. It was just darn good, and it really hit the spot.

The family that currently owns Chateau du Rouët purchased the property in 1840 with the intention of harvesting cork from the trees on the property, and selling some of the pine wood that was particularly in demand for shipbuilding at the nearby ports of the Mediterranean. The property encompassed more than 1000 acres of forest, as well as the grounds of a sizable manor that was erected by the new owners in 1880.

Around 1920, a fire ravaged the estate, as well as some of the forest, and the current owner decided to plant a vineyard between the scrubby, fire prone hills and the forest of the estate. Though it was only a secondary consideration at the time, this began the history of wine cultivation at the estate.

Today the descendants of the original three families that purchased the property farm approximately 170 acres of vineyards at the foot of a set of hills known as the Gorges de Pennafort that rise with their red volcanic rocks and ancient caves about 1500 feet above the property. The mostly sandstone terraced vineyards are wedged between the flatlands, the hills, and a swath of Mediterranean forest of cedar, bamboo, cork oaks, maritime pines, and even palm trees. The vineyards run mostly north to south to shelter the grapes from the fierce Mistral winds that whip over the hills at certain times of the year. These winds are not all bad, however. Combined with the warmer breezes off the Mediterranean, they combine to create the cool, dry climate that allows the Cotes de Provence to create wines of great personality.

On the grounds of the winery sits a small chapel that is worthy of mention only because of the unusual doors which adorn its modest facade. These doors were taken from a sailing ship named the Le Belle Poule, which at one time was well known for one of its last voyages -- a trip it made to carry home the ashes of Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1888, Lucien Savatier, who contributed greatly to the development of Chateau du Rouet's vineyards, as part of his duties to dismantle the ship, took the doors from the cabin that housed Bonaparte's ashes during the voyage and installed them on the chapel where they remain today.

In memory of the ship (which adorns the label even today) the winery produces a red, a white and a rose wine, all called "Cuvee Belle Poule." The white wine is a blend of three grapes: Ugni Blanc (30%), Sémillon (20%) and Rolle (50%) from what the winery refers to as "old vines" but I'm not clear on just how old they are. 1250 cases are made.

Tasting Notes:
Pale gold in the glass, this wine has an appealing nose of pears, rainwater, and very faint melon aromas. In the mouth it is crisp, and light, and bouncy. Great acidity and mineral qualities underlie green melon and pear flavors that along with the chalky stone quality to the wine make it fantastically refreshing. Everything I want in a white wine with dinner.

Food Pairing:
I drank this with a lobster bisque the other night and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Overall Score: 9

How Much?: $18

The 2004 may be tricky to find, but the 2005 and 2006 are readily available for purchase on the internet.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud