Like Domaine de Trévallon, Château Simone is among the small handful of estates in the Provence region that are making something other than just light-hearted rosé. And as with Trévallon's Eloi Dürrbach, Simone owner Jean-Francois Rougier isn't afraid to say so.
"Rosé has brought up the quality of the region's worst wines, this is true. But it does so at the cost of the number of great wines. Provence might wind up like Beaujolais, because of all the rosé," says Rougier, 55, alluding to the masses of Beaujolais Nouveau and simple Beaujolais AOC wine that overshadow the higher-quality cru bottlings.
Bandol, Cassis, Bellet, Les Baux and Palette are five appellations that form just a drop in the Provence wine bucket, but provide much of the region's top reds and whites (and yes, some rosé). Palette, an AOC of just 111 acres located just a few minutes south of Aix-en-Provence, benefits from limestone soils surrounding the base of the Ste.-Victoire mountain. Rougier's property, a 300-acre domaine that has been in his family for generations, has 57 acres of vines (just more than half the entire AOC) that sit amid the nooks and crannies of pine-covered hillsides, featuring north-facing terraces that ripen slowly and late despite basking in the Provencal sun.
Production from the estate totals about 8,300 cases annually, with 10 percent going to the U.S. Half the production is white, 40 percent red and the rest rosé.
White grapes planted on the site are primarily Clairette, including some 100-year-old vines, along with Bourboulenc, Ugni Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Muscat, with reds comprised of primarily Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Tibouren and other local varieties. The average age of the estate's vines is high-60 years old-thanks in part to Rougier's grandfather, who replanted much of the estate after he took over prior to World War II, as well as Rougier's practice of replanting vine by vine, as needed, rather than waiting for parcels to die out and replacing en masse.
"It's a healthy vineyard and we're proud of the amount of old vines we have," says Rougier. "And we have so many because we work organically, and have ever since my grandfather. We farm organically-no pesticides or herbicides ever-because it's the right way, not because it's marketing."
From the not-yet-released 2013 vintage, the Château Simone Palette White shows ripe, rich almond, brioche and heather notes, with a creamy edge, though flashes of quinine, honeysuckle and white peach emerge on the finish. The 2013 Palette Red is bright, crunchy and bouncy with energy, as succulent black cherry, pastis and bramble notes are backed by light pepper, chalk and bay hints.
Both wines typically show their best with extended time in bottle-Rougier likes his white with 10 years of age, his red even more. He pulls the cork on a 2001 Palette White, which lets quince, yellow apple and verbena notes glide along, while the finish picks up a racy quinine note and a lingering hint of citrus oil. It's a wine that took time to make and takes time to hit its stride, and Jean-Francois Rougier doesn't intend to change that.