Northern Refinement in the South
2007 Simone Palette Rouge
Chateau Simone Rouge is a difficult wine to pin down.
This, among many other things, also makes it an absolutely fascinating wine.
Simone is located in the small, obscure appellation of Palette (it totals a mere 35ha) just north of Aix-en-Provence in the heart of Provence. Though there's another producer or two, Chateau Simone, who has been in the hands of the Rouget family for seven generations, rules the Palette appellation.
Compared to the rest of the Provençal wines Chateau Simone stands out for its balance, refinement and poise.
At a recent tasting with Neal Rosenthal of multiple vintages of Simone's entire line up, the conversation turned to what we would compare with Simone's red. It's telling that no one mentioned the south of France. Some insightful person offered up Northern Italy as a possibility and indeed, there were bright red fruits and an elegant thread of acidity that made that comparison very cogent.
When you read through wine books, astute wine minds have a habit of looking north for comparisons. In his Guide to French Wines, Steven Spurrier writes, "the reds have more the leanness of Bordeaux than the 'fat' of a Cotes du Rhone."
One of the standouts of the tasting, Simone's 07 Palette Rouge, highlighted just how unique Simone's wine is. 2007 is known for being a great, if ripe, vintage for southern France. Simone's Rouge in contrast to much from the vintage showed an impressive energy and poise with herbal tinged red fruits and exuberant flowers.
It does indeed seem that Chateau Simone occupies a very special place: that unique combination of environmental factors that result in something that seems impossible to reproduce elsewhere. The principle of terroir at its most relevant, at its purest.
Andrew Jefford, says that "the Simone vineyards are unusual in every respect." Indeed they are.One of the stranger facts here is that the vineyards face north - a completely counter-intuitive notion for farmers in the northern hemisphere, yet this unique exposition means the vines get enough light, but not too much.
This, combined with the limestone soils and elevation of 500-750 feet, helps to create Simone's balance and sense of refinement. Neal Rosenthal is also keen on citing the pine forest of Mont Sainte-Victoire playing an essential but elusive role in the terroir that manifests itself in an herbal, pine resin, spice quality.
The track record for Simone's aging is a compelling one. An '86 tasted recently had picked up the subtle nuances that age brings to a noble wine while still showing plenty of youthfulness. Chateau Simone's wines are a testament to a family's work in a unique appellation and their dedication to producing wines in a traditional manner to highlight just how special Palette is.
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