Chateau Calissanne is nothing short of spectacular--"one of the best-run estates in southern France," says Robert Parker. With 100 hectares under vine (and many more planted to olives) it's the largest estate in Aix-en-Provence. Nestled on the majestic remains of an ancient Roman camp, Calissanne is a one of the most fascinating properties in France--and well worth a visit--for many reasons. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the property belonged to the Hospitaliers de St. Jean of Jerusalem (who evolved into the Knights of Malta), whose chapel on the property was thought to have held the remains of the Virgin Mary.
We learned all of that after the fact--when we firist visited, we were there for the wine. "Clos Victoire," Calissanne's full-bodied, extraordinarily rich, complex, aromatic red, matches the best bottlings from the southern Rhone--at a fraction of the cost--and for the past couple decades shrew enthusiasts have been stocking their cellars with Calissanne wines.
Calissanne's winemaker for the last thirty years, Jean Bonnet is a passionate, hands-on guy from a long line of Loire Valley winegrowers. At Calissanne, he's found a paradise of a property and his life's work is the development of the estate's 25 vineyard parcels, which occupy a single, south-facing hillside expanse of rocky, brown soils set on Urgonian limestone. Located between the Etang de Berre (a small, glacially formed inland sea) and the foothills of the Alpilles, Calissanne experiences a hot and dry growing season, which is tempered by marine influences and windswept by the Mistral.
Best known for his magnificent reds, Bonnet also produces one of Provence's top roses, Calissanne Cuve du Chateau Rose, which he vinifies in stainless steel using the traditional saignee method. Saignee, French for "bled off," means that Bonnet drains off a portion juice soon after crushing the grapes; the result is a small amount of complex, salmon-colored wine with abundant aromas of raspberry, red currants, and flowers that lead to a rich, creamy mouthfeel. The wine is dry, but is amazingly fruit forward and powerful. Enjoy this wine this summer.
Suggested Food Pairing:
Serve it only slightly cool with a traditional summer salad of mozzarella, tomato, basil and some good olive oil.