Sommelier Larry Stone was the first American to win the title "International Best Sommelier in French Wines and Spirits" and remains the only American to have earned the title of Maitre Sommelier from the Union de la Sommelerie Française. He is also an English-certified Master Sommelier, one of a handful of people who passed the exam on the first attempt. Today he runs the award-winning Rubicon Estate in Napa Valley (www.rubiconestate.com) and is working on his own wine label, Sirita, named for his daughter. Larry loves Provence and so I asked him to tell us five of his favorite local vineyards.
1) Brusset Cairanne and Hauts de Montmirail, nestled up to the slopes of the Ventoux, produce some of the best wines in the region. (Great olive oil can also be found in the district.) They have a place in Cairanne as well as in Gigondas. Go to Gigondas for the views and local flavor. There are some other great wineries there too, like Domaine de Pallieres and Raspail-Ay.
2) Domaine de Trevallon, just outside St. Remy, is making some of the most original and striking wines in Provence. Because his slopes are north-facing Eloi Durrbach planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, instead of the predominant and traditional Mourvedre, which in spite of that makes a wine that exudes the terroir of Provence and the special soils found in Les Baux (as in "bauxite", i.e. aluminum).
3)Mas de Gourgonnier, near Les Baux. It's family owned and has been farmed organically for over three decades. They utilize a mix of traditional varieties along with some Cabernet Sauvignon for their red wines and Sauvignon Blanc for the white. Their olive oil is a blend of four traditional local varieties.
4)Domaine Tempier's Bandol Rouge La Migoua, La Tourtine, Cabassaou, and also the Ros are legendary wines which are the product of the genial Lucien Peyraud who passed away a decade ago, but under whose guidance this old family estate, owned since 1834, became the birthplace of a modern Provencal renaissance. This estate continues to be the summit of French Mourvedre viticulture; it's the classic and defining grape from Provence. Located near the town of Castellet, the local color is also attractive yet sophisticated with F1 and motorcycle races taking place here. It was also the location for the Marcel Pagnol film, The Baker's Wife.
5)Domaine de Rimauresq is in the Cote d'Azur in the beautiful town of Pignans and makes a delicious and unique white wine from around 85% Rolle, with a little Ugni Blanc. The red wines are also outstanding and the estate was one of the top places after phylloxera beginning in the late 1880s. The winery is modern in technique but the vineyard is old and traditionally farmed. It was acquired in the late 1980s by a Scottish family and is located near Toulon.
Also...Chateau Vignelaure near Rians is making excellent wines...and so is Richaume in Puyloubier (Cotes de Provence), created by a cello-playing history professor and now run by his son.