Elizabeth GabayTasteWines and Spirits of Provence

Grenache Gris a Versatile Ancient Grape Varietal

I have started to note a pattern emerging in my tasting notes during the past couple of years, which shows just how much I love Grenache Gris white wines. I love their richness, texture and structure. But I also noted how few of these wines, in their purest form, are available.

Grenache Gris is an ancient variety, closely related to Grenache Noir, Grenache Blanc and the even rarer Hairy Grenache (Lledoner Pelut). There may be other clonal variations. Grenache Gris is called Garnacha Roja in Spain; this may have been a Spanish clone. Most of the current vines in Spain and Roussillon are old and have low yields. Many of the vineyards were abandoned because of their inaccessible location.

Continue reading here for this detailed article on Grenache grapes and a long list of recommended wines to taste. Grenache Gris typically has high sugar content, making it prone to higher alcohol levels and is highly resistant to drought.

Orange Wine

Not quite the white wine of a different colour. The production of orange wine is similar to the way red wine is made. A wine with orange hues results from leaving the white wine grape skins in contact with the juice after pressing and often during fermentation. Also referred to as skin-fermented white wines, orange wines are actually an ancient methodology revisited. The longer the juice and the must (skins and stems) remain together, the stronger the wine’s flavours.

These wines may not appeal to everyone’s palate. If you prefer a crisp, dry white wine, these orange wines can look like ice tea or old apple juice. The orange wines also have tannins, absent in white wines, due to the vinification process.

Want to try an orange wine? Domaine Henri Milan, a family-run vineyard located just outside of St Remy de Provence. The vines are in the Alpilles, but Henri Milan is a trendsetter winemaker who experiments with grape varieties and natural techniques.

Rosé Wines

The wines of Provence have an almost mythical attraction aided by the fact that the first non-indigenous vines were brought to Massalia (Marseille) by the Greeks in about 600 BC. In Provence, rosé wine is made with red grapes.  These would have been the earliest intentionally cultivated grapes and certainly the first rosés in France.

Provence rosé started life as a by-product of red wine. A method called saignée (to bleed) removes the pale juice so that the rest of the tank would create a more concentrated red wine. Rosé made by this method tends to be fruity.

The other winemaking method for rosé is via skin contact. In this case, similar to orange wine, the red grapes are crushed, and the juice macerates with the must (skins, stems and seeds) for a short period. The timeframe varies from as little as a few hours to several days. Generally, the longer the juice and skins remain together, the deeper pink the wine colour.

Growth in rosé consumption has been mind-boggling.  The latest figures from Nielsen Research and French Customs indicate that sales in Provence rosés alone increased 55% by volume and 60% by absolute value during the twelve months ending July 2016, compared to 34% on volume 40% on value for the same period a year earlier.  In France, one of every three bottles of wine consumed is a rosé. Read more here.


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Elizabeth Gabay

I first started coming to Provence regularly in the mid-1980s when, with my family, we invested in a small cottage in the central Var. I started to specialise in the wines of the area, selling them in the UK – way before Provencal rosé became fashionable. A 10 year pause in the 1990s while I worked at the Master of Wine degree, got married and had my two children before we decided to make a move to France full time. Based to the north of the wine region of Bellet and Nice since 2002, I write about the wines of south east France and Liguria (as well as other countries). I particularly enjoy the cultural and historical background to wine and some of the more obscure facts.

Visit Elizabeth Gabay MW here as she covers south eastern France (and related topics).

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