Winston Churchill’s predilection for ‘Pol Roger’ Champagne is well-documented not least by Pol Roger themselves who escort visitors to their H.Q. in Epernay to a room bedecked with Churchillian memorabilia lest anyone might forget about it. Less well-known is the great man’s appreciation of the wines of Château Simone which he encountered when painting landscapes in and around Aix-en-Provence. He visited the estate in person and befriended the Rougier family who presumably offered him favourable terms to help preserve the entente cordiale.
Today an elite cognoscenti of well-informed wine buffs and savvy sommeliers share Sir Winston’s enthusiasm for Château Simone but it is worthy of far wider recognition. Part of the problem is that way back in 1946 the estate tried and failed to secure a monopole appellation (as Château Grillet had done previously) but its arcane cépagement of 17 different grape varieties probably hasn’t helped matters either. Tant mieux – if the Bordelais were to get their hands on it they would charge twice the price so relative obscurity is perhaps no bad thing.
The Château Simone blanc hails from an esoteric blend of 80% Clairette, 10% Grenache Blanc and 5% each of Ugni Blanc and Muscat. It has a lovely dry, savoury palate, subtle scrub and herb scents and delicate resinous undertones. It is one of France’s great gastronomic wines and cries out for classic Provençal dishes such as salade Niçoise, bouillabaisse or tomates farcies.
The brick-pink Château Simone rosé is made from a base of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan and a smattering of anachronistic local grapes like Manoscan. A relatively long (circa 9 month) cuvaison makes for a fairly full-bodied wine with a wealth of ripe garrigue berry aromas and flavours. It too is a terrific foil for Mediterranean cuisine that is rich in fish, vegetables, garlic and olive oil.
Not to be overlooked is the Rougiers’ redoubtable Château Simone rouge made from Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsault and a diverse field blend of more obscure grapes. Happily there have been no attempts to modernise the traditional vinification in Hungarian oak vats and used oak barrels. The finished wine exudes Old World terroir and finesse with a bouquet of hedgerow berries and a complex palate of dark fruit and earthy tannins. It is deliberately un-showy and takes 3-5 years to come into its stride but will cellar well for 20. Victoria Moore recently observed in the Telegraph: "Château Simone (2007) is the sort of wine I love to drink and always fear I shall miss in the hurly-burly of the tasting room: a wine with restraint but a hint of wildness." Sir Winston would doubtless approve.