Off the beaten track
It’s time to plunge into the very heart of les Baux’s vineyards to take in all its nuances and intricacies.
Head for the Alpilles’ northern slopes. The wines here have a more ‘Rhoney’ feel, less Provençal, identified by their livelier, more mineral characters. Take the D 24 road, called ‘Destet’ between Mouriès and Eygalières. After a few twisty kilometers, in wild protected nature, where sun-shading pines, vines and ragged limestone rocks challenge the beauty of the brazenly blue sky, you’ll reach Domaine de la Vallongue.
This vineyard, literally back to back with the Alpilles mountains, makes bighearted exciting wines. Structured reds with delicious cooked red fruit notes (from 7 € to 10 €) and a white under the Coteaux d’Aix appellation (7.40 €) with charming wild mint and thyme aromas.
Domaine de la Vallongue, 13810 Eygalières. Tel: 04 90 95 91 70.
Further along the D 24 towards Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, going to Domaine des Terres Blanches is a magic moment. Two kilometers of stony but drivable track, between vines and ‘garrigue’ (scrubland) with the Alpilles as a backdrop, will take you to Guillaume Rerolle. This fussy grower is looking to stop all vine treatments and is kind of trying to make sure they’re never sick. If he’s there, take to him about organic farming. He knows better than anyone how to explain the Baux winegrowers’ serious approach. Guillaume Rerolle makes a refined and subtle white vin de pays des Bouches-du-Rhône, with menthol flavors at the excellent value-for-enjoyment price of 5 €. His 2001 Aurélia blend, a Baux red predominantly from cabernet sauvignon (16 €), is a silky little number with coffee and black fruit aromas, to go with rack of lamb in herbs or chicken with tapenade (olive spread).
Domaine des Terres Blanches, route départementale 99, 13210 Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Tel: 04 90 95 91 66.
As you leave Domaine des Terres Blanches, get back on the D 99 to the left for a spot of lunch in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, at Café du Lézard. The restaurant’s owner Jacques Dupouy is a real French wine buff. He has a very eclectic wine list, where the best Loire and Burgundy growers do battle with the new Baux stars. His faultless restaurant focuses on quality produce: monkfish Madras curry, lentil cake with quail strips. (34 € menu).
Café du Lézard, 12, bd Gambetta, 13210 Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Tel: 04 90 92 59 66.
In the afternoon head for Eygalières. As you leave the village, on the D 24b towards Orgon, you’ll pass the Saint-Sixte chapel. This little gem of 12th Century Roman art, surrounded by a walled garden and cypress trees, offers a great view over the north slopes of the Alpilles and the perched village of Eygalières. And you’re only 3 km from Domaine de Valdition.
In a magnificent arched room overlooking the park and lake, you can taste the estate’s wines as well as their olive oils and tapenades. The Duo range, three red Vins de Pays des Bouches-du-Rhône (9 €) (cabernet/grenache, syrah/grenache and mourvèdre/cabernet), are full bodied fleshy wines with rounded tannins and complex aromas of violets, black fruits and forest floor with nice wild herb undertones.
Domaine de Valdition, Route d’Eygalières, 13660 Orgon. Tel: 04 90 73 08 12.
In the evening, you just have to eat at La Vallée restaurant in Maussane-les-Alpilles. 33 year old Karine Hairion cooks according to what’s available from the market, fresh and tasty. Her specialty? Artichokes. Little bunches of violet artichokes, which Karine buys every day and garnishes in her own special way. Finely sliced and marinated in olive oil, lemon and parmesan, she transforms them into a fabulous artichoke Carpaccio! She also concocts, in cahoots with chef Hervé Férary, a foie gras terrine with violet artichoke or even an artichoke crème brûlée. A real treat for 30 euros for those in the know who come every Saturday. Book in advance.
La Vallée, 15 avenue de la Vallée des Baux. 13520 Maussane-les-Alpilles. Tel: 04 90 54 54 00.
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Words and photos: Régis Cailleau