France harbors a vast multitude of talented growers, fascinating appellations, and deep veins of viticultural history. Even among this embarrassment of riches, however, the Rougier family’s Château Simone is a true jewel—an estate with a singular terroir, owned by the same family for many generations, with no break in tradition along the way. A bottle of Simone from fifty years ago was produced in the same way, in the same cellar, with literally the same vines, by the same family, as the soon-to-be-released new vintages. Producers like this are vanishingly rare, and in our view, they provide the most profound experiences possible in the world of wine. In an industry that moves more quickly than ever, with more choices available from more places than ever before, an estate like Château Simone is an anchor of meaning.
Geologically speaking, Château Simone is a 23-hectare limestone amphitheater of north-facing, steeply terraced vineyards situated just southeast of Aix-en-Provence and blanketed by an expanse of dense pine forest. The northern exposition offsets the intense Provençal heat and ensures slow ripening; the limestone bedrock lurking just below the poor topsoil imparts a forceful mineral presence; and, although it sounds a bit mystical, those hundreds of acres of pines manifest in an unmistakable note of fresh, deep resin—particularly in the iconic white wine. Vines between 60 and 120 years of age engender astonishing depth and mitigate the effects of difficult growing seasons even as the wines express vintage distinctly and unabashedly. In terms of grape varieties, Château Simone is a true field blend of varieties both classic and obscure—each wine a complex mélange that confounds our left-brained cravings for specific percentages and quantifiable varietal contributions.
The Rougiers create wines of bare-minimal intervention, though they tastefully resist fetishizing the nature of their cellar work through labeling or marketing. Vineyard work has been organic since Jean-Francois’s grandfather’s reign; everything is harvested by hand; grapes are pressed painstakingly in an old-style vertical basket press; no outside yeast strains have ever been introduced at Simone; wines ferment and age at the natural subterranean temperatures of their vast maze of a cellar; and the wines are bottled without fining or filtering and given ample rest in bottle before being sold. The final products reveal the naturalness of their upbringing not in brash brushstrokes, but in their unfettered expansiveness and seamless harmony—these are quietly proud, subtle wines of grace and poise. Those attuned to the nuanced whispers of great Burgundy, or to the chiseled wildness of old-style Northern Rhône Syrah, or to the savory dust of traditionally made Châteauneuf-du-Pape, will find cause for celebration in the wines of Château Simone. But, at the end of the day, Simone is Simone—and it is a pleasure simply to revel in its singular beauty.
In mid-February, Rosenthal Wine Merchant will welcome our annual shipment of Palette Blanc and Palette Rouge from the Rougier family, to augment the 2018 Palette Rosé we received toward the end of 2019. We sincerely hope you will join us in celebrating these singular new arrivals.
2016 Château Simone Palette Blanc
Perhaps the most distinguished wine of Chateau Simone, the Palette Blanc comprises half of the estate’s production and is unquestionably one of the greatest white wines produced in the south of France. The attentive taster can easily pick out Simone Blanc blind in a lineup, so distinctive is its personality. Among its classic notes of pine resin, almonds, and white flowers, primary fruit plays a background role, and one that becomes increasingly minor as the wine ages. (Age it does, and does astonishingly, as the many old bottles we have consumed can testify.) Built on the back of humble Clairette—a grape variety of structure and solidity that at Simone takes on remarkable depth—there are splashes of numerous others in the blend: Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Bourboulenc, Picpoul, Muscat, and Semillon. Aged for one year in large oak foudres, followed by one year in smaller barrels (with new oak used only to replace non-functioning casks), the 2016 Blanc combines effusive, enveloping aromatics with a broad palate that nonetheless remains focused and fresh—a counterpart to the best examples of its vintage-mates in the Rhône. It is similarly rich to the stunning 2015, yet slightly less unctuous and more blatantly mineral-driven, with classic pine-resin and candied lemon notes vying for attention with seashell-like limestone-derived elements.
2015 Château Simone Palette Rouge
Chateau Simone’s red wine is composed of a formidable array of varieties: Grenache and Mourvèdre comprise the bulk of the blend, but Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan, and Cabernet Sauvignon also appear—and splashes of seldom-seens like Tibouren, Picpoul Noir, Theoulier, Castet, and Manosquin round things out. Always a difficult wine to pin down, Simone Rouge reminds one of the Côte de Nuits with its refined elegance, yet evokes Bandol or Châteauneuf-du-Pape in its spice-inflected ruggedness. In the end, however, its complex personality reflects the reality of Château Simone’s unique terroir: a cool-microclimate wine made within a warm macroclimate, with all the potential contradictions that implies. Like the white, it spends two years in barrels—one in foudres, one in smaller vessels—although it spends an additional year resting in bottle before being put up for sale. Like the 2015 Palette Blanc we debuted last January, this 2015 Rouge is monumental, fully harnessing the power and structure inherent in this warm, exceptionally dry vintage, but without veering into stewed fruit or overwrought tannins; Simone’s unique north-facing orientation is their saving grace in solar vintages such as this one. New leather, black fruits, Indian spices, and smoky minerality all contribute the the 2015’s nearly overwhelming complexity, and this is a wine that should improve effortlessly for decades.
2018 Château Simone Palette Rosé
The Rougiers’ justly legendary rosé—composed of the same field blend as the Rouge and produced by blending direct-press and free-run juice in equal proportions—may as well be from another planet as the sea of technologically produced pink concoctions that dominate the market. Even serious growers often make rosé as an afterthought, using quick and inexpensive methods and rushing it into bottle to sell it before the first glimmer of spring warmth. At Château Simone, however, the rosé ferments spontaneously, and spends a full year in large oak casks developing remarkable depth. Like all great wines, the best rosés require time and a bit of risk in the cellar. And, whereas most rosés fall apart within a year or two of being bottled, Simone’s is notorious for improving for over a decade, developing the savory notes and umami complexity of an aged red wine over time. Hailing from a relatively warm and very healthy vintage, this 2018 displays wonderful precision, offering an irresistible combination of layered, succulent red fruits and sheer drinkability, with an acid-mineral interplay that complements the overall sense of sunny ripeness. One does not need to squint to taste the garrigue in this vintage either; those classic dried Provençal herbs contribute appealing complexity and aromatic intrigue.