Monday, 28 February 2011

St. Jeannet

25 km from Nice, opposite the micro-vineyard of Bellet is a forgotten appellation called St. Jeannet. This is one of those tiny historic terroirs like Colares in Portugal in danger of being annihilated by developement and the encroachment of modern life.

We haven't tasted the wines of St. Jeannet but the story has been enough to make us not only wish we had but to recruit us to the cause of preserving this idiosyncratic vineyard. Unlike the vast majority of our good causes, St. Jeannet's singularity lies not in the varieties of grapes grown there (Rolle/Vermentino, Muscat, Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot and Syrah) but in the fascinating method of vinification traditional to the area.

This includes, for the red wines at least putting the wine in clear glass 'Bonbonnieres'

and leaving it to the mercy of infra-red rays, temperature fluctuations and no doubt an amount of oxydisation. We have seen some of these methods in the Jura (oxydisation) and Friuli (elevage in amphorae) but St. Jeannet seems to embrace all these together.

We have it on the authority of Olivier Cautres of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice, a connoisseur of rank if ever there was one, that the white is something very special indeed.

In 1950, vines accounted for one third of the land of the commune of St. Jeannet making it famous for table grapes as well as wine. White wine from Rolle was kept in granaries and subjected to heat and cold making a madeirised, fruity dessert wine which was known and available in Paris.

Horticulture and developement almost killed the vineyards but about twelve producers remained and fought back. Prominent among them was the Rasse family who have persevered and whose wines are always snapped up before they can find their war very far.

Just in case, dear Slotovino reader, you think we have gone soft in the head from recounting this sentimental story, there is a silver lining in the shape of yes, you guessed it, a very rare grape variety indeed: St. Jeannet, no less which is believed to have originated here in our St. Jeannet and is now to be found only in Argentina where it accounts for one wine, Finca El Reposo St. Jeannet.

We glean from Google that this is "a long lost variety planted in Argentina in 1912", and that this is "the only planting of Saint Jeannet left on the planet on a plot located in Cruz de Piedra, Mendoza." Another brave soul maintains "This variety originally from Asia, was introduced in Southern France by the Greeks. The Benegas family brought it to Mendoza. Its main characteristic is its late ripeness and acidity. In the beginning of the 20th century, this wine was used to enhance the acidity and body of the sparkling wines." We haven't yet found the connection with the commune of St. Jeannet and we haven't heard of any of this variety still growing there but here is an interesting story to be sure and wine is surely better for having a past, don't you think?


Anonymous said...

About 12 years ago I bought some wine from what I believed to be the St Jeannet appellation. It was certainly produced in Bonbonnieres. The wine was in fact a rancio and reminded me of a dry Tokaji. Very good with foie gras. Is this a separately produced wine or the white wine for whicjh you were searching?

R said...

Dear Ben,
Thanks for your information. I'm interested in both. I see you can buy the Argentinian St. Jeannet white from Sussex Wine New York and I aim to do so on my next trip there. When I next find myself in Nice, I wil try to visit St. Jeannet and taste a red.
Best wishes,