I’m not sure when I discovered pale pink Provence rose. It might not be a very long term relationship, but it’s definitely a committed one. So my trip to Avignon had to include a tasting tour. But what I didn’t expect was a day when I’d see gorgeous countryside, taste 11 different wines and learn the famous six steps of wine tasting from the unforgettable Francois Marcou.
Francois is the owner, and I think sole operator, of Avignon Wine Tour and he has a brand. His brand is red. He drives a red mini bus, wears red trousers, shoes, glasses, watch and has a red band on his straw hat. Even his iPad cover is red. “I tell my wife a brand is very important,” he said. Many times.
At first we thought he would drive us to drink, but as he was literally doing that all day, we eventually got used to him and had the most brilliant trip. And while he may be the only one that refers to his six steps of wine tasting as famous, it was actually the best tutored tasting I’ve ever done.
Our tour was of vineyards in the Luberon valley, a gorgeous area with a mountain range running through it. That means hilltop villages, lavender fields and markets as well as an abundance of vineyards. The living is easy and the roads are narrow and winding, so the perfect place to be driven rather than drive yourself.
Our first stop was Domaine de la Citadelle in Menerbes, about 45 minutes from Avignon, although we went a longer route via pretty Saint Remy-de-Provence to pick up the final member of the tour group of seven.
The vineyard has a rather quirky corkscrew museum which has over 1200 corkscrews dating from the 17th century to present day, so we did a whistle stop tour of that before going into the tasting room. Then we started sampling the vineyard’s wines and learning the ‘famous’ six steps – colour, first nose, second nose, legs, taste and third nose.
It was just a five minute drive to the other side of Menerbes and our second vineyard of the day, Domaine de Marie. This is a gorgeous spot, from the driveway lined with cypress trees to the huge expanse of vines and farmhouse accommodation. It’s also a good place to see behind the scenes and before the tasting we did a tour of the cellars to see the different types of caskets used, both old and new.
Two vineyards down and we were ready for some food, so half an hour later we drove into the very lovely Lourmarin, home of Peter Mayle, famous author of A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence, albeit he lived in Menerbes when he wrote the books. It’s claimed his arrival in Lourmarin has increased the amount of chic boutiques and upmarket homeware shops in what was once a farming town.
Not sure if that’s true but the village is certainly a pretty place for a wander and has the lovely 16th Chateau de Lourmarin. We had lunch at Cafe de l’Ormeau where Francois was clearly very well known, so we had a great table outside and our delicious food came with a pale pink rose from Chateau Fontvert in glasses bearing the Avignon Wine Tour logo – did I mention a brand is important? Obviously I don’t disagree, I do work in marcomms after all, but this one man brand was a little overkill.
Anyway back to the wine tasting and our first stop of the afternoon session was the nearby Chateau Fontvert to taste their other wines. It was quite a small place with a really nice tasting room and a great display of the rose we’d had for lunch. We were very tempted by the largest bottle but doubted it would fit in the hotel room fridge!
Less than 10 minutes drive from there was our last vineyard of the day, La Cavale. This place is on quite a different scale. Very modern and fancy with a huge wine shop, stylish tasting tables and a restaurant with a lovely terrace and view. Extremely impressive and definitely worth a visit, though I think we preferred the smaller vineyards.
It was here that Francois added his final notes to the famous six steps he’d be writing out throughout the day and he let us take photos as a reminder of what we’d learned. Francois also taught us a lot about how to smell wine and how to work out its age. They’re portrait photos so I’ll post them in the gallery below and you can see what you can learn from them. But to really be in Francois’ club you have to experience him for yourself. I promise it will be a day you won’t forget!
Click on an image below to scroll through more photos in the gallery and why not also read my post about Avignon, a picture perfect piece of Provence.