Mont Ventoux; for the world’s finest cyclists its name is legend, “The Beast of Provence”, a will-sapping, heart-breaking, soul-destroying stage of the world’s most famous bicycle race, the Tour de France. When the Mistral wind that blows across Southern France is angry, howling across the face of the mountain like a constant, ferocious roar it can be treacherous; riders have lost their lives here.
Mont Ventoux, at 1,909m, is the highest mountain in the Provence region, geologically it is a part of the Alps; yet it stands alone to the north of the Luberon range, separated by the Monts de Vaucluse, east of the Dentelles de Montmirail.
The top of Mont Ventoux is bare limestone, giving the barren peak the appearance of being snow-covered all year round; (its actual snow cover lasts from December to April). It dominates the landscape, standing out like a beacon for miles around. The Mont Ventoux area has been listed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1990.
A Dancing Song to the Mistral Wind
“Wildly rushing, clouds out-leaping,
Care-destroying, Heaven sweeping,
Mistral wind, thou art my friend!
Surely ’twas one womb did bear us,
Surely ’twas one fate did pair us,
Fellows for a common end…….”
Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (1887) – Friedrich Nietzsche
Le Sacre Mistral
The Mistral is a violent, cold, northwest wind that accelerates when it passes through the valleys of the Rhône and races out onto the coast. It affects the northeast of the plain of Languedoc and Provence and often causes sudden storms out in the Mediterranean. The mistral is usually accompanied by clear, fresh weather, and it plays an important role in creating the agricultural climate in the regions of the Rhone and Provence. It can reach speeds of more than 90 km/h during the day and usually blows for two or three days at a time, through winter and spring.
Old farmhouses were built with their backs to the wind here, (facing south) with sturdy north walls devoid of windows. The bell towers on the churches are topped with open frameworks, in order to allow the Mistrel to pass right through them.
Locals blame the Mistral for headaches, anxiety and say it is the reason for bad behavior from husbands, pets, and children. Many attest to the fact that it was ‘The Mistral’ that drove the artist, Vincent Van Gogh so stark raving mad that he cut off his own ear!
However, the Mistral does have some beneficial effects on viticulture in the region, helping keep temperatures and humidity down during the ripening season, blowing away rain clouds, and preventing diseases from taking hold amongst the vines.
The Velvet Underground
Nestled in the foothills of Mount Ventoux, on the south-easternmost fringes of the Rhone Valley wine region; the vineyards of Ventoux are higher and cooler than those of its more famous neighbours. The vineyards here are also somewhat more protected from the ravages of the Mistral. The cooler ripening conditions see grapes retain greater acidity, with more complexity and concentration of flavour, giving the wines depth, elegance and animation. Being less famous than their neighbours also keeps high prices at bay, which means the region is offering up some of the best bargain-buy, everyday-drinking, value-for-money wines from across the width and breadth of the entire Rhone region.
Delas, Ventoux Grenache, Syrah, 2019
Vibrant crimson with a glowing maroon halo, the wine looks fresh and bright. The aromas are lifted, an intoxicating perfume of freshly crushed raspberry juice, damson plums, violets in bloom and hints of mixed-peel and fruit-mince spices, with just a pinch of cracked pepper.
A medium bodied dry red, the wine glides onto the palate with a slippery, velvety texture and attractive, juicy, ripe-berry fruit. The flavours are of raspberry and plum, with spice notes and very fine, almost imperceptible tannin. The back palate washes up with vibrant acidity and balanced minerality.
This is outrageously good wine for the price, (around $12 to $16 in Cambodia) and it might just be one of the best value for money reds in the world today -I certainly think so. An eminently quaffable red that would be equally as enjoyable and appreciated at a five-star restaurant with a chateaubriand, or at a backyard barbecue with some pork sausages and a few of your best friends.
June 20th, 2021: On the banks of the Mekong, in a beautiful house on the far side of the river from Phnom Penh, on the first lazy Sunday in what seems like an epoch. Friends old and new, some cheese, chorizo, pasta, pesto and the plumpest, juiciest, reddest fresh tomatoes I had seen in years; this wine was a nepenthe for my soul. The communion, the sharing, and the passing of sustenance and succor, the clean air and the unbundling of cluttered minds. We ate and drank and talked and swam and laughed and lounged; forgetting about the post-Covid dystopian world, out just beyond the gate. The Delas was everyone’s favourite wine that day, now reduced to a moment in our memories, like a favourite movie from a bygone era. Grab a case at S Liquor stores whilst it lasts.