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How to Shop for Wine in the South of France

Summer in Provence is awash in delicious local fruits. On this visit our favorites were the outstanding variety of cherry called “belge” which tasted like solid wine. But the favorite for hundreds of years is a small cantaloupe known as the cavaillon melon. Traditionally the melons are cut in half, de-seeded, and filled with cold sweet wine — Muscat de Beaumes de Venise or Rasteau vin doux naturel — before serving:

Rasteau's sweet wines, which have held this appellation since 1944, come in all three colors – red, white and rose – and also a golden-brown oxidized style referred to as Rasteau Rancio. Rancio is a term used in several languages to describe wines which have been deliberately exposed to oxygen or heat (Madeira is produced in this way). All are made in the style of vin doux naturel (naturally sweet wine), which is produced by using pure grape spirit to stop fermentation while there is still a significant quantity of sugar remaining. This process results in a sweet wine with a higher alcohol level (around 16% in this case).

All Rasteau sweet wines are made from 90% Grenache (this can be Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris or Grenache Noir) and 10% of any other grape sanctioned by the Cotes du Rhone appellation laws. In the case of the sweet reds, the fermentation takes place with extended skin contact, whereas for white and rose sweet wines the juice is separated from its skin and pips prior to fermentation. The Rancio wines are aged for a minimum of 12 months, during which time they are deliberately allowed to oxidize as the wine naturally evaporates from the barrel.

Should you be lucky enough to find some foie gras to eat, these two sweet wines are the preferred complement to them in this area.