Clos Cibonne is alternative Provence. Now I’m a big fan of Provence Rosé, which is one of the wine world’s great success stories. But it’s not really a geek wine, is it? Clos Cibonne is, with its fabulous labels dating back to the 1930s and its distinctive, complex wines.
The claim to fame and significance of this estate is its championing of the obscure Tibouren grape variety. I met with Claude Deforge and his son Olivier to taste the wines. Claude’s wife, Bridget, is the granddaughter of André Roux, who’s largely responsible for the domain in its current form.
Tibouren is a grape that originated in Mesopotamia. It was imported to Italy by the Greeks, and it is named after the Tiber river. Caesar brought it with him to France and it became established in Provence. Then, with phylloxera, there was a bottleneck effect: not all varieties were grafted and so some were lost, or nearly lost. Tibouren, which was difficult because of its uneven yields, its uneven ripeness, its disease susceptibility and the fact that it requires a lot more work in the vineyard, was one of these varieties.
But Claude’s great grandfather grafted it and replanted it in Clos Cibonne. The 16 hectare vineyard is close to the sea, near Toulon, and the sea breezes reduce disease pressure, swinging things in favour of this variety.
Winemaking is relatively traditional. The grapes are all destemmed, pressed and settled, without worrying too much about keeping oxygen away. Fermentation is in stainless steel with wild yeasts, and then most of the wines are aged in old 5000 litre foudres. These aren’t filled up completely, so a flor layer develops on the top. There is no malolactic fermentation.
Clos Cibonne Tentations Rosé 2017 Côtes de Provence, France
This is the negociant wine that comes principally from three neighbouring growers, and Clos Cibonne have been making it since 2007. It’s 40% Cinsault, 40% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Tibouren. Very pale in colour, this shows delicate tangerine, lemon and cherry notes with a fine, delicate texture. Lovely wine and incredibly drinkable. 90/100
Clos Cibonne Cuvée Tradition Rosé 2016 Côtes de Provence, France
This is the house flagship, made from 90% Tibouren and 10% Grenache. 60 000 bottles made. This is mainly younger vines. The Grenache is just there to comply with AOP rules, or else this would be 100% Tibouren. It has some colour, and a subtle nose with a hint of redcurrant. The palate is brisk and detailed with a sappy edge, a hint of cream, and notes of strawberries, cherries and redcurrants. 92/100
Clos Cibonne Cuvée des Vignettes Rosé 2016 Côtes de Provence, France
Older vines, 90% Tibouren, 10% Grenache. Very fine and delicate with tangerine, spices and fine herbs, as well as a faint hint of cream alongside the delicate red cherry and cranberry fruit. There’s a bit of grip and fine acidity. Such delicacy and purity. 93/100
Clos Cibonne Cuvée Caroline Rosé 2016 Côtes de Provence, France
This is aged in 300 litre barrels. Lovely weight and nice depth here with cherry, raspberry and redcurrant fruit. There’s a nice nutty, spicy complexity, as well as potential for further development. 92/100
Clos Cibonne Tentations Rouge 2014 Côtes de Provence, France
One third each of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. This is a surprise: it’s supple and fresh with fine-grained structure and black cherry and berry fruit. Nice balance and elegance. Half goes through barrel for a year. 91/100
Clos Cibonne Cuvée Tradition Tibouren 2017 Côtes de Provence, France
The only producer to make a red Tibouren, although this does have 10% Syrah in the mix to comply with appellation rules. Very juicy, fresh and sappy with floral, green-tinged berry fruits. Rounded, supple and berryish with elegance and freshness. Reminds me a bit of Pinot but also a bit of Gamay. No oak. 92/100
Clos Cibonne Cuvée Olivier 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
60% Syrah, 20% Tibouren and 20% Grenache, given the full barrel treatment (one-third new). Complex, dense and structured with lovely peppery, black cherry and blackberry fruit, Modern and dense with a grippy, cedary edge to the dense black fruits. Sophisticated and structured. 92/100
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UK agent: Red Squirrel Wine