Elizabeth Gabay MW
Nov 2012

Vin Cuit

Olivier de Serres in 1600 talked of the tradition of vin cuits going back to antiquity, and it was certainly common in the Middle Ages. In the ‘Pharmacopée Royale Galenique et Chymique’ by Moyse Charas. (Lyon: frères Bruyset, 1753) we have a glimpse as to how the wine was made. ‘They take a good quantity of white grapes, which are perfectly ripe, off the stalk, they crush the grapes and then pass them through a clean cloth and put about 30 livres of juice into a large earthenware vessel, varnished on the inside or into a cauldron, or into a copper vessel lined with tin and put this vessel over a moderate flame, and gently boil the juice until 1/3 is evaporated, this leaves the vin cuit. The juice has to be stirred all the time until it has completely cooled. To prevent further evaporation it should be covered overnight and to allow the sediment to drop. It is then put into a small barrel and placed in the cellar where it is left for 6 to 7 weeks to ferment like a normal wine. The barrels should be topped up with other vin cuit to prevent too much ullage. Or if there is no vin cuit Spanish wine can be used or a good white wine. After the fermentation has stopped the barrel should be tightly stoppered and left in a cool place until needed.’ A few years later in the 1780 edition of the ‘Voyage Litteraire de Provence’ this wine is pinpointed to a more specific location than just Provence.‘They make in Aubagne an excellent malvoisie: this is vin cuit ‘fort délicat.’ Around this time it would appear that this wine began to be associated with Christmas in Hautes Provence and in the region around Aix, Aubagne and Marseille. The Comtesse de Lombardon - Montezan mentions drinking the wine with the traditional thirteen desserts on Christmas Eve in 1761. In 1811 the ‘Malmsey of the Canarys (Malvoisie) is preferred by all real connoisseurs, because it is light and keeps well. This is a boiled wine, made from a Muscat grape.’ “… the inspissated [thick, dried] sorts of Aubagnes, Cassis, and Ciotat, especially when of mature age, are deemed by competent judges superior to the sweet wines of Spain, Italy, and Greece, and are by some considered as not inferior to Tokay.” wrote Jullien in 1817. In 1838 a local history society of Marseille and Provence in the Répertoire des travaux, Vol 2 ‘Société de statistique d'histoire et d'archéologie de Marseille et de Provence’ also records ‘cake and vin cuit’ being consummed at Christmas. In 1822 commercial production of the wine was started by Ferdinand Houchard in Palette, until then it was a family production. Others followed suit. In 1829 the Count de Villeneuve estimated that 500ha of vines went towards the production of 2000hl of vin cuit in the department of the Bouches du Rhone. The wine’s origin continued to be centred around Marseille:‘What is known as the ‘vin cuit’ of Provence, more commonly called ‘Cassis’ and ‘Aubagne,’ becomes so strong by this process as to resemble Tokay, …’ Bentley’s Miscellany’ vol LX (London: Chapman & Hall, 1866) This coincided with the start of the ‘Félibrige’ movement which promoted Provencal language and culture. Frédéric Mistral, referred to « vin cué » (its Provençal name) and its role in the Christmas traditions. He objected to the commercialisation of vin cuit. But tax, administration and lack of sales meant that production ground to a halt in the 1950s and halted in 1960. Local nostalga for these wines encouraged producers to restart making this wine in 1975, and despite the difficulties, many continue to do so. The wine is made in a distinctive way. Any traditional Provencal grapes can be used.The must is heated over a direct fire in a copper cauldron. Once it starts to boil, a scum rises to the surface which is skimmed off to remove any bad taste. The cooking must be conducted very slowly over low heat for several hours regularly to avoid any burnt or strong caramelised taste. This means constant monitoring once boiling has started and the boiling is not allowed to stop until the desired concentration is reached – sometimes up to two days. Upto 30 to 55% will have evaporated, depending on the year, the initial wealth of must in sugar and taste the winemaker. After cooking is complete, the boiled must is whisked to aerate to allow the yeast to start action. The must stands for 48 h to allow the deposition of tartar. It is then poured into casks leaving ullage for contact with the air. Traditionally fermentation was allowed to continue to 20% but now rarely exceeds 14.5% (and therefore is a table wine – important for taxation). This fermentation can be very long, usually 2 weeks to 3 months but may take up to a year. The wines can be matured for one to five years. Younger wines have notes of grapefruit which, with age will develop into quince. Specialists say five years is necessary for the wine to start to develop the rich aromas of quince jam and orange peel. A growing reputation for these wines is pointing towards a hoped for AOC which will regulate manufacture.

In 2011, there were nine entries in the vin cuits category. The medal winners were: Domaine Nais 2010 Bronze Domaine du Mas Bleu 2008 Silver Domaine de Suriane 2008 Gold Domaine Camaïssette 2003 Gold

In 2012 (vintages not listed): Chateau Virant Gold Chateau Grand'Boise Gold

Producers Domaine Les Bastides, north of Aix Domaine Naïs, north of Aix East of Aix Domaine Les Toulons, east of Aubagne, north of Bandol Clos d'Albizzi, Cassis Mas de Cadenet Negrel, Trets Château Grand Boise, Trets Clos la Neuve, east of Tret West of Aix Les Vignerons du Mistral, east of Virant - need to verify they make vin cuit Château Virant, just to west of Suriane Domaine Camaïssette, west of Aix towards Salon Domaine de Suriane, west of Aix, Berre l'Etang Domaine du Mas Bleu, south east of Aix and south of the Berre l'Etang Domaine de Camaisette