Tibouren

Tibouren, a famously difficult grape to work with in the vineyard, is increasingly popular in Provence as a unique, autochthonous, and highly qualitative variety. Its heartland is between Toulon and Fréjus, including the coastal area between La Londe and Saint Tropez. It is not found outside this area. Côtes de Provence Fréjus requires a minimum 20% Tibouren in the blend. Despite its recent renaissance, there are only 450ha planted in France, and new plantings tend to be quite small. Tibouren’s uneven ripening is one of its major strengths. When all grapes are harvested together, the least ripe grapes and bunches provide much-needed acidity. Many of the seemingly unripe berries are in fact phenologically ripe, even if they appear small and green. Their small size is often due to an absence of pips, resulting in more concentrated pulp – at the expense of yield. Harvesting late can lower this acidity considerably, and then Tibouren requires careful blending with other varieties. As well as the high acidity from its varyingly ripe bunches, Tibouren provides delicate structure and elegant, juicy red fruit with restrained floral notes.

Mattieu Savatier of Château de Rouët (Fréjus) notes that because of the variety’s paler colour, greater fruit extraction can be obtained without too much risk of excess colour. On the maritime schist soils of La Londe the fruit is more concentrated dried apricot and fatter (Galoupet, Clos Cibonne), while on the volcanic soils of Fréjus the fruit is more white, restrained and floral (Paquette, Rouët, Domaine des Planes). Apricots are the most common tasting note for rosés including Tibouren, and is one of the better indicators. Tibouren lends itself well to oak (Clos Cibonne, Château Paquette, Torpez, Château Galoupet), but its delicacy and freshness also produce excellent fresh-and-fruity wines to be drunk a little younger such as those of Domaine de l’Ile on Porquerolle, Domaine des Planes (Fréjus) and Château la Tulipe Noire (Pierrefeu). Recent ampelography has confirmed Tibouren to be the same variety as Rossese, the Ligurian grape of Rossese di Dolceacqua fame, although we believe that there is significant clonal variation as the two behave very differently. Tibouren is easy to recognise in the vineyard for its blotchy, unevenly-ripened bunches similar to millerandage. Rossese, on the other hand, ripens evenly. Only one clone is widely used in modern plantings of Tibouren, although some estates take cuttings of their own old vines for sélection massale. The alternative spelling ‘Tibourenc’ does not indicate a clonal difference. In Liguria, Rossese is exclusively made into a light, delicate red wine, whilst in Provence, only two estates that we know of make any red at all from Tibouren: Clos Cibonne and Château Simone in Palette (then, only making up a small part of the blend). Randall Grahm, an unconventional winemaker and the original ‘Rhône Ranger’, has recently started making a Tibouren rosé in California, but in tiny volumes. In short, Tibouren is always a grape to look out for, usually an indicator of excellent wine as well as geographic provenanc