the triangle formed near the Mediterranean coast by Nice in the east,
Marseille in the west and Avignon to the northwest, lies the region of
Provence was the first region in France to turn to winemaking some 2,600
years ago. Today some 500 wineries tend vineyards on 68,000 acres — tiny by
comparison to the nearly ten times larger 6.7 million acres of
Here the siliceous and limestone soils cooperate with mild winters and hot
summers to grow Grenache and Syrah, as well as Ugni Blanc, Rolle and
Clairette, among others.
Long considered a producer of mediocre wine, the region has been
experiencing a renaissance on the last few decades. Though regulations have
caused many do forgo obtaining the vaunted AOC label (Appellation d'Origine
Contrôlée, an administrative designation that regulates wine production),
the VDQS (Vin de Qualité Supérieur, a step below AOC) wines are in taste
second to none.
A large variety of grapes are used in Provence, but the rosé continues to be
a specialty of the region, with 75 percent of the total production of 140
million bottles, forty-five percent of total French rosé output. Made from
Carignan, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and others its fruity zest is dry.
The Bandol and Bellet produced here are treasured by connoisseurs of great
Bandol vines grow on the hills between La Ciotat and Toulon, facing the
Mediterranean Sea. The vineyards here, first planted by Romans 2,500 years
ago, are among the oldest in France. The nearby port of Marseille has served
as a staging point for exporting Bandol to India and Brazil for two
The spicy, red Mourvèdre grown here is the starting point for one of the
best full-bodied Provence reds available. But coming from only 2,700 acres
and leading to only 5 million bottles it can be difficult to find.
Bellet, just west of Nice, is one of the smallest appellations in France.
The mere 80 acres of siliceous and chalky hills on which grow Rolle and
Chardonnay are so steep they can only be worked by hand.
But those hands produce 80,000 bottles of some of the best aromatic whites,
fresh rosés, and delicate reds available. And the local Braquet forms a red
that can age up to 10 years. If you can find them, be sure to pay attention
to the honey and banana overtones of the white, especially good with
shellfish and Banon cheese.
For a real treat, try to visit the Château Sainte Roseline, under
cultivation for seven centuries. On less than 300 acres these master
vintners grow 11 varieties of grape including Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cabernet
Sauvignon to make red, and include Cinsault and Tibouren for the famous
rosé, and Rolle and Sémillon to make whites.
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de Provence: Discover the Main Appellations