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Tuesday 1 Sept 2020    The Wine Guide

A Beginner's Guide to French Wines: Provence

Provence - A small region with a big impact 

If there's one wine region in France that's associated with dreamy summers, it's Provence. And what says summer better than a chilled rosé? It's rosé that first springs to mind when you think of Provence - after the lavender fields that is! 

Provence is actually not a huge region, but it is the oldest wine producing region in France. Wine has been made here for more than 2,500 years, so it may be small but it is mighty! Stretching from the Rhone in the west to the Côte d'Azur in the east, Provence stretches around 150 miles along the Mediterranean coast and inland by only around 100 miles, but this little corner of the wine-making world enjoys an idyllic climate and location. Sunny, dry, with warm days and cool nights, this are the dream conditions for grapes, and anyone who has enjoyed a crisp chilled glass of rosé can attest to that fact! 

There are diverse soils and landscapes in Provence thanks to mountainous foothills, gentle slopes, and sheltered valleys. In the west, limestone leads the way when it comes to the soil, while in the west we're talking more of granite. 

That lavender we were talking about isn't just stunning to look at - like every soil, the Provence terroir is affected by everything that grows in the region. That includes rosemary, juniper and time as well as the ubiquitous lavender of Provence. This is often known as "Garrigue" or "Maquis", and is said to influence the wines themselves. For the best, of course!

Côtes de Provence

By far the most important producer, Côtes de Provence is the largest sub-region and accounts for around 75% of all the wines produced in Provence. Unsurprisingly, almost 90% of that is rosé! You might be tempted to lump together all the wines of this region in a homogenous category of "rosé" but in fact the landscapes, soils and climate vary widely even within this region - producing a lot of exciting and very different wines for those who want to explore all the options!

Withing the Côtes de Provence you'll see the four geographical sub-categories of Sainte-Victoire, La Londe, Fréjus and Pierrefeu. 

Coteaux d’Aix en Provence

The second-largest sub-region of Provence, there have been vineyards amongst these picturesque landscapes since 600BC. While Cabernet Sauvignon is grown here, the real star of the show is - you guess it - rosé, blending Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Syrah and Counoise. 

Coteaux Varois de Provence

This region is one of those limestone-rich areas we discussed earlier, and marks the heart of the region. Grapes here ripen more slowly thanks to a higher elevation and cooler climes, making for complex, structured wines. Rosés once again hold sway here, blended from Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.  

Les Baux de Provence

This sub-region gets the serious sun in Provence, located to the beautiful city of Arles. The vineyards of this area flow along the rugged foothills of the Alpilles, and it's here that you'll find a huge range of biodynamic and organic wines. You'll be surprised to hear that this area produces mostly red wines, with the key grapes being Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Cabernet Sauvignon.  


Although the vineyards of this area were destroyed in the 18th century by the devastating Phylloxera epidemic, the vines were painstakingly replanted and have flourished to become the white-wine area of Provence. Lying along the Mediterranean coast defined by limestone cliffs and the rugged coast, Cassis is home principally to the Marsanne grape, as well as Clairette. The wines of the region are known for their elegance and intense fruity aromas of citrus and peach. Some even say you can taste the sea breezes in the wines of this beautiful Provençal sub-region.   


Bandol is all about its intense reds, made chiefly from Mourvedre and aged for at least 18 months in oak barrels. You can also find lovely whites in the region, with Clairette blended with Ugni Blanc or Bourbouenc, and a scattering of great rosés. 


The smallest sub-region in Provence, Palette is a tiny AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlée) of just 100 acres! The Romans first planted vines here way back in around 100BC, and today the wine tradition continues with Mourvèdre being the main grape, followed by Cinsault, Grenache and lots of obscure varietals like Petit Brun and Téoulier. You'll find red, white and rosé wines here, all of which are harvested by hand and follow strict blending and aging traditions. 


Right on the eastern edge of Provence, Bellet occupies the steep hilly vineyards around Nice. When it comes to whites, Rolle is the dominant grape, but you'll also find the only Chardonnay in Provence here! One great thing to know is that the rosés from this sub-region are characterised by the aroma of rose petals!


Provence's most northerly sub-region, Pierrevert is also the newest AOC in the region, having been designated in 1998. Wines from this region are influenced by the nearby Rhone region both in style and grape varieties. Reds are blends of Grenache and Syrah (with Cinsault and Carignan also grown in Pierrevert) while white grapes include Grenache Blanc, Rolle, Roussanne and Marsanne. There is of course rosé in the mix too!   


A special mention of one of our favorite Wine producers Fondugues Pradugues who make gorgeous natural wines!

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