In the triangular area near the Mediterranean coast formed by wineyards in provenceAvignon to the northwest, Nice in the east and Marseille in the west lies the wine region of Provence.
Provence was the first region in France to begin making wine 2,600 years ago. Today there are 500 wineries with 68,000 acres of vineyards — small when compared to the 6.7 million acres of Languedoc-Roussillon.
Here the limestone and siliceous soils combine with mild winters and hot sunny summers to grow Syrah and Grenache, as well as Rolle, Ugni Blanc and Clairette, among many other wine grape varieties.
Long considered a producer of average wine, this region has been experiencing a renaissance in the last few decades. Though regulations have caused many wineries to forgo obtaining the vaunted AOC label (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, an official designation that regulates wine production), the VDQS (Vin de Qualité Supérieur, a step lower than AOC) Provencal wines are second to none in taste.
A large variety of grapes are grown in Provence, but rosé continues to be a specialty of the region, with 75 percent of the total production of 140 million bottles, which is forty-five percent of the total French rosé output. Made from Carignan, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and others, it has a dry fruity zest.
The Bellet and Bandol wines produced here are treasured by connoisseurs of fine wines.
Bandol vines are grown on the hills between La Ciotat and Toulon, adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea. The vineyards here were first planted by Romans 2,500 years ago and are among the oldest in France. The nearby port of Marseille has served as a shipping point for exporting Bandol to India and Brazil for two hundred years.
The spicy red Mourvèdre grown here is the starting point for one of the best full-bodied Provence red wines available. But consisting of only 2,700 acres and only 5 million bottles it can be a difficult variety to find.
Bellet, which is just west of Nice, is one of the smallest appellations in France. A mere 80 acres of Rolle and Chardonnay are grown on the siliceous and chalky hills which are so steep they can only be worked by hand.
But those hands produce 80,000 bottles of some of the finest aromatic whites, fresh rosés and delicate red wines available. And the local Braquet creates a red varietal that can age for up to 10 years. If you can find them, be sure to observe the honey and banana overtones of the white, which is especially good with shellfish and Banon cheese.
For a real treat, make a trip to visit the Château Sainte Roseline, which has been under cultivation for seven centuries. On less than 300 acres these master vintners grow 11 varieties of grapes including Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon to make red wines, and include Cinsault and Tibouren for the famous rosé, and Rolle and Sémillon to produce whites.