Wine has been made in Provence for more than 2500 years, making Provence the oldest wine region in France. The region is rather small, stretching from the Italian border to the east and the Rhône river to the west, and about 150 km up from the Mediterranean Sea.
With this location, climate is amazing for viticulture. The sea moderates' temperatures, and is further aided by the cooling Mistral winds, and there is sun abundance. Rocky mountains, diverse terrains and soils add to the mix.
Provence is home to Rosé – but there are also some amazing whites and reds to discover.
The appellations and wines
Provence has 9 sub-regions and appellations. The largest is Côtes de Provence, then comes Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence, followed by Coteaux Varois en Provence.
Côtes de Provence
Côtes de Province is – with the exception of tiny Bellet, see further down – the most easterly located appellation. This sub-region accounts for as much as 75% of wine production in Provence, with nearly 90% percent being rosé.
As a wine region Côtes de Province is not one region but up to 85 communes scattered from the alpine mountains in the north to the Mediterranean Sea. As a result, even if Côtes de Province is producing mostly one style of wine, rosé, the differences in altitude, soils, sun, rainfall and temperature set the stage for a diverse range of winemaking practices and so wines.
To give an example of the diversity: It is not uncommon that harvest begins two months before in the southern vineyards compared to those in the north. That is with just 100km between them!
Coteaux d’Aix en Provence – most westerly along coast
Coteaux d’Aix en Provence is located in the eastern part of Provence, North-East of Marseilles. Vineyards here are strongly influenced by the Mistral winds coming down from Massif Central. It was in this part of the area winemaking took off from around 600 BC with – yes, you guessed it, the Romans.
Both rosés (being the most important) and reds are made from rare blends of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Counoise. Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon are also permitted in up to 30 percent of the final blended wine.
Interestingly Cabernet Sauvignon plantings was only brought over from Bordeaux (by Georges Brunet of Chateau La Lagune) after the World War II. Since then, this variety has gained ground in importance for winemaking.
Coteaux Varois en Provence
Coteaux Varois en Provence is located in the centre of the Province, inland from the coast - up against the mountains. Given this location, Coteaux Varois en Provence is referred to as the “Heart of Province”. It is also where you find some of the most interesting wines.
Limestone mountain ranges, peaks and deep valleys provide for a multitude of climates. Higher altitudes allow the grapes to benefit from longer, slower ripening. Quality wines from here will show you good acidity, complex flavours and a nice balanced structure.
Again, rosé rule, making up 85 percent of production with most wines made on the classic southern French grapes of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault.
The 6 smaller appellations
Following the three largest appellations follows first three smaller ones:
Les Baux de Provence in the north west corner towards Rhone. This is the hottest of the Provence sub-regions and unlike other regions its majority is red wines. In recent years biodynamic and organic viticulture has been picked up strongly in the sub-region. Today almost 50% of production is biodynamic and organic.
Cassis is located just east of Marseilles. Cassis (the wine – not the sweet dark red liqueur!) was the first AOC of Provence (1936). In Cassis the Phylloxera epidemic in the 18th century destroyed nearly all vineyards.
The winemakers replanted, mostly with white grape varieties and it was this way Cassis became the main sub-region of Provence recognized for its white wines. For the most part the whites are made from Marsanne and Clairette. Great examples show elegance with intense aromas of citrus, peach, honey and dried herbs.
Bandol is just a bit further to the east of Marseille than Cassis. Unlike their neighbours, following the Phylloxera epidemic, winemakers in Bandol decided not to replant with white varieties but red. They realised that Bandol’s terrain of arid, infertile sandy marl and limestone soils was a match made in heaven for Mourvèdre and the making of rich and intense red wines. When exploring Bandol wines do not forget to look for the great white blends, usually with Clairette in the lead.
The three smallest appellation in Provence are: Palette just outside d’Aix en Provence with just 100 acres of vineyard (yes in total), Bellet located in a small area up the Var River north-west of Nice, and Pierrevert located in the northern rocky mountains.
The land of rosé – but with the land, the sea, the mountains, the sun, the past and the now making for amazing whites and reds as well.What are the most popular grape varieties in Provence?
Red and rosé: Mourvedre – along with Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. White: Marsanne and Clairette.What types of food works well with wines from Provence?
Everything “Provence”: What ones eat when surrounded by lavender, rosemary, thyme, olives, oils, rocky mountains and the sea.