Very few wine regions evoke languorous, romantic, relaxed visions of holidays more than Provence (with the possible exception of Tuscany). Just a mention of the name conjurs up images of scented fields of lavender and sunflowers, bright blue skies, glittering seashores, rose tinted villas, little hilltop villages, and alfresco living – with a glass of Provence Rose! As the smell of grilled prawns waft through this perfect scenario, who wouldn’t want to be remembering those magical moments?!
The Region & It's History
The beautiful region of Provence, is the oldest wine region in France, with winemaking dating back 26 centuries, to when the Romans invaded. Vineyards were planted and the culture was set. In the last 100 years, the region of Provence, with its sun drenched climate, stylish cities, and jet set reputation, has become one of the most popular and fashionable holiday destinations in the world, from the days of Coco Chanel, to today’s yachts of the super rich, and the party destinations of St Tropez and Antibes, which are strictly speaking Alpes-Maritime, rather than Provence. But look behind that, and the beauty of Provence is revealed in its hilltop villages, its agricultural richness, and its simple, quiet, country life.
What is the common thread here? Rose wine!
For years, Provence has been known for its delicately-hued, dry, fragrant Rose wines, in their odd-shaped bottles, but it’s been a real minefield for wine drinkers. There are some fabulous wines, and there are many downright ordinary, and very dull wines.
The Provence region stretches across around 120 miles between the Mediterranean and the Alps; as well as the massive volume of Rose wine produced, there are some, mainly unremarkable whites, but a growing focus on some great, rich, fruit driven, Rhone style reds.
Provence accounts for 6% of total French wine production and within that 88% of wine produced in this region is Rose, with a tiny amount of white, and 9% red ( but growing). In fact Provence produces almost 40% of the Rose made in France.
Provence wines are labelled according to the standard French wine laws, and there are 3 main areas, plus a number of tiny, or up-and-coming sub regions. The 3 mains regions account for 96% of the production from the region.
Cotes de Provence is the largest area and produces a huge volume of Rose, which can vary widely in quality.
Coteaux d’Aix en Provence and Coteaux Varois are slightly smaller areas, but usually more reliable in terms of quality.
In addition, the smaller area of Les Baux de Provence is now producing some squeaky clean, delightfully fresh Roses.
Amongst all of this, are some tiny little appelations, such as Bandol, Cassis and Palette, which produce some of the region’s top wines, with far more intensity and character in the Roses, but also have developed some increasingly good reds.
Provence winemakers are often less traditional than their counterparts in the classic regions, and are not averse to experimenting with new grape varieties and styles of winemaking, so we are seeing some more innovative styles coming out of this region.
Styles Of Wine
Provence Rose wines are traditionally very pale in colour, a delicate salmon pink, rather than shocking pink! Whilst it’s easy to drink them, in the sunshine, by the pool, many of them lose their charm and character, when drunk back at home in the rain! However, there are an increasing number of these wines, which with improved winemaking techniques, are now far fruitier,and modern in style. They are dry, with delicate rosehip and strawberry fruit flavours – the perfect aperitif, or drink with seared tuna, grilled chicken and all manner of seafood. The best wines will be from the small areas such as Bandol; some of the best , well known names are Domaines Ott and Chateau Minuty.
Provence reds are also improving, and lean towards a Rhone/Languedoc style, full of rich, ripe fruity, with a herby, peppery edge. Drink with roast lamb with rosemary and garlic, rich stews, game and hard cheeses.
Popular Grapes Used In Provence.
Red and Rose wines
There are 5 main grape varieties used:
The small percentage of white wines are made predominantly from the following:
- Ugni blanc