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Provence: More than just rosé

Provence: More than just rosé
 
   The wine region of Provence begins south of Avignon, on the southern banks of 
the Durance, and ends up in the hills overlooking Nice. Flanked by the 
Mediterranean, the entire region basks in the balmy climate of the same name, 
whose defining characteristic is hot, dry summers. Its size and rugged terrain, 
however, (due to the nearby Alps) have shaped its diversity. Provence boasts no 
fewer than 9 appellations, the largest being AC Côtes de Provence spanning three
departments: Bouches-du-Rhône, Var and Alpes-Maritimes.
T ravelling east, the environment undergoes a series of changes: limestone 
hillsides around Baux-de-Provence with its distinct 
Mediter-ranean climate - Montagne-Sainte-Victoire with its more continental 
climate and sandstone, clay soils yielding robust, idiosyncratic wines - the 
Beausset basin, between Cassis and Bandol, where the limestone terrain, swept 
over by sea breezes, produces warm, typically Provençal blends - the 
sea-influenced coastline where extremely ancient soils formed of shale and 
granite yield wines with character - the inland valley, north of the Maures 
mountain range which supplies a large chunk of the region’s AC output, 
producing full-bodied, powerful reds drawn from clay-sand Cambrian soils - and 
finally, the rolling hills of the highland region, limestone remnants of the Alpine 
folds, which accounts for a quarter of output. The climate, which is harsh in 
winter and often extremely hot in summer, produces robust, well-structured yet 
delicate wines. They can take longer to mature and are more secret wines.
   The climate and landscapes of Provence have for a long time attracted 
holidaymakers and investors from around the globe. The growing tide of 
pleasure-seeking consumers and a plentiful source of money obviousl y provide 
the stimulus for advances in quality by giving free rein to initiative. Sleepy wine 
farms have been given a new lease of life by enterprising, wealthy investors who 
leave no stone unturned in their quest to fully realise the ‘terroir’s’ potential. 
Local initiatives also abound, however, and the resultant drive behind Provence is
uplifting. 
 
GRAPE VARIETALS: Reds and rosés: Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvedre, 
Carignan, Cabernet, Tibouren and Cabernet-Sauvignon (Coteaux d’Aix); Whites: 
Rolle, Semillon, Clairette, Ugni Blanc, Sauvignon and Marsanne (the last three are
specific to white Cassis).
 
WINE STYLES: Provence is the world’s leading producer of rosé wines. Light, fresh,
pleasant wines when young, their quality has improved in leaps and bounds over 
the past few years. Although some are still enjoyable ‘thirst-quenching’ wines, 
others have earned a place on well-set tables, partnering with grilled fish, 
shellfish, salads or white meat. Their success if reflected in the price tags of the 
top-flight wines, which can command up to 15 euros. Provence though also produces
red wines which are worth seeking out. Although they are made from the same varietal
range, they run the gamut in terms of winestyles. A varietal like Carignan can yield
superlative wines when the whole grape fermentation process is used. It imparts
a host of aromas and freshness though requires early-drinking. Conversely, longer
vatting periods for the reds extract more tannins, which are then often perfected by o
ak ageing; they have greater structure and need to spend a year or two in the bottle to mellow.
The better vintages of these deep, complex wines can be laid down. Provence’s greatest 
reds come from Bandol where the dominant varietal is Mourvedre (which is said 
only to realise its full potential when planted in sight of the sea). Bandol reds are 
powerful, though well-balanced. They are aged for a minimum of eighteen 
months (often in oak tuns) before being released, which imparts structure, depth 
and fullness. In the early years they display fruity, floral (violet) and spicy aromas
(pepper, liquorice). As they age, their aromas span an even broader range and 
their mellow bouquet is occasionally reminiscent of leather, mushroom and 
undergrowth. 
 
   The white wines are produced on a more boutique scale (roughly 5%). They cover
a broad aromatic spectrum, ranging from floral, fruity and acidulous to mineral. 
White wines from Provence flourish around Cassis, within the boundaries of the 
town which lent its name to the appellation (1936). Their unusual varietal 
combination imparts a genuine aromatic personality (thyme, sage, wild mint…), 
and they invariably display a delicious contrast between fat and vigour…
Review of recent vintages:
2010: Volumes are generally up on 2009 probably due to rainfall in winter and 
spring and fairly low temperatures. The mistral wind dried out the vineyards and 
kept the crop disease-free. A good vintage!
2011: a rainy winter, a hot, dry spring and intermittent storms over the 
summer: Provence experienced the same weather patterns as other parts of 
France. No serious damage occurred but the stormy weather led to the region’s 
hallmark disparities from one area to another. Juice yields were often lower than 
in 2010, particularly in inland areas. Although output was still dominated by 
rosés, the vintage produced some superlative reds.
2012: The 2012 vintage is quite good, although it varies considerably from one 
appellation to another, and even more so from one estate to another. Following a 
mild and very dry winter (just 53 mm of precipitation during the season), the 
spring was hot, especially from May onwards. During the summer, the drought 
was detrimental to the development and ripening of the grapes; only after 
several rains in September did ripening restart.
 
THE PROVENCE APPELLATIONS
 
A.C. Bandol
 
Overview: AC Bandol embraces eight villages in the foothills of the Sainte Baume 
mountain range overlooking the Mediterranean, where soil make-up is formed of 
calcareous silica, sandstone and sandy marl. This particular site enjoys 3,000 
hours of sunshine annually, elevating both the fruitiness and the quality of the 
wines. Mild winters, early springs and hot summers also factor into this matrix. 
The reds are vinted traditionally and spend at least 18 months in oak tuns. Drawn
from the same varietal range as the reds – namely Mourvedre (at least 50%), 
Grenache, Cinsault and a tiny proportion of Carignan and Syrah - the rosés are 
made using the direct to press method. The less common whites come from 
Bourboulenc, Clairette and Ugni blanc, with a balance of Sauvignon (no more 
than 40%).
 
Wine styles: Bandol is renowned above all for its reds and rosés. The red wines 
(which account for 30% of output) exhibit a deep colour, are well-structured, 
powerful and aromatic (morello cherry, raspberry, violet, blackcurrant, iris, dill); 4
to 5 years down the line, they exude aromas of truffle, undergrowth, liquorice, 
cinnamon or musk. They boast an outstanding lifespan. Enjoy with Sisteron lamb,
goat meat with garlic or Provençal Banon goat’s cheese. The rosés (60% of 
output) with their extremely pale salmon-pink hue, are well-balanced and conjure
up aromas of ripe grapes and morello cherries layered over spices. Enjoy with a 
courgette tart doused with olive oil, fish or grilled white meat. The straw-yellow 
colour whites are dry, vigorous and fragrant (citrus fruits, pear, linden and 
broom). Try them with shellfish, fish and goat’s cheeses.
 
 
A.C. Bellet
 
Overview: Bellet is a minute appellation set in the hills overlooking Nice. Very few
wines are actually produced here but their reputation is well-established. Virtually
all of them are sold in the hotels along the French Riviera, making them difficult 
to come by. Vineyard soils are formed of pebbles intermingled with very pale 
sand and the occasional seam of clay. The site also enjoys an outstanding 
micro-climate with 2,700 hours of sunshine annually and just the right amount of 
rainfall. The varietal range is quite unusual: Braquet, Folle noire, Cinsault and 
Grenache noir for the reds. Rolle, Roussanne, Spagnol as well as Clairette, 
Bourboulenc, Chardonnay, Pignerol and small-berry Muscat for the whites.
 
Wine styles: Bellet produces equal amounts of white, red and rosé wines. The 
whites, with their deep, bright hue, are full and suave. They develop aromas of 
hawthorn, honeysuckle and ripe pear and sit nicely alongside fish in a cream 
sauce, veal cutlets with mushrooms and Comté cheese. The rosés are soft, lively 
but not too sharp, with a delicate bouquet (wild rose, pepper). Served with lamb 
and sweet pepper kebabs, they form an unrivalled match. The reds are rich, 
elegant and vigorous. They exhibit pleasant aromas of peony, pepper and pine 
forests. Try them with a grilled leg of lamb with herbs or pork roast with prunes.
 
A.C. Cassis
 
Overview: the Cassis appellation shares the same boundaries as the town of the 
same name in the Bouches-du-Rhône department, a few kilometres from 
Marseilles. Cretaceous limestone and limestone or marl scree are the constituent 
soil types of this site. The surrounding hillsides deflect the Mistral wind and 
gentle sea breezes comb through the vines which bask in 3,000 hours of 
sunshine and receive 670 mm of annual rainfall. 
 
Wine styles: AC Cassis produces primarily white wines (70%) blended from a 
varietal range predominantly formed by Clairette, Marsanne, Sauvignon and Ugni 
blanc. The wines are dry and heady with a discrete nose (grapefruit, pear, quince,
pine resin). They are fat and long on the palate. Pair with Bouillabaisse fish stew 
with garlic mayonnaise, bass with fennel, anchoïade or anchovy dip, sea urchins 
and fish served in a cream sauce. The rosés are blended from Barbaroux, 
Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache and Mourvedre; they are fruity, supple and delicate 
with a pleasant raspberry-pink colour. The red wines boast a cherry-red hue and 
display good balance, nice structure and powerful aromas (ripe fruit, havana, 
liquorice…). Enjoy with wild boar casserole or small game (thrush or lark). 
 
 
A.C. Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence
 
Overview: the Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence appellation area embraces 49 towns 
and villages in two departments: Var and Bouches-du-Rhône. The best known of 
these is, of course, Aix-en-Provence, though also Salon de Provence, Les 
Baux-de-Provence, (which has also been an appellation in its own 
right since 1995), Berre-L’Etang, Martigues, Ventabren, Fontvieille, Istres… A 
variety of soil types can be found here: stony calcareous clay, sand and gravel. 
The climate is Mediterranean with low rainfall and the vines bask for the most 
part in generous sunshine.
 
Wine styles: the vast majority of the wines are rosés, blended from Grenache, 
Cabernet-Sauvignon and Carignan, sometimes augmented with Cinsault, Syrah 
and Mourvedre. Made using the ‘bleeding’ technique, they display a pink hue 
with orangy tints. They are lively, fresh and fruity with good acidity. Try them with
olive paste or Mediterranean fish and shellfish. The white wines, made from Ugni 
Blanc (no more than 40%), Sauvignon and Semillon (30%), Bourboulenc, 
Clairette, Grenache and Vermentino, are made by the direct to press method. 
They are light, fresh and delicate (white fruit, floral fragrances) and are a perfect 
match for grilled fish with herbs (fennel). The red wines, with their delicate 
tannins, are fruity and well-balanced. They exude aromas of leather, liquorice, 
black fruit (blackcurrant, prunes) and spicy notes. Enjoy with grilled meat.
 
 
A.C. Coteaux Varois
 
Overview: entirely surrounded by the Côtes de Provence appellation, Coteaux 
Varois embraces 28 towns and villages located in the heart of the Var 
department. The appellation stretches from the Sainte-Baume mountain range to 
the Bessillons hills around the small town of Brignoles. The vast majority of the 
vines are planted on calcareous clay soils, for which the Argens river and its 
tributaries provide drainage. The prevailing climate is, of course, Mediterranean, 
though semi-continental influences exercise a moderating effect. These climatic 
conditions promote gradual ripening of the grapes depending on site elevation 
across the appellation area. 
 
Wine styles: the lion’s share of Coteaux Varois are rosés (70%) and reds (25%) 
with interesting potential. They are blended primarily from Grenache noir, Syrah, 
Mourvedre (at least 70%) though also Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and 
Cinsault. White wines are also made, on a boutique scale (from Rolle, Semillon, 
Ugni blanc, Clairette and Grenache). The rosés are fresh and fruity and exhibit 
pleasant aromas of red fruit. The reds, with their vermilion hue, are rustic wines. 
They are well-structured though often display average concentration. They exude
fragrances of violet, liquorice, leather, green pepper and black pepper, and they 
pair well with lamb kebabs, barbecued meat or an informal buffet lunch. The 
whites are dry and vigorous and conjure up aromas of citrus fruit (grapefruit). 
They are equally delicious as appetisers or with fish grilled on a bed of bay 
leaves.
 
 
A.C. Coteaux-de-Pierrevert
 
Overview: Coteaux de Pierrevert, which is set in the upper reaches of Provence, 
gained AC status in 1998. The wines hail from villages nestled amongst the hills 
which run from Villeneuve and Manosque to Pierrevert and Corbières along the 
right bank of the Durance river and the southern slopes of the Valensole plateau. 
Coteaux de Pierrevert are the most northerly of the Provençal wines and are often
subsumed into the Rhone Valley appellation system. The soils are predominantly 
limestone interspersed with patches of sand, loam, stones and sandstone. The 
area enjoys hot, sunny summers though the frequently high day/night 
temperature differentials can cause dramatic thunderstorms.
 
Wine styles: Rosés are the predominant wine style here. They are blended from 
Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache noir, Mourvedre and a balance of Oillade, Petite 
Syrah and Terret. Deep salmon-pink in colour, they are pleasant, floral, fruity 
wines (rose, lilac, pear drop). The red wines display a beautiful brilliant crimson 
hue. On the palate, they combine suppleness with vigour and exhibit aromas of 
ripe fruit (prune, bilberry), a touch of liquorice and a hint of vanilla. The white 
wines, blended from Grenache blanc, Marsanne, Picpoul, Ugni blanc and 
Vermentino exude fragrances of hawthorn, dried flowers and citrus fruit. The 
wines are made by two co-operative wineries and a dozen independent growers. 
 
 
A.C. Côtes de Provence
 
Overview: The winegrowing area of Côtes-de-Provence is extensive. It stretches 
from Marseille to the department of Alpes-Maritimes, covering 84 districts (68 in 
the Var, 15 in the Bouches-du-Rhône, and one, Villars-sur-Var, in Alpes-Maritimes).
Over such a vast surface area, the terroirs are diverse. The Massif des Maures 
and the coast form an area composed mainly of granite and schist. From Toulon 
to Saint-Raphaël, the soils are of sandy clay. The plateaux and hills of Provence 
consist of limestone. As a whole, the winegrowing region is fragmented, made up 
of isolated units. Most often, the vines grow up stepped terraces. The region has 
a Mediterranean climate with long, hot, dry summers, with rain in the spring and 
autumn. Recently, three new appellations were created: Côtes-de-Provence 
Sainte-Victoire, to the east of Aix-en-Provence; Côtes-de-Provence La Londe, near 
Hyères and Bormes-les-Mimosa; and Côtes-de-Provence Fréjus, on the other side 
of the region, between Saint-Raphaël and Trans-en-Provence. The Côtes de 
Provence La Londe appellation, near Hyères, was created in 2008.
 
Wine styles: Rosé wines are the predominant style (80%) though red wines (15%)
are on the increase. The varietal range comprises Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvedre,
Syrah and Tibouren, augmented with Cabernet-Sauvignon and Carignan. The 
rosés are made primarily using the ‘bleeding’ process. The initial stages of 
fermentation lift the pomace and when the right colour has been achieved after 
12 to 24 hours of skin contact, part of the juice is run off and then continues to 
ferment off the pomace. The wines vary in hue from pale pink to very light red. 
Their defining characteristic is a clean, vigorous attack, a relatively steady body 
combined with mineral, exotic (mango, passion fruit, pomegranate) and floral 
fragrances. Pairings include grilled lamb chops. The reds are vinted traditionally 
and exhibit fine tannic structure. They are often matured in wooden tuns. On the 
palate, they display complex aromas of ripe fruit, bay, thyme, tobacco, cinnamon 
and venison. They are becoming increasingly popular. Try with local specialities or
grilled ribsteak. The whites are vinted using the direct to press method. They are 
delicate, gracious, dry and vigorous and depending on the style can display floral,
fruity or balsamic fragrances. The ideal partner for grilled red mullet or 
Bouillabaisse fish stew. 
 
 
A.C. Les Baux de Provence
 
Overview: initially subsumed into the Coteaux d’Aix en Provence AC area, the tiny
region of Baux de Provence became an appellation in its own right in 1995. Its 
hot, dry climate, predominantly limestone soils and rugged terrain provide an 
ideal growing environment for the local grape varieties (Grenache, Syrah, 
Mourvedre, augmented with Counoise, Carignan and Cabernet-Sauvignon). Only 
red and rosé wines are made here.
 
 
A.C. Palette
 
Overview: the minute area of Palette is located in close proximity to 
Aix-en-Provence (Meyreuil, Le Tholonet and Aix-en-Provence) in 
Bouches-du-Rhône. It is currently one of France’s smallest appellations, covering a diminutive thirty hectares or so. The lion’s share of the wines are made by two 
independent growers, including the celebrated Château Simone, whilst the 
remaining grapes are delivered to the local co-operative. The soil is formed of 
Langesse lacustrine limestone and the climate is Mediterranean with low rainfall 
and plenty of sunshine.
 
Wine styles: Mourvedre, Grenache and Cinsault form the backbone of the red and
rosé varietal range. The red wines are usually sourced from old vines then 
matured in oak (rarely new) for at least 18 months. They are dense wines with 
good cellaring capacity, boasting aromas of raspberry, blackcurrant, old leather 
and spices. The perfect match for a leg of mutton or game. The rosés are vinted 
using the ‘bleeding’ or direct to press method. They are fleshy and well-balanced,
fruity and balsamic. The whites undergo classic vinification methods, and are 
subsequently matured on the lees in oak for at least 8 months. Delicate, elegant, 
suave wines, they are well-balanced and develop fragrances of spices, quince 
jelly, fig and hazelnut. Enjoy with foie gras terrine or lamb stew.