Provence Wines- (article is from the Larousse Encyclopedia of Wine).
The Provence appellations taken together form one of the largest vineyard areas in
France, and the vine has always been an important crop in this wide region. Vines
appear as a vital part of the famous landscape of olive and forest-clad hills, ancient
villages and opulent resorts, and the wines are found on the tables of the region’s
many fine restaurants.
There are close parallels in climate and soil terms with the wine-producing regions of
California and Australia. There is ample sun, adequate winter rain, and the
topography provides sites protected from the Mistral winds. The terrain offers
various soils, all rocky or gravelly, and well-drained hillside sites. Despite all these
natural advantages, Provence has been criticized for having a superb winemaking
environment but not
making great wines. Until recently it concentrated on rose: the Provence terroir
producing, unusually, some serious quality wines as well as pleasant holiday
drinking; but these by no means exploit fully the potential of the region.
A recent revival of interest in red wines has been in part due to the arrival of estate
owners from outside the wine industry (again on the California model). Red wine has
reached 35% of Cotes de Provence production (all but 5% of the rest is rose).
Among these reds are some serious and interesting wines, which not only exploit
Provencal conditions, but also add "foreign” flavours from non-local grape varieties
and benefit from modem winemaking techniques, The best of these wines contribute
to an air of excitement and optimism about the prospects for seriously good red wine
from Provence although there is still much red that does not as yet match the best
from elsewhere in southern France. Rose and white wines are improving too, as
better grape varieties arrive and modem winemaking spreads, but their quality is still
The wine zones
Provence covers two departements, Var and Bouches-du-Rhone, from the
Alps in the north and east to the Rhone in the west, with the Mediterranean coast in
the south. The vineyards stretch from Nice in the east to the Rhone delta in the
appellations are potentially confusing: the main one, Cotes de Provence, is mostly in
the south, from Toulon eastwards to beyond Frejus, with isolated patches on the
coast close to Marseilles, and inland around Trets. The appellation Coteaux d' Aix-
Provence covers the western part of the region, with the recent (March 1993) AOC
Coteaux Varois between it and the Cotes de Provence.
The wide areas covered by these general appellations means they are of little help
to the wine drinker looking for an idea of a wine's style and quality. In Provence the
estate name is both the clue to a local style of wine and some guarantee of quality.
There are, however, some districts that are becoming known for quality wines. The
coastal zone has some good sites, but the vineyards are under pressure from
development. Inland, the forested hills of the Maures Massif form a barrier between
the coast and the wide valley around le Luc, which has some well-placed estates.
There are also four smaller appellations -Bandol, Bellet, Cassis and
Palette -that identify zones with real local character.
Grape varieties and wine styles
With rose filling two out of every three Cotes de Provence bottles, there is a stress
on innocuous, even boring, grape varieties. Grenache and Carignan are dominant:
intrinsically bad, but both need low yields and hill vineyards to make really
interesting wine. With the Provence rose vineyards until now concentrated on flat
land and cropped to the limit set by the AOC, flavour and character can be minimal.
Cinsaut is potentially more interesting and is used in most red wines to some extent.
Syrah has long been at
home in Provence, but it is not as dominant as it is in the Rhone Valley.
It adds flavour, colour and character to blends. Mourvedre is traditionally the best
Provencal red-wine grape. It is found in neighbouring southern Rhone, where it is
used to make Chateauneuf-du-Pape and some of the better Cotes du Rhone wines,
In Provence its main presence is in the coastal zone, especially Bandol.
Cabernet Sauvignon, the grape hailed all over the world as the key to making better-
quality red wine, has been planted on several of the new-generation Provencal
estates. It is most at home inland, in the cooler, hillier vineyards, and in the Aix-en-
Provence area, particularly those in the sub-region of Les Baux-de-Provence, which
takes its name from
the hill village in the startling rocky outcrop of Les Alpilles.
Grapes for the small amount of white wine are Clairette Blanc, Ugni Blanc and the
declining Bourboulenc; better varieties are Rolle -use of which is growing -and
and Sauvignon Blanc, often blended with the local varieties.
Provence rose shows character only when made by a good estate and when some
superior red grape varieties are added to the blend.
Cotes de Provence whites and roses are generally drunk young, as are many reds,
although the more robust and well-made can age well.