Provence subsisted for years on often ordinary rosé, purchased as a thirst quencher by many a tourist in this paradise under the sun. Rosé still accounts for 50% of production, but quality red and whites are now holding their own. The region has been making wine for over 2500 years. The Greeks founded Marseille in 600 BC as Massalia. The Romans followed, calling the area “our province” (provincia nostra), hence the name Provence. This was the first Roman province outside of Italy.
The climate of Provence is decidedly Mediterranean, with very warm summers. The mistral wind that comes in from the north is an issue. It blows away potential vine diseases but can also damage the vines. Vineyards are planted on hillsides away from direct wind contact to protect the vines, and secure vine training systems are in place. Soils show great variety.
The Côtes de Provence AOC is a large noncontiguous region covering over 85 communes in the eastern part of Provence. Côtes de Provence accounts for nearly 75% of Provence wine production—rosé is at least 80% the production of the appellation. Red wine is on the ascendency with 15%. The remaining 5% is white. Red grapes used include Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Tibouren with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. For rosé wines, at least 20% must be blended from wine produced by the soignée method of maceration.
The Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence is the region’s second largest appellation, north and west of the Côtes de Provence. Red wine accounts for 65% of production, 35% rosé and 10% white. Grapes include Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and some Cabernet Sauvignon. The major white grapes are Bourboulenc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Within the Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence is the smaller Les Baux-de-Provence. The climate of the region is very hot with the surrounding valley known as the Val d’Enfer (Valley of Hell). Red grape varieties account for around 80% of the wine led by the familiar trio of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. This was the first AOC to require that all vines be produced biodynamically, many producers having already converted to organic viticulture.
Bandol is produced around the village of that name in eight communes with silicon and limestone soils which, along with the warm coastal climate, are ideal for the major variety Mourvèdre, which is late ripening. For both the red and rosé wines, Mourvèdre must account for at least 50% of the blend, with Grenache and Cinsault. Syrah and Carignan are restricted in Bandol to a maximum of 15% of the blend or 10% individually. Nearly 70% of the production is red wine. Red Bandol wine is dark in color with rich flavors of black fruit, vanilla, cinnamon and leather and usually requires at least 10 years of aging before it fully develops. The white wines of Bandol are composed primarily of Clairette Blanche, Bourboulenc and Ugni Blanc.
Cassis is primarily a white wine appellation, producing Clairette, Marsanne, Ugni Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc on limestone soil. The dry white wines are full-bodied, low in acidity and have herbal aromas that pair well with the local seafood.
The Coteaux Varois is in the central region of Provence. Over 60% of production is rosé with around 33% red wine and small amount of white wine. The major grape varieties are Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Carignan.
Palette is a small AOC near Aix-en-Provence. Reds and rosés must be composed of a minimum 80% Grenache, Mourvedre and/or Cinsault with the remaining 20% a possible blend of Syrah, Carignan, Castet, Manosquin, Muscat Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Whites are composed of at least 80% Clairette with Bourboulenc, Trebbiano, Grenache Blanc and several white varieties. Muscat is permitted to round out the remaining 20%.
Bellet north of Nice produces an even mix of the three colors. Its proximity to the Piemonte region of Italy reflects in its grapes: The key white grape is Vermentino, with support from four classic white grapes of southern France—Blanqueiron, Bourboulenc, Roussanne and Clairette. Muscat Blanc and Chardonnay can be used, but only in the white wines. The key red grapes are Braquet and Fuella Nera (Folle Noire or Jurancon Noir), with backup from Cinsault and Grenache. Locals and hordes of tourists drink the entire production of Bellet, so it is rarely exported.