Var Wine, Wine

Five Lesser-Known Provence Wine Appellations

04/03/2015
picture rs

Last week we went on a road trip, down past the Camargue and the coastal towns of Sète and Marseillan, where Provence meets France’s other Mediterranean coast, the Langudoc-Rousillon. As we left the Alpes-Maritimes and crossed through the Var and then the Bouches-du-Rhône, three of the six departments that comprise the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, I thought about how much of this huge stretch of land we’d driven through was dominated by vineyards.

The grape is a key character in the Provençal identity; after all, the region boasts France’s first vineyards. The Phocaeans may have introduced the grape to Provence around 6BC, however it was the arrival of the Romans, four centuries later, that the art of winemaking developed and spread through France as their empire expanded.

Today, the vineyards of Provence cover an impressive 27000 hectares, count over 600 vineyards and produce around 170 million bottles of wine annually, much of that rosé.[1] Yet, whilst a large percentage of this falls under the generic Côtes de Provence AOC, there are a handful of lesser-known Provence wine appellations which are reputed for wines other than the pink variety and make for enchanting discoveries.

LES BAUX-DE-PROVENCE AOC

Lesser-Known Provence Wine Appellations One

Image Credit: http://www.lesvinsdesbaux.com

Les Baux-de-Provence is one of France’s most stunning medieval villages, set in an isolated position amongst the Chaîne des Alpilles to the north of Marseille. The village itself, and seven other communes that neighbour it (Fontvieille, Maussane-les-Alpilles, Mouries, Paradou, Saint-Etienne-du-Gres and Saint-Remy-de-Provence) comprise one of Provence’s newest wine appellations. Initially granted AOC status for its red and rosé wines in 1995, it was only a few years ago that the quality of their white wines was seen to warrant a similar classification. Today’s Les Baux-de-Provence AOC comprises 350 hectares split between eleven producers. Like Bandol below, the appellation is renowned for its red wines, made here from mainly Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre. All but one of the vineyards practice organic winemaking, and the producers are lobbying to make this a part of appellation rules. If ratified, Les Baux de Provence AOC will become France’s first organic appellation.

PALETTE

A real blink and you’ll miss it on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence; Palette AOC is definitely one of France’s more boutique appellations, with a mere three producers. The largest and most reputed operation is Château Simone, which owns just over half of the 42 hectares of vines under cultivation in Palette, along with cellars dating back to the 16th century. Alongside them are Château Crémade and Château Henri Bonnaud. Despite its size, Palette is one of France’s oldest AOC’s, established in 1948, and is characterised by old vines and small yields which create serious white, red and rosé wines. Yet, for such a compact appellation, an incredible 35 grape varieties are permitted (mainly Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre for reds and rosés, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Ugni Blanc for whites), which means it can be difficult to define a distinct Palette AOC identity.

CASSIS

Lesser-Known Provence Wine Appellations Three

Image Credit: Marcovdz/Flickr/Creative Commons

The pretty fishing village of Cassis sits on the coast between Marseille and La Ciotat, and is famed for the Cap Canaille headland, the bays of the Calanques, and a white wine made with a 60% minimum of either Marsanne or Clairette, a traditional Provence grape. Along with Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cassis has serious claims on being France’s first appellation, dating from 1936, and is also the only appellation in France found entirely within a national park, the Parc National des Calanques. Whilst the majority of the production is white wine, a red and rosé is also made from Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre. As with Nice’s Bellet AOC, see below, the twelve producers of Cassis face a constant struggle to stave off hungry property developers with eyes on the their 215 hectares of vines; hardly a surprise when you see the views enjoyed by some of the appellation’s waterfront vineyards. especially Clos Saint Magdaleine.

BANDOL

Whilst Cassis may be famed for its white wines, further down the coast, towards Toulon, there’s a combination of grape and terroir which creates some red wine magic in the Bandol AOC! The grape variety Mourvèdre (also known as Monastrell in Spain and Mataro in Australia and the USA) is renowned for being one of the fussier varieties; however it thrives in the coastal communes and limestone soils of La Cadière d’Azur, Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, Le Castellet, Le Beausset, Evenos, Ollioules, Sanary-sur-Mer and the seaside village of Bandol itself. The largest appellation on this list, at 1400 hectares in size, Bandol was granted AOC appellation status in 1941 and today counts over 60 producers. Whilst Bandol rouge has achieved a cult status around the globe, the rosés of the appellation are recognised as food-friendly and for offering more complexity than average Côtes de Provence equivalents.

BELLET

Lesser-Known Provence Wine Appellations Two

For regular visitors to this blog, Bellet is hardly new news, but it demands inclusion in this list anyway, as one of Provence’s lesser known appellations. For those of you who haven’t heard the name before, Bellet is authentic Nice wine, grown in the hills to the west of the city. Here, at an altitude of between 200 and 300 metres, ten producers cultivate a mere 50 hectares combined to produce a red, white and rosé wine of repute. In fact, over the centuries a drop of Nice’s finest wine has been enjoyed by such illustrious figures as Louis XIV and Thomas Jefferson. The region was granted appellation status in 1941 and today is France’s only entirely urban wine appellation. The AOC Bellet is also unique in another way; two grape varieties are grown here and nowhere else: Braquet and Folle Noire, the key ingredient in a Bellet rosé and red respectively. Rolle (or Vermentino) is the main variety in a Bellet white, as with much of the rest of Provence.

[1] http://www.vinsdeprovence.com/en/the-vineyard/geography

Throughout the year various events along the coast offer the opportunity to discover these wines. Keep an eye on my upcoming events on the French Riviera page.

Lou Messugo

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16 Comments

  • Reply Please Bring Me My Wine 04/03/2015 at 8:16 pm

    Great post Chrissie, how amazing does Cassis look??????

    • Reply Chrissie 06/03/2015 at 8:18 am

      Thanks Mike, Cassis is stunning, actually all of the places on this list happen to be pretty nice to visit as well. When are you coming down :)

  • Reply Phoebe @ Lou Messugo 05/03/2015 at 9:18 am

    I know, love and drink regularly Cassis & Bandol, I know Bellet (mainly thanks to you) but don’t drink it often enough (it’s surprisingly hard to find locally other than at the producers themselves). However while I know the village of Baux-de-Provence I didn’t realise it had an AOC and I’ve never heard of Palette at all. Looks like I’ve got some tasting to do! thanks for linking up Chrissie.

    • Reply Chrissie 06/03/2015 at 8:20 am

      My pleasure Phoebe, I’m loving my first link-up! Bellet is easy enough to get in good wine shops in Nice but it may be hard to find elsewhere on the 06 …. future blog post perhaps! In fact, most of us have been through Palette without knowing about it, the A8 cuts through it just outside Aix!

  • Reply Elizabeth (Wander Mum) 05/03/2015 at 8:20 pm

    Great info on this post – thanks Chrissie. I love Provence – there’s just something about its essence I fell in love with a few years back when I travelled around there. I feel another trip there is needed especially as I haven’t been to any of those places you have mentionedvand I need to sample some of those wines!

    • Reply Chrissie 06/03/2015 at 8:25 am

      Hi Elizabeth, completely agree, especially since the weather is starting to get all warm and summery! It’s a great time of the year to go wine tasting :) Thanks for stopping by, great to be discovering other France blogs!

  • Reply Cathy Sweeney 06/03/2015 at 2:46 am

    Having just been in Provence for the first time in December, I was delighted to read this post and learn more about the appellations of the region. I had the pleasure of tasting the white wine of Cassis — a wonderful surprise!

    • Reply Chrissie 06/03/2015 at 8:22 am

      Hi Cathy, thanks for popping by! I think we’re told so often that Provence = Rosé that it’s, as you say, a wonderful surprise when you discover the reds and whites the region has to offer as well. Hope you enjoyed your first trip to Provence :)

  • Reply rosemarykneipp 06/03/2015 at 10:15 am

    Hi Chrissie, Palette and Bellet are new to me. I’ll have to watch out for them! I still haven’t visited the Calanques so it will be an excellent opportunity to combine visiting and wine tasting!

    • Reply Chrissie 08/03/2015 at 6:56 pm

      Hi Rosemary, sounds like an excellent idea! I love it how some of the most beautiful corners of the world also happen to produce some pretty nice wine as well! Hope all is well :)

  • Reply Betty Carlson 06/03/2015 at 8:41 pm

    Every time I have tasted wines from Provence, I have loved them. But like Rosemary above, I have never heard of Palette and Bellet. They may not make it all the way up here to the wine merchants in Aveyron!

    I found you through #AllAboutFrance, by the way.

    • Reply Chrissie 08/03/2015 at 6:58 pm

      Hi Betty, wow, you’re in a beautiful part of France! Made it to Millau a few years ago, would love to explore you’re region more! Thanks for stopping by, and great to have discovered a new #allaboutfrance blog as well.

  • Reply carpementon 07/03/2015 at 5:13 pm

    Thank you for this useful information! I happened to visit Palette a couple of months ago and discovered Henri Bonnaud and their excellent wines. Especially the reds became my favorites, but their rosé is also very good with much more body than many other rosé wines. Luckily for us Swedes, the rosé wine of Henry Bonnaud can be bought at our Systembolag (state monopoly in Sweden for all alcohol products). In connection to our visit we had lunch in the little village Le Tholonet where we were had a great meal at the local (very busy) restaurant. Something to recommend! Regards from Ingrid

    • Reply Chrissie 08/03/2015 at 7:02 pm

      Thanks for the tip, Ingrid! You guys are so well travelled in the region, not just Liguria I see but into the Var and beyond also! Hope all is well!

  • Reply vinoexpressions 11/03/2015 at 3:42 am

    Nice post! I want to return and visit the region thoroughly. Appreciated the information on Cassis and Bandol particularly, and the memory of Bellett stays with me from the brief time spent in the Nice region. You are definitely enjoying your opportunities for travel around there :)

  • Reply Jill Barth 12/04/2016 at 2:38 am

    I’m always thrilled to see the winemakers of Les Baux-de-Provence get attention. I’ve profiled the AOP & individual winemakers of the region…I have such respect for thier work and adoration of their wine!

    If you don’t mind my sharing, here is more info:

    https://jillbarth.wordpress.com/2015/10/02/winemakers-of-les-baux-de-provence-celebrate-20-year-anniversary/

    https://jillbarth.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/domaine-des-terre-blanches-profile/

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