We’re lucky to call a country home which produces such an incredible array of wine. From the bold reds of Bordeaux to the rich whites of Burgundy, and more closer to home the salmon-hued Provence rosés which are the perfect complement to a Côte d’Azur summer, we’re spoilt for choice! Yet it seems a little known fact that some lovely wines made from some unique grape varieties are found right on our doorstep. Did you know that one of France’s smallest wine appellations happens to be located right here, in the hills of Nice? The Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) Bellet is a cluster of vineyards hidden in the western hills of Nice. What’s more, the first weekends of June and December are officially Portes Ouvertes, where the vignérons of Bellet cordially invite you to become acquainted with your local wine.
The wines of Bellet can be proud of a long and illustrious history. From monarchs to presidents, many a famous name has requested a bottle of Nice wine at their table. Yet the local industry has not been immune to the pressures and demands faced by landowners in the area, and the early 20th century witnessed much of the vines torn up and the land replanted with the more profitable flower growing. Luckily a few determined wine makers dug their heels in, and the industry was revived in 1941 when Bellet was officially granted AOC status. That’s not to say that it’s been smooth sailing since – hawk-eyed property developers see these collines niçoises, with their sweeping views through the valley of the Var and beyond as prime real estate. Expansion, therefore, is not only difficult, but expensive.
However today there are eleven producers who proudly claim to bottle an AOC Bellet wine. Many are family owned and operated, small boutique productions with an annual bottle output which reflects this: less than 50 hectares of exploited land which translates to less than two hundred thousand bottles a year.
The Portes Ouvertes this weekend are by no means your only opportunity to visit you local vineyard, although usually a small fee is charged for every visit, even if you leave with a bottle or two. Many vineyards also only open by appointment, so embrace this upcoming event as a chance to decide on your favourite, since doors will be thrown open and corks popped, free of charge!
Since covering this many vineyards in two days would be a stretch for even the most devoted wine fan, I thought I’d give you a quick lowdown on what to expect (and where) along the Bellet circular.
Most vineyards produce a wine of each colour – white/red/rosé – which will be on tasting over the weekend. Many of the whites and rosés will be 2012 and freshly bottled. The reds are aged a little longer, as is correct wine protocol.
Tight regulations govern each appellation in France, which specify, amongst a litany of other rules, what varieties can be planted and what the minimum/maximum percentage of each grape to blend.
Rolle, the French name for Vermentino, is the main white variety of Bellet. Many producers also blend in a small percentage of Chardonnay (between 5-10%), creating a perfect summer drink to match the cuisine of the coast.
You may not be familiar with the name Braquet, a red grape indigenous to the Nice hills, and the sole variety of many Bellet rosés. Often a darker colour to the light Provence rosés made mainly from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, it’s still as fruity, crisp and refreshing as you’d want a rosé to be!
Cinsault, Grenache, Braquet and Folle Noire are the four permitted varieties in a Bellet red. Expect Folle Noire to dominate the blend, another grape found only in Bellet, making a medium-bodied wine with pleasant hints of berries and spice.
As you can see, a visit to Bellet will open up a whole new world of unusual wines and grape varieties to you! Here’s a lowdown of each vineyard to help you decide who to visit.
Along Chemin de Saquier
Winding up from behind Lingostière you’ll find Chemin de Saquier, a narrow route hiding many a hairpin bend. The spectacular views extend out from the mountains, towards the Baou of St-Jeannet, and follow the valley of the Var towards the coast. Here you’ll find:
Domaine de la Source, enticing visitors with the sound of wine being poured and the scents of local Niçois cuisine. Their white, in particular, is recommended. Ask for a tour of the vineyards.
Domaine de Vinceline lays claim to being the youngest vineyard in Bellet. Eze born Vincent Dalby and his wife are producing an organically certified AOC white and red, named after their daughters Constance and Clémentine, as well as a non-appellation red vin de table, at half the price of their AOC bottling.
Château de Bellet is regarded by many as producing the finest wines of the appellation and home to the grandest estate. Although currently undergoing renovations, the de Charnacé family are throwing wide open the doors to their reception room, so embrace the opportunity to taste their prestigious Cuvée Baron G range.
Along the Route de Bellet
The link between Magnan on the Promenade des Anglais and villages such as Colomars and Aspremont, the eponymous Route de Bellet is home to many of the appellation’s vineyards:
Via Julia Augusta vies with Château de Bellet for most picturesque property and perhaps has the loveliest labels, not that you should judge a wine by that!
Clos St Vincent was served at the Monaco Royal Wedding, so you’re in good company with a glass of this! Understandably, the wines are winning accolade after accolade. Look out for the Clos St Vincent rouge, a blend of 90% Folle Noire and 10% Grenache.
Along the Chemin de Crémat
Curving around onto the Chemin de Crémat admire terraced vineyards and views extending over the ridge of Chemin de Saquier and beyond.
Château de Crémat is by far the most commercial of the Bellet vineyards. Here’s some trivia for you: Coco Chanel took inspiration from their logo for her iconic interlinking C insignia. Their faux-turret is a popular wedding venue and visible from the A8 motorway. Higher production levels mean you’re more likely to spot their wines in supermarkets in Nice.
Domaine St Jean boasts more pretty labels and is another vineyard started from scratch by a husband and wife team in 2006. Sample award-winning wines here, as their Bellet Blanc 2011 has been selected for that French wine bible Le Guide Hachette des Vins 2013.
Collet de Bovis have generously offered to uncork the two most recent vintages of each of their wines for the weekend. This is a unique opportunity to compare vintages and see if you can perceive any subtle changes a year in the Bellet hills makes!
Domaine de Toasc could easily lay claim to being a gallery space, with an extensive array of art from the Ecole de Nice on display. Another beautiful property with a tasting room full of tempting goodies, you can expect one of the friendliest welcomes of the weekend here, and some top quality wines to match!
Designate a driver. Santé!