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A Sommelier’s Introduction to Provence

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The Birthplace of French Wine

The ancient Greeks established vineyards in Massalia, modern day Marseille, around 600 BC.  It was then also the first region planted by the Romans before moving north and inland in their conquest of Gaul.  They called it Provincia Nostra, our province.

Provence is a Mediterranean region, influenced by the ever-present Mistral, with generally limestone soils in the west and crystalline rock soils in the east. The fauna is dominated by Maquis shrub lands and garrigue. 

Maquis can best be described as an open forest of aromatic evergreens including wild mints, laurels and myrtles with olive and fig trees scattered throughout. Garrigue is a poorer version of Maquis.

The Rhône river and the Camargue mark the western boundary of the region. To the north-west, the Alpilles and the Durance. 

In the middle of the region there are two dominant mountain ranges; the Sainte-Victoire mountains and the Sainte-Gaume mountains, running west-east and parallel to one another, enclosing the Côtes-de-Provence sub zone Sainte-Victoire. 

To the east, the volcanic Esterel mountains form the natural boundary of the Côtes-deprovence from Cannes and the rest of the Côte d’Azur.

A Sommelier’s Introduction to Provence


There are three main regions. 

(1) Côtes-de-Provence AOC

75% of production and sub-divided into five sub zones.  Côtes-de-Provence has a Grand Cru classification for individual estates established in 1955. 

(2) Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence AOC

Previously incorporated Les Baux-deProvence as a sub zone from 1985-1995.  The Sainte-Victoire mountains are located within it’s boundaries. 

(3) Coteaux Varois-en-Provence AOC

Formerly considered a sub zone of Côtes-de-provence, this AOC is at altitude, with vineyards planted in the foothills of the Sainte-Buame mountains, and generally speaking the coolest region of Provence.  White, rosé and red wines are permitted in all these regions.

Production in Provence

88% of production in Provence is rosé.  With around 146 million bottles every year, it counts as the number one rosé region in France with close to 40% of total domestic output. 

Blending is common for all wine styles in Provence, with exception to Bandol rouge.  All the Rhône varietals plus a handful of local grapes such as Tibouren, Vermentino and Téoulier can be found.

Bandol AOC is the probably the most famous region of Provence, after the all encompassing rosé appellations.  It is known for full-bodied, dark, structured and powerful herb-scented reds that i find are at their best five to eight years from vintage, and is the only wine region in France I know of based almost exclusively on Mourvèdre. 

The main vineyards are planted in a horse-shoe shaped natural amphitheatre starting in the slightly more sheltered bay commune of Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer and separated from the city and port of Bandol by the Gros Cerveau mountains.  The vineyards are planted on terraces called restanques, low dry-stone walls to prevent erosion. 

Seaside vineyards, on the south-face of the Gros Cerveau, are also planted overlooking the city and the sea.  Wines of all three colours are produced.

There are a number of small and perhaps marginally obscure wine regions within Provence.

  1. Palette AOC.  Overlaps with the more renowned Coteaux d-Aix-enProvence AOC, maybe the reason why there is only one commercial producer using this label. 
    Palette itself consists of 48 hectares of plantings with no fewer then 24 permitted varietals (not counting mutations within the same variety which could easily add another six).
    Wine of all three colours are permitted.
  2. Pierrevert AOC.  360 hectares of vines on the right bank of the Durance as it flows south through the Ventoux/Luberon-Baronnies Provençal valley.
    The average altitude of vineyards is 450m.  Wines of all three colours are produced.
  3. Cassis AOC.  200 hectares that since 2012 have been included in the Calanques national Park which are arguably best known for their beautiful series of coves. 
    Vines are planted on the hillsides overlooking the town of the same name, directly on the Med.
    On average 67% white and 30% rosé are produced.
  4. Bellet AOC.  The vineyards of suburban Nice.  The 48 hectares of vineyard are the furthest appellation east in Provence, and together with Alsace the whole of France.
    The vineyards are planted o the left bank of the Var with predominantly the local varietals Brauet and Fuella Nera for reds and rosés and Rolle (aka Vermentino) for whites.

For maps of the wine regions, check out:

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Michael Jenni

Alles für das gute Tropfen

Mönchbergstrasse 4, CH-8623 Wetzikon
+41 (0)76 801 5759

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