Provence is a wine region in the far south-eastern corner of France, best known for the quality (and quantity) of its rosé wines and for its warm, mild climate.
The modernization that is occurring in so many southern French, traditional winegrowing regions has not taken such a firm grip in Provence, but there are definite signs of change. The region’s grape varieties, in particular, have been under heavy scrutiny in the past few decades, with traditional varieties such as Carignan, Barbaroux (Sardinia’sBarbarossa) and Calitor being replaced by more commercially viable grapes likeGrenache, Syrah and even Cabernet Sauvignon. The term cépages améliorateurs(‘improver varieties’) is gaining currency in Provence, as it has throughout neighboringLanguedoc-Roussillon. Although Barbaroux and Calitor are being gradually phased out (between 2000 and 2015), the traditionally successful local varieties Mourvedre,Tibouren and Vermentino (locally known as Rolle) have retained favor, demonstrating their value in Provence’s red, rosé and white wines respectively.
The vineyards of Provence cover an area of France’s south-eastern coastline that measures roughly 125 miles (200km) from east to west. In this definitivelyMediterranean climate (no Provencal vineyard is more than 25 miles/56km from the Mediterranean), the vines enjoy around 3000 sunshine hours per year, along with an annual average temperature of 58F (14.5C). The long, dry summers provide ideal harvest conditions in most years, leaving the majority of the region’s grape-growers free from worry about unwanted rot and vine disease.
The winds that punctuate the southern French climate (such as the cold mistral that blows down the Rhone) are a significant factor here; they further reduce the prevalence of fungal diseases, but increase the risk of structural damage to grapes and even vine plants themselves. Additionally, the ideal conditions of the summer are somewhat offset by the violence of the storms that strike in spring and fall, bringing most of the 30 inches (760mm) of annual rainfall.
Provence has a relatively small number of appellations given its size, the largest of which is Cotes de Provence. In 2005, it accounted for just over 49,500 acres (20,000ha) of vineyards. These are focused in the eastern half of Provence (which they share with the Coteaux Varois), although there are pockets of Cotes de Provence vines as far west as the regional capital, Marseille. The west of Provence is slightly more varied. It is dominated by the region’s second-largest appellation, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, which draws on about 9900 acres (4000ha) of land to the north and west of Aix-en-Provencetown (home to the miniscule Palette title). The Ventoux (formerly Cotes du Ventoux) and Luberon appellations lie just to the north. Administratively, they are included in theProvence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region, but in wine terms they are managed as part of theRhone.
While the archetypal Provence wine is a Cotes de Provence rosé, it is the smaller, more peripheral appellations that really make the region interesting to wine enthusiasts. In the far east of Provence, the perfumed wines of the tiny Bellet appellation are made in the tightly ridged hills above Nice. The far west is home to the organic reds and rosés of the geologically distinctive Les Baux-de-Provence. The two most famous individual names from the region are located right on the Mediterranean coast between Marseille and Toulon. Here, the deeply colored, richly flavored reds of Bandol are produced just 12 miles (19km) from the herby, full-bodied whites of Cassis (not to be confused with the blackcurrant-based liqueur of the same name).
These smaller appellations, along with the Cotes de Provence sub-appellations (Frejus,Sainte-Victoire and La Londe), make up only around 15% of Provence’s annual wine output. The region remains dominated by the crisp, refreshing rosé that has earned it an international reputation.