France: Provence

Coastal Provence

Wines along the coast to Fréjus
By Elizabeth Gabay MW

This Guide was last updated on 15 January 2010
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Main wine styles

Reds

Blended wines are still popular, especially for the main wines of each estate and are on the whole, robust with southern flavours. There also lighter, fresher styles for drinking young, and often labelled as Vin de Pays and made with a greater proportion of Carignan, Cinsault and Grenache – the old Provencal stalwarts. But there is an increasing number of good wines with the structure to age for a few years often made with high percentages of a single variety – Syrah and Mourvèdre in particular, and often from old vines. Most of the latter will have been oak aged.  A growing number of winemakers are also experimenting with fermenting different varieties together (an old tradition and now a new trend) as well as pigeage (punch down) and extended maceration. The fine red wines of Provence are losing out to the increase in rosé wines – hopefully their charm will win drinkers back! A small association of six growers (Ch Bas, Coteaux d’Aix; Ch. Henri Bonnaud, Palette AC; Domaine de Jale Provence AC; Domaine Lafran-Veyrolles, Bandol AC; Ch la Verriere, Luberon AC and Ch Margui, Coteaux Varois AC) is campaigning to show the variety of Provencal reds.

Whites

The traditional Provencal white wine is made from a blend – Ugni Blanc for acidity, Clairette for softness and perfume, Grenache Blanc for weight and any other oddments – resulting in dry wines, herby fruit but either a little robust and needing to be drunk very cool, or soft and mellow for early drinking. These wines are still available in quantity. But there is a growing amount of better quality white wine being produced often using Rolle either as a Vin de Pays single varietal wine or with an obligatory 5%-10% Ugni Blanc for acidity. With careful use of barrique ageing - these are showing potential to age well.

Rosés

Rosé wine is the ambassador of coastal Provence and amounts to around three-quarters of the production. Generally fresh, dry and delicate with a range of colours from pale pink/onion skin hue to almost pale red, they are produced mainly from blends but sometimes sold as an interesting single varietal wine, such as Tibouren. Mostly to be drunk young, they are often sold in the traditional ‘skittle’ bottle though more serious producers avoid this! Some rosés are being aged in barrique to produce a more serious weighty wine which is disapproved of by the purists but appreciated by many. Since 2003, the hotter vintages have resulted in an increase in alcohol levels, threatening to unbalance the traditional Provencal rosé. Since the vintage of 2008, the rules for Côtes de Provence have been changed to allow for 4g/l residual sugar in the wine – the end result is that instead of very dry, high alcohol wines, the alcohol is lower and the wines will be rounder and richer. Bellet rosés, (generally 100% Braquet) have good fresh acidity with ripe raspberry fruit, but with lower permitted sugar levels (3g/l) Bellet rosés will be fractionally drier than the 2008 Côtes de Provence rosés.

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