The production of rosé wines has exploded in Provence to the detriment of other colors. Today, 86% of Provence wines are rosé. But not all producers have abandoned the tradition of making red and white wines. Fortunately, because these wines are often excellent. You can make stunning reds in this beautifully sunny climate, and there are enough cool places to produce high quality whites as well. Here is your introduction.
A recent tasting of red and white wines from Provence confirmed the feeling we have had for a long time. Provence should do more reds and whites. But rose wines are here to stay. And given the great success of rosé wines for export, especially in the United States, we cannot really blame the producers of Provence wines.
“And”, says Göran Boman, specialist in Provence and author of the book “Vins de Provence -Tricolour”, “rosé wine is accepted as a serious wine and there are styles both for a refreshing aperitif and as a partner. perfect for many dishes “.
But he deplores the dominance of rosé wines and the fact that they receive all the attention. “Quality rosé wine rarely achieves the same complexity as a quality white or red wine, so I would like to see more focus on other types of wine,” he says.
There may be hope. “An association of producers called ‘Rouge Provence’ has been created,” underlines Göran, “which aims to promote red wines from Provence.”
We wish them good luck.
The total area of vines in Provence is around 69,000 hectares. The vineyards start east of the mouth of the Rhône and extend further east for about 200 km towards the Côte d’Azur.
The Provencal landscape is picturesque and often spectacular. The Mediterranean Sea and the mountains dominate the landscape. The vines mingle with olive trees, pines and palm trees. Throughout Provence, near the coast, several low mountain ranges affect the weather.
Summers are hot, hot in places and dry. The magnificent sun shines between 2700 and 2900 hours per year. But the heat varies depending on where you are in relation to the mountains. Many wineries are located at such an altitude that producers can easily keep fresh acidity in their wines.
The north wind of the mistral can feel freezing cold in winter, but refreshing chill in summer. It keeps the vines dry and protects the vines from fungal diseases. Provence is the French leader in organic viticulture. 24% of the surface is certified organic or in conversion, much more than the French average of 13%.
The main red grape varieties from Provence are Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and local Tibouren. The latter is mainly used for rosé wines. A small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon is also allowed. The white wines are made from Rolle, Clairette, Sémillon and Ugni Blanc.
Côtes de Provence is the largest appellation (PDO) and includes nearly 75% of all wines produced in Provence. 90% of the production is rosé wines, but we can find exceptional reds and whites.
Here are a handful of red and white wines from Provence that will convince you that here they can do much more than rosé.
In the village of Cabasse, just east of small town Brignoles, Domaine Gavoty has long been known for its white Rolle wines, a Mediterranean grape variety also found in Corsica and Sardinia under the name Vermentino. The Gavoty vineyard appreciates hot summers, but it cools considerably at night, giving freshness to the wines. Domaine Gavoty Grand Classic White 2018 (~ $ 15) is light in style, refreshing and expressive on the palate with green apples, pears, and citrus. Quite typical of the grape.
A superb red comes from Château Grand Boisé, an estate dominating the magnificent Montagne Sainte Victoire, the mountain made famous by Paul Cézanne, the painter. The Chateau Grand Boisé 1610 (~ 30 USD) has intense aromas with hints of roses. It is light and elegant, of great complexity and length. An excellent wine.
As is the case in AOP Côte de Provence, 90% of the wines of the AOP Coteaux Varois-en-Provence, another appellation, are rosé. But if you look closely you will find reds, for example from Domaine du Deffends, a very popular area. Domaine du Deffends Champs de la Truffière (~ 20 USD) is their best wine, made from Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is well structured with nice aromas of black fruits, intensity and complexity. You can smell the tannins, but everything is in balance.
All regions of Provence have been struck by rosé fever. But some appellations cling to their red wines a little better than others. Bandol is a small town beautifully situated by the Mediterranean Sea, near Toulon. The vines are planted on hillsides, often with a breathtaking view of the sea. Bandol has always been known for its high quality red wines made with the powerful Mourvèdre. Despite this reputation, the proportion of red wines has fallen to 22% today, compared to 40% twenty years ago. However, it is more than anywhere else in Provence.
North-east of Aix-en-Provence, in the current AOP Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, the first Cabernet Sauvignon de Provence vines were planted at the end of the 1960s by Georges Brunet, owner at the era of the famous Château Vignelaure. Brunet also owned Chateau la Lagune, a Bordeaux chateau, and he had an idea that Cabernet would pair well with Syrah. He was right; It does. Cabernet Sauvignon is now well established in the region.
When the Coteaux d’Aix appellation was created in 1985, red wines were at the heart of many producers. Today, however, only 12% of production is red. But the reds that remain are memorable. Signature Quatre Tours 2016 (~ 12 USD) is delicious and quite powerful, intensely fruity with lots of black berries in a drinkable style, without lacking in structure. The grapes are 40% Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon each and 20% Grenache.
Les Quatre Tours is a small, ambitious cooperative, with around 35 members. When it was created in 1924, phylloxera had devastated the vineyard. The winegrowers came together to survive this difficult period.
In the extreme west of Provence, we find the AOP Les Baux-de-Provence in the south of Avignon. The vineyards are clustered around the picturesque town of Saint Rémy-de-Provence and at the foot of the cliff from which the old village of Les Baux, with its imposing 10th century fortress, dominates the surrounding area. Almost 50% of production in Les Baux is red wines. It’s a shame that the area of the vineyard is only 620 acres.
The Alpilles, a low chain of limestone mountains, give the landscape a special character, arid and wild in places and also typically Provençal with fields of lavender and picturesque villages. It is Provence that Vincent van Gogh, who spent time in Saint Rémy, has immortalized in more than 150 paintings.
One of the big stars of Les Baux and France is Dominique Hauvette. She created Domaine Hauvette and produced her first vintage in 1988. She mainly produces red wine, always well structured and elegant. And very sought after. Her Domaine Hauvette Roucas 2019 (~ $ 30) is easy to drink and fruity in style, very elegant, with a long and complex finish. Here are beautiful aromas of fresh herbs, good structure with firm but balanced tannins and superb freshness. It’s vibrant and delicious. Grenache dominates the blend.
Another appellation worth mentioning is Palette, east of Aix-en-Provence. It’s small, only 118 acres. The vines are planted on gentle limestone slopes facing the Sainte-Victoire mountain. Palette is famous for a remarkable estate, Chateau Simone (~ $ 48) where monks were making popular wines as early as the 16th century. The castle has a magnificent barrel cellar, dug at that time by the monks.
The Rougier family, the current owner, replanted the entire property after the phylloxera crises and many of these vines remain. Some plots have vines over 125 years old. Their wines are remarkable, especially the white, made from 80% Clairette, an ancient grape variety but now rare in the south of France. It is a wine of a beautiful texture and structure, with aromas of apricot and flowers and a hint of honey, in short, delicious.
(The prices shown in the text are retail prices in Europe.)