I’ve already played a little South of France Q&A, but I want to take a moment to cover a few grapes and regions I didn’t get to cover in that first post. Specifically, I want to talk about the grapes that are grown throughout the broader South of France area and then zero in on Provence for a bit.
[Information based on WSET Level 3 material]
In my last post, I talked about most of the major red grape varieties found throughout the South of France:
- Grenache – said to be well suited to the warm, dry summer climate
- Syrah – more successful in the cooler sites
- Carignan – high in tannin, acidity, and color, but lacks fruit (Good blender then, no? Although there is a note here that the old vine Carignan on poorer soils can produce a more well-rounded, structured wine); FUN FACT: The grape was originally planted for its ability to produce large yields. Plantings have recently been reduced, but it’s still widely planted and permitted by all AC’s. (Way to rally, Carignan, way to rally…)
- Cinsault – predominantly used for rosés (blended with Grenache—the most typical rosé blend found in Provence), but also to add red fruit flavors to red blends
- Mourvédre – continues to stick with its theme and ripens most successfully in the warmest vineyard locations; adds richness, color, and complexity to those red blends; noted region for red wine based on Mourvédre: Bandol
While these are the more “regionally specific” red grapes, it’s also important to note a few “international” grapes that are also utilized in the region:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- And I’m adding a bullet point here for Cabernet Franc even though it’s not listed in the book because I recently listened to a podcast featuring a winemaker from the South of France who is making single varietal Cabernet Franc.
Note, the thing about these other grapes is that they are usually used in blends that will be labeled with the generic IGP, Pays d’Oc, which covers the broader Languedoc-Roussillon region in the South of France. In reference to that winemaker working with Cabernet Franc, he was actually from Provence making wines in the Côte de Provence. He’s allowed to grow the grape (“You can do whatever you want,” he said.), but it cannot be labeled as Côte de Provence. As such, for him, that bottle is labeled with the uber generic Vin de France.
- Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the two most widely planted white grapes, predominantly used in IGP wines
- Viognier “small but significant plantings”
- Grenache Blanc used for dry wines with full bodies, low acidity, and soft, peachy fruitiness—and like a peach it bruises (not really, it oxidizes) easily, so is often used in a Rhône-style white blend
- Muscat can make a dry, “grapey” still wine, but is also often used to make a fortified sweet wine
- Picpoul I mentioned in that last post, the region Picpoul de Pinet is located quite close to the coast, so those cool sea breezes help retain the high acidity, green fruits, and citrus notes of the white grape
- Other Local Varieties Include: Mauzac (in Limoux) Maccabeu (in Roussillon)—I’ve not had either of these…what are they like?
I believe I covered most of the key points regarding the region of Languedoc-Roussillon in my first South of France post. (Of course, if I forgot something or if you have any questions or comments, please let me know…I’m here to learn after all.) So, today, I want to do a closer look at Provence, which I didn’t get too much of a chance to talk about before.
The terroir of Provence is quite eclectic, broken up by a range of hills. The mistral does roll through this region as well, which is actually helpful in drying out the vineyards after scattered, seasonal rains. But many vineyards that lie in the foothills of these ranges are protected from the harshness of both the wind and the weather. Note: The climate of Provence is still considered Mediterranean, but just as in Roussillon and Languedoc, there are areas that are influenced by the ocean as well.
Rosé is the name of the winemaking game here in Provence, with the predominant grape varieties being Grenache and Cinsault. These are typically dry, pale in color, and light-bodied.
Red wine is produced and is produced in a variety of styles, from light and fruity to full-bodied, barrel-aged versions.
The white wine grapes of note are Clairette and Rolle (aka Vermintino). These produce light, aromatic white wines.
Côte de Provence
Côte de Provence is the largest appellation in the greater Provence region. Rosé, again, is the majority of wine production here. There are three “pockets” of vineyards along the coast of Côte de Provence that each have their own AC. Bandol is the one to know, producing premium red wine based on Mourvédre. As we know, Mourvédre is the happiest in the warmest of regions, so here in Bandol, located on the coast, it’s happiest on the south-facing, terraced slopes. The resulting wines are dark, full-bodied with strong tannins. It is recommended to age these wines in bottle before enjoying, as they develop additional flavors of meat, game, bramble, and licorice-like flavors.
Alright, be honest, how did I do? Anything you want to add about Provence? Have you had a Provence wine you’d like to recommend? Maybe a non-rosé?
PS If you want to geek out a little bit more about Provence rosé rules, regulations, and…bottling choices…check out this article I wrote for our March issue at Wine Business Monthly: The Choice for Rosé Glass Bottles is…Clear
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