Provence Wines: A Guide to One of France’s Most Underrated Regions

Provence Wines, Cotes de Provence

A sun-soaked vacation in Provence ranks high on the bucket lists of many travelers. Rightfully so, considering the numerous pristine beaches along the crystalline blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Not to mention the charming villages sprinkled along the coast, each boasting historic sites and impeccable restaurants. Though travelers flock here year after year, the wines of Provence have flown somewhat under the wine world’s radar. Well, unless we’re talking about the region’s world-famous refreshing rosés. Yet Provence has so much more to offer than wine lovers favorite pink drink. In recent years, lesser-known appellations for Provence wines have started making a name for themselves. Get ready to explore red, white, and rosé wines of Provence with this guide to the region.

Location

Provence is situated along the coast in the southeast corner of France. It’s bound by the Rhône River to the west and the breathtaking Côte d’Azur to the east. The rugged mountainous terrain of the region delivers a range of elevations, soils, and microclimates for growers to work with. These hillsides also protect vineyards from the mistral winds gusting through the region.

The Provençal terrain is mainly dominated by limestone and crystalline soils. Each contribute to the brisk acidity of Provence wines. Plus, these poor, well-drained soils are ideal for growing quality grapes from an array of varieties.

A ton of wild lavender, juniper, and other Mediterranean shrubs grow throughout the region. They’re thought to influence the aromas and flavors of the wines of Provence with their distinctive fragrance. This quality is known as garrigue when the wild shrubs grow on limestone and clay soils. Alternatively, it’s called maquis when the plants grow on the crystalline schist soils of the region.

In total, there are around 26,680 hectares (66,370 acres) of vineyards growing in Provence. Over 600 producers currently make wine in the region, 61 of which are cooperatives. Together, they produce over 175 million bottles of wine every year! Rosé accounts for most wine made at 89% of total production. Whereas red wine claims around 7% and white wine just 4% of all Provence production.

Climate of Provence

In addition to the ideal weather for summer vacation, Provence also boasts the perfect climate for grapes. The sunny, dry, hot Mediterranean climate typically gives vines around 2,800 hours of sunshine per year. Then, the mistral winds play a crucial role in allowing the vines to thrive. They help keep the vineyards dry and blow out any humidity which might otherwise encourage harmful diseases and fungus for the vines. Plus, the nearby Mediterranean Sea offers a moderating, cooling influence when temperatures get too high.

provence wines, côtes de provence

Grapes Grown in Provence

Did you know Provence is where the vine was first introduced to France? Around 2,600 years ago, when the Phocaeans first founded Marseille, they brought their grapevines with them.

Over the last 26 centuries, winemaking has come a long way in Provence. Today, there are more than a dozen grape varieties planted in the region. Consequently, the winemakers of Provence are masters at crafting balanced and harmonious blends.

Common White Grape Varieties in Provence

Rolle

Also known as Vermentino, Rolle is a grape variety which has always grown in Provence. It’s known for citrus, pear, almond, and fennel flavors. The variety balances blends and contributes weight on the palate.

Ugni Blanc

In Tuscany where the variety originated, Ugni Blanc is known as Trebbiano. It’s a vigorous and productive vine known for making fruity, elegant wines.

Clairette

A traditional variety in Provence, Clairette contributes aromas of white flowers, hazelnut, and apricot to blends along with a rich mouthfeel.

Sémillon

This vigorous variety is used sparingly in blends, as its aromas and richness can overshadow other grapes. In small proportions, Sémillon rounds out blends and adds aromas of honey, apricot, and white flowers.

Grenache Blanc

Initially from Spain, Grenache Blanc makes full-bodied, opulent wines with low acidity. Expect peach, melon, and delicate floral aromas.

Bourboulenc

A rustic variety indigenous to Provence, Bourboulenc is mainly used to add elegance and roundness to blends with its citrus and floral aromas.

Prominent Red Grape Varieties in Provence

Grenache

This variety of Spanish origin has great resistance to the heavy winds common in the region, as well as potential drought conditions. Grenache brings body and intensity to blends, along with spicy red fruit aromas and flavors.

Cinsault

Native to Provence, Cinsault has long been used in the production of the region’s famed rosés. It brings freshness and vivaciousness to wines with a fruity character to support the other grapes in the blend.

Syrah

Syrah is known for distinctive, deeply colored wines with rich tannins and a plush mouthfeel. It adds to the age-ability of blends while contributing black fruit notes and meaty aromas.

Mourvèdre

Long established in Provence, Mourvèdre is known for its power and a robust tannic structure. Its wines have aromas of violet, blackberries, and elegant spices with a velvety, supple texture.

Tibouren

Indigenous to Provence, Tibouren only grows in Var and nowhere else in France. It’s ideal for rosés, producing elegant, delicate wines and lifting the other aromas in the blend.

Carignan

A traditional variety of the south of France, Carignan expresses best when produced in low yields. It’s often found on hillside sites with poor soils in Provence. Carignan adds generous structure and color to blends while producing wines with raspberry, cherry, and prune aromas.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Though used sparingly in Provence wines, Cabernet Sauvignon offers tannic structure with great aging potential. This Bordeaux variety showcases black currant, green pepper, and tobacco aromas.

Appellations for Provence Wines

Provence Rosé, Provence Wines

Though there are several appellations in Provence, Côtes de Provence, Coteaux D’Aix-En Provence, and Coteaux Varois En Provence account for 96% of the region’s total wine production.

Côtes de Provence AOC

Established in 1977, the Côtes de Provence AOC covers over 20,000 hectares across the departments of Var, Bouches-du-Rhône, and one village in the Alpes-Maritimes. The appellation encompasses eight production areas including Bordure Maritime, Notre-Dame des Anges, Haut Pays, Bassin du Beausset, Sainte-Victoire mountain, Fréjus, La Londe and Pierrefeu.

Five of these production areas have a distinctive style, earning them complementary geographic designations:

  • Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire
  • Côtes de Provence Fréjus
  • Côtes de Provence La Londe
  • Côtes de Provence Pierrefeu
  • Côtes de Provence Notre-Dame des Anges

The principal red grapes used in Côtes de Provence are:

  • Cinsault
  • Grenache
  • Syrah
  • Mourvèdre
  • Tibouren

The main white grapes include:

  • Clairette
  • Rolle
  • Sémillon
  • Ugni Blanc

Côtes de Provence Wine Styles

Red wines typically have an intense ruby red color and fruity notes of strawberry, cherry, raspberry, and black currant with supple tannins. Some can be age worthy and express aromas of spices and garrigue.

Rosés from this AOC produce wines with a pale pink color and a range of aromatics including a variety of citrus, red fruit, exotic fruit, and herbal aromas. These Provence wines are clean and refreshing on the palate with tangy acidity.

White wines are generally a pale-yellow color in the glass with delicate aromas of pear, exotic fruits, citrus, herbs, and florals. They’re often generous but not overly opulent on the palate with vibrant acidity.

Coteaux D’Aix-En-Provence AOC

Founded in 1985, the Coteaux D’Aix-En Provence covers the most westerly area for Provence wines. The appellation encompasses 4,127 hectares in total. This includes the area from the Mediterranean Sea to the Durance and the Rhône Valley in the west to Sainte-Victoire Mountain in the east.

The main red grapes used in Coteaux D’Aix-En-Provence include:

  • Cinsault
  • Grenache
  • Counoise
  • Mourvèdre
  • Syrah

Rolle is the primary white grape of the AOC, supplemented by:

  • Bourboulenc
  • Grenache Blanc
  • Clairette
  • Ugni Blanc
  • Sémillon

Coteaux D’Aix-En-Provence Wine Styles

Red wines are deep and complex with impressive aromatic intensity. Expressive red fruit, black fruit, and spice aromas like liquorice and black pepper are common. Their flavor concentration, tannins, and fresh acidity make some of these wines worthy of aging.

Rosés are intense, fruity, and complex on the nose with red fruit, peach, and citrus flavors. They’re characterized by a round yet fresh mouthfeel and occasionally a mineral-laden finish.

The white wines are often a pale-yellow color in the glass with intense aromas of orchard and citrus fruits. They’re loaded with fresh acidity, along with lemon and exotic fruit flavors.

Coteaux Varois En Provence AOC

Established in 1993, the Coteaux Varois En Provence AOC comprises 2,633 hectares around the Sainte-Baume massif. Vineyards grow in limestone soils at elevations ranging from 350m to 500m above sea level. This mountainous terrain gives the AOC more of a continental climate.

The primary red grapes of Coteaux Varois En Provence are:

  • Cinsault
  • Grenache
  • Mourvèdre
  • Syrah

While the main white grapes used include:

  • Clairette
  • Grenache Blanc
  • Rolle
  • Sémillon
  • Ugni Blanc

Coteaux Varois En Provence Wine Styles

Red wines have an intense ruby or garnet color in the glass with black fruit, spice, and leather aromas. They’re typically full-bodied with silky tannins and concentrated flavors.

The rosés from this AOC have a pale salmon or light pink color in the glass. Expect complex and expressive aromas of stone fruits, citrus, red fruits, and exotic fruits. They also offer a more full-bodied, intense, and persistent palate.

White wines here are generally a pale-yellow color in the glass with expressive aromas of white fruit, citrus, exotic fruits, and delicate white florals. They’re lively on the palate with fresh flavors and a round mouthfeel.

Les Baux de Provence

Located just north of the city of Arles, this is the hottest vineyard area in Provence. Vineyards grow on the hillsides of the Alpilles Mountains and the mistral blow heavily through the region. Consequently, fungal disease is uncommon, making this a primary area for biodynamic and organic viticulture. Around 41% of producers here work within these practices.

Les Baux de Provence produces primarily red wines made from Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is one area in Provence where Cabernet Sauvignon is favored more prominently.

Cassis

Cassis was the first AOC for Provence wines founded in 1936. The region nestles along the Mediterranean coast east of Marseille. After phylloxera wiped out the vineyards of Cassis, they were replanted with mainly white varieties for which the region is known today.

Marsanne and Clairette are the primary grapes planted here. They make wines with finesse and intense aromas of citrus, stone fruits, dried herbs, and salinity.

Bandol

After phylloxera wiped on the vineyards in Bandol, Mourvèdre became the dominant grape of the region. Mourvèdre is well-suited to the poor, arid sandy marl and limestone soils found here. Plus, as a late-ripening variety it’s perfect for the hot temperatures found in this part of the south of France.

While Mourvèdre rules production with rich, intense red wines, you’ll also find white blends made from Clairette, Ugni Blanc, and Bourboulenc in Bandol.

Palette

Palette is a tiny, obscure AOC tucked away below Coteaux D’Aix-En-Provence. The vineyards are planted to a mixture of limestone and clay soils which grow around twenty-five different varieties. Mourvèdre is the most planted variety, dominating the regions red and rosé wines along with Grenache. These wines must be aged for a minimum of 18 months in oak and are reminiscent of Bandol.

White wine accounts for 37% of Palette’s production, featuring varieties like Clairette, Picardin, Bourboulenc and other lesser-known grape varieties. The AOC requires white wines and rosé be aged eight months prior to release.

Bellet

You’ll find Bellet on the far eastern edge of Provence amidst the steep hills surrounding Nice. Rolle dominates white wine production, though uncommon grape varieties are frequently used here as well. Furthermore, the Bellet AOC is the only appellation for Provence wines which permits the use of Chardonnay. Braquet and Folle Niore dominate red and rosé wine production here.

Pierrevert

Finally, Pierrevert is situated in the Alpes de Haute Provence near the Luberon. The AOC was established in 1998. Red and rosé wines here are typically blends of Grenache and Syrah supplemented by Cinsault and Carignan. Whereas Grenache Blanc, Rolle, Marsanne, and Roussanne are the main white varieties grown. Pierrevert is known for rosé production in which a minimum of 50% must be made with the saignée method. It’s the only AOC in Provence where this technique is permitted.