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Provence Wine - Need to know

Grape varieties, appellations, soil types, history

Wine is meant to be fun. And here in Provence we are fortunate to have on our doorstep the very best way to enjoy it, touring the Provence wine region: visiting vineyards, crumbling the soil between our hands, talking to the vigneron and then buying some bottles to take home and sample later.

Before you go out wine tasting in Provence here are some key facts you need to know.

Provence white wine grape varieties include: Rolle, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, Ugni Blanc,Bourboulenc, Roussanne, and Semillon Blanc

Provence red wine grape varieties include: Carignan, Cinsault, Counoise, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvedre

88% of the region’s production is rosé, and if you want to become a real expert scroll down to The Rosé Experience box below.

There are nine different wine appellations in Provence, as set out on the map below. Geographically they are amazingly diverse from the heat baked planes of Les Baux de Provence, which are so arid and hot they were once used as the backdrop for Spaghetti Westerns, to the sea-wind cooled slopes of Bandol and Cassis.

Limestone soils dominate to the west of the region. Further east the terroir is more likely to be granite.

Viticulture in Provence dates back to the 6 century BC, but in recent history Provence wines tend to have been seen as poor quality. All this is changing with estates such as Domaine de Trevallon in Les Baux de Provence producing internationally recognised wine.

           
           

Map of Provence Wine Regions

Provence wine map
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How to buy wine in Provence

To enjoy the best Provence wine tasting ever, follow these tips

As a general rule it's always good to buy wine from the immediate area in which you live or are staying. Supermarket wine tends to be sub-standard, so either visit the vineyards direct or find a good independent retailer such as the VcommeVin in Apt.

The price entry point for a bottle of decent wine in the Provence wine region is around €7. Pay less than this and you are going to regret not spending a little more the next day. Many vineyards are now organic and you can expect to pay €10 and upwards for a bottle of organic wine. Red wine tends to be marginally more expensive than white, with pink wines the cheapest. Expect to pay €20 and upwards for a bottle of red or white from a well known vineyard with ageing potential.

Particularly when buying Provence rose wine beware of expensive packaging. A pretty pink colour and a trendily shaped bottle often hide sub-standard wine. If in doubt opt for rosé in a standard bottle at around €10 bottle.

Provencal red wine can be a little strong and heavy in the summer months. Ask producers if they make a lighter wine more in the style of a Burgundy. Producers such as Bastide du Claux in the Luberon are renowned for making more palatable summer reds.

Good white wines are much harder to source in Provence. Provence whites can be a little too floral for many palates. The appellation of choice for a very decent Provencal white is Cassis.

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Provence vineyard visits

The best Provence France Wine Tour

Relax, we've done the hard work for you. Below you will find a selection of the best vineyards to visit in Provence, enabling you to organise your own Provence wine tasting tour. Occasionally you will need to phone in advance to arrange a visit, but normally you can just drop in for a tasting. In the smaller vineyards, the winemaker will usually offer you a wine tour, encompassing the cave where the wines are made, the tasting room, the cellar and a trip out into the fields. In larger vineyards there maybe a requirement to pay a small amount of money (around €10) for a guided wine tour. Usually this amount will be offset against any purchase of wine.

There are numerous tour operators specialising in wine in provence, offering trips around the provence wine region, particularly the southern Cote du Rhone vineyards around Avignon. Try for example Celine Viany at Le Vin a la Bouche, who is an expert local guide.

           
           
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Luberon Vineyard Reviews

Luberon vineyard driving tour

Leave Bonnieux and head towards Menerbes. At Menerbes choose between stopping at Domaine de La Citadelle and Domaine Ruffinato. Domaine Ruffinato offers a smaller more familial experience with tastings on rainy days taking place in the family kitchen. The red wine in particular is excellent. Domaine de La Citadelle is a larger domaine with a greater choice of wines and grape varities. The pink is very good. There is the added attraction of the corkscrew museum.

Leave Menerbes and head towards Robion. Take the road to Cheval Blanc and then follow signs towards Pertuis. At Lauris, head for Domaine de Fontenille. A new luxury hotel has been built around an old wine estate. The white wine is one of the best region has to offer. Tour the new tasting rooms and then lunch in the bistrot or the main restaurant.

After lunch head towards Lourmarin. Stop at Les Caves de Chateau, a wine shop underneath the Chateau de Lourmarin, which has a very large selection of wine from local vineyards. Try in particular Bastide du Claux for the light Burgundy style of its reds and Domaine de Masques, which due to its altitude can also produce a red with a lighter touch.

From Lourmarin take the road back towards Bonnieux. The last stop of the day is Chateau La Canorgue, the wine estate used for the filming of A Good Year, starring Russell Crowe. The Viognier in particular is excellent.

           
           

Les Alpilles Vineyard Reviews

The Provence Rosé Experience

Everything you always wanted to know about Provence rose wine

First let's bust a myth. Rosé is not made by mixing red and white wines. Well it is sometimes in Champagne, but that's another story. In the rest of France including Provence rose wine is made from red grapes or occasionally from grapes which are very lightly coloured and known as 'gris' or grey. Rosés achieve their colour from the time the juice of the grapes spends in contact with the red skin. A direct press of a red grape will result in a very lightly coloured rosé. Often the juices of red grapes are left on the skins for one night, with the vigneron carefully controlling the process until the perfect colour is arrived at. These rosés are commonly called rosés d'une nuit. As a general rule the longer the juice spends in contact with the skins the darker the colour of the rosé and the fuller the flavour.

The current trend is for very pale rosés which are dry and light often with perfumed floral notes. Historically rosé was thought of as a second rate wine. It tended to be made from the grapes that had not matured well enough to produce decent red. With the boom in rosé production this is no longer true. Often a Provence estate's flagship product will be its rosé.

           
           
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Aix en Provence Vineyard Tour

Leave Aix and head north towards Le Puy Sainte Reparade on the D14. Stop for a tasting and to admire the art work at the stunning Chateau La Coste. Head towards Jouques. Follow the road through the village towards Rians. Choose between a tasting at Chateau Revelette, and Chateau Vignelaure. Both produce reds which age like fine Bordeaux. Chateau Vignelaure offers a more formal tasting tour.

From Jouques head south towards Puyloubier. Stop at Domaine de Richeaume, to taste wine from one of the oldest organic estates in the area. Once again the red is the star. Next head towards Le Tholonet. Just before Le Tholonet, at St Antonin de Bayon follow signs for Domaine de Masques. The views from the long dirt track leading up to the vineyard are worth the trip alone. Thanks to its altitude the Domaine can produce atypical white wines. The viognier in particular is delicious.

           
           
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Harvest Time

Or as the French call it - 'Le Vendange'

Harvesting in Provence tends to start in the last week of August/the first week of September. The hotter the summer, the more mature the grapes, the earlier the harvest. Different wine regions within Provence start harvesting at different times. A general rule is that the higher a vineyard is above sea level, the later the harvest. This is because average temperatures will be slightly lower in vineyards that enjoy altitude. Many vineyards that enjoy some altitude and harvest late, claim they are able to pack more flavour into the finished wine. There is no proof of this!

During the harvest is a great time to organise a Provence wine tasting tour. More and more vineyards are choosing to harvest by hand rather than machine. The process is expensive, but hand harvested grapes are less frequently bruised in picking and the resultant wine is of higher quality. Many vineyards are happy to receive volunteers to help out with the harvest and participants will typically be rewarded with a couple of hearty meals and as much wine as they can drink.

Note some 'bio-dynamic' vineyards only start harvesting when the moon enters a favourable phase.

           
           
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