The Wonderful Wines of Provence
By Peter Carnes
Over half a century ago, Elizabeth David, the doyenne of British food writers, wrote somewhat disparagingly about the wine of Provence.
“It was”, she wrote, “the kind of wine which it was wisest to drink out of a tumbler so that there was room for a large proportion of water”!
She was talking specifically about the wines of the Luberon, but her opinion of Provençal wines in general was not much higher.
“Most of them,” she wrote, “are made by the co-operative societies nowadays, and what they have lost in character they appear to have gained in fieriness.”
Well, what a surprise Ms David would have today!
It’s probably true to say that over the course of the last two or three decades the wines of Provence have increased in range, quality and popularity more than those of any other French wine area.
This has been due to a number of things: the harnessing of modern wine-making techniques, the introduction of new, hardier, more reliable grape varieties, and, of course, the arrival of a new breed of young, intelligent, dedicated winemakers.
Today the wines of Provence are amongst the most appreciated and sought-after in France.
And, best of all, they continue to improve!
It is convenient to divide the wines of Provence into two main areas.
Firstly, there are the wines of the Southern Côtes du Rhone, beginning just above Avignon and running practically the whole length of the Rhone valley.
Although some excellent white wines are produced, the region is best known for its fine, heady, powerful reds, which are particularly suited to the rich, spicy, full-flavoured food of Provence.
The most famous, of course, is Chateauneuf-du-Pape – and no visit to the region would be complete without a trip to that charming and totally wine-dominated little town. But there are other, equally illustrious, although not quite so well-known, labels, such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Hermitage, etc.
Further south, one starts to encounter the less-famous but steadily improving wines designated simply as Wines of Provence. There are eight appellations d’origine controlées wines, as follows:
AOC Cotes de Provence: Best known until now for its fresh, light rosés, this appellation also produces wonderful, herb-flavoured reds and an increasing range of aromatic whites, many of which will continue to improve with age.
AOC Coteaux d’Aix en Provence: Reds, whites and rosés, continually improving, mostly made to be drunk young and fresh.
AOC Les Baux de Provence: The appellation refers only to the reds and rosés. These are strong, elegant wines developing faint but distinct truffle flavours with age.
AOC Palette: An appellation since 1948, these are outstanding red, white and rosé wines which can be laid down for many years.
AOC Coteaux Varois: Fresh, young wines of all categories, quite similar to Cotes de Provence, but made to be drunk younger and sooner.
AOC Cassis: Believe it or not, the oldest appellation in the whole of France! Full-bodied, fragrant white wines, perfectly suited to the wonderful fish and seafood of the region. Some reds and rosés also produced.
AOC Bandol: The whites and rosés are certainly worth trying, but this appellation produces really exceptional full-bodied reds which can be lain down for up to 30 years with no problem.
AOC Bellet: From the area above Nice, this apellation produces red, white and rosé wines, although the whites predominate. These are fresh, elegant wines with both almond and citrus flavours. The rosés have hints of honey aromas, and the reds a hint of cherry.
More and more wine merchants and supermarkets are starting to stock Provençal wines – but you may have to search for them. Compared to other wine regions of France, such as Bordeaux, Beaujolais, the Languedoc, etc. Provence produces a relatively small harvest – and the Provencal wine-lovers like to keep it for themselves! Certainly, the more well-known Cotes-du-Rhone wines are readily available. If you’re interested in trying some of the more obscure wines, have a word with a specialist wine dealer and see if he can order some for you.
Better still – visit Provence and buy them on site.
This article has been adapted from the author’s web site dedicated to the food, wine, restaurants and recipes of Provence.
You can check it out here: http://www.cafe-de-provence.com