Provence: It’s Not Just for Rosé

Well . . . it’s mostly for Rosé.  After all, 80% (give or take a percent) of all the wine made in Provence is Rosé.

Carpe Vinum (the wine club I’m part of) is today — it’s my favorite Friday of the whole month! It’s also the coldest Friday of the whole month (maybe even the whole decade, if you believe the local weather oracles).  It’s Canada Cold here this morning (-1 without the windchill), but that won’t stop me from venturing out for Carpe Vinum — that’s what my Nanook of the North parka is for!  A couple of us are heading to France on vacation this summer (sidebar, I found a great resource while checking out Paris wine bars), so for the next 4 months, we’ll be doing an in-depth study of the French wine regions where we’ll be traveling.

Over the centuries, many cultures came, saw and conquered Provence, each leaving their mark on viticulture.  Grapevines in Provence can be traced back to sometime around 600BC, when the ancient Greeks established the city of Marseilles, which became a major trading port (and the source for bronze tchotchkes).  Marseilles began producing its own wine, trading and exporting it as early as 500BC.  Btw, women weren’t allowed to drink wine in ancient Marseilles (an obvious black mark on the history of civilization).  Hannibal marched his elephant army through Provence in 218BC, no doubt stopping for some Rosé along his way (you work up quite a thirst after marching a bunch of elephants through the Pyrennes).  Then came the parade of conquerers — the Romans, the Christians, Visigoths, Merovingians, Franks, Arabs, Saracens.  You get the picture.  They all left their mark.

Once you check a map, the climate in Provence is pretty obvious — Mediterranean.  Mild winters, warm summers, tons of sunshine, very little rainfall.  Provence has to deal with something called the Mistral Winds, which are great for cooling and drying things off in the vineyard (preventing pesky vineyard pests), but they can also beat the heck out of fragile grapes and vines.  Soils vary considerably in Provence, anything from limestone and shale (near the coast) to schist, quartz, clay and/or sandstone.


Map Credit

If you’ve ever been to Provence (which I have not, but I’ve read the brochure), Provence is an aromatherapists dream — it’s overrun with assorted shrubbery like lavender, rosemary and juniper.  It has to be one of the most relaxing places on the planet.    People say (people who have a lot more experience with Provence wines than I do), that this part of Provence terroir shines through in its wines.  Oh, I hope so!  I’m going to be looking for hints of lavenderwhispers of juniper, and reflections of rosemary in my wines today!

Everyone breathe in . . .

Photo Credit

The AOCs in Provence use a dizzying array of grape varieties and and even dizzier system for how much of what grape can be blended with another grape.  I read it twice, and I’m still bewildered.  All I really need for Carpe Vinum is a cheat sheet, so here goes:

The main grape varieties used to make Provence Rosé:  Grenache and Carignan.

The main grape varieties used to make Provence whites include (to varying degree):

  • Bourboulenc
  • Clairette
  • Grenache Blanc
  • Marsanne
  • Roussanne
  • Rolle (aka Vermentino)
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Semillon
  • Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano)

The main grape varieties used to make Provence reds include:

  •  Mourvèdre is the star!  After that, it’s all about blending in varying amounts with . . .
  • Grenache
  • Cinsault
  • Carignan
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Syrah

The primary appellations in Provence are:

  1. Côtes de Provence — The largest appellation in Provence, and as such, has a lot of climate and soil variations.  Accounts for 75% of all wine produced in Provence, and of that, 80% is Rosé.  The main grape varieties include Carignan, Cinsaut, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, some Cabernet Sauvignon (also the local reds Tibournen and Calitor). Côtes de Provence is large enough to have four sub-appellations:  Sainte-Victoire, La Londe, Fréjus, and Pierrefeu.
  2. Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence — Makes red, white and Rosé wines, using Grenache, Cinsaut, Mourvèdre, and small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon.  The white grape varieties used here include Bourboulenc, Clairette, Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon.
  3. Coteaux Varois de Provence — Specializes in red wines, made with Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.  An occasional white wine from Rolle.  Vines here are inland and at higher altitude, making them a bit more intense.
  4. Les Baux de Provence — The warmest appellation in Provence, focuses on reds from Grenache, Syrah and Cinsaut.  Blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.
  5. Cassis — The appellation for white wines in Provence, focusing on Clairette, Ugni Blanc and Marsanne.
  6. Bandol — The appellation for red wines in Provence, Mourvèdre is the star.  Both red and Rosé from Bandol tends toward spice notes.
  7. Palette — Tiniest appellation.  Mourvèdre is the star here, too.  If any lesser known grapes come into play, it’s in Palette.  There are only two estates here.
  8. Bellet — Red, white and Rosé.  The Rosé from Bellet is known for it’s nose of rose (hey, that rhymes!) petals.
  9. Pierrevert — the newest AOC in Provence, they’re still working out their kinks.

Provence Trivia:  The traditional bottle used for Provence Rosè is called a skittle, and it’s shaped like a bowling pin.  I used two different Provence Rosé skittles to make my wine bottle tiki torches, which, btw, is the most popular post in the history of this blog.  Apparently, I should do more crafts (shudder).


And with that . . . I’m heading out into the Canadian tundra.  I’m ready to taste Provence!
Stay tuned for our wine and food pairings.


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