Letting Provence out of the Bottle
It is now time of year when the insistent high temperature and stark light of summer time have retreated and Provence is bathed in a warm, golden glow that is like a lingering caress prior to the harsher days of winter. The mellow autumn season is the perfect time to explore this little piece of paradise on earth, which is also the oldest wine-growing region of France.
Vineyards have already been part of Provence’s sunlit landscapes ever since Greek sailors first landed on its shores in the 6th one hundred year BC. The rows upon rows of grapevines that stretch their own dark, gnarled branches up to the sun are as much a part of the region’s scenery and history as the tortured shapes of the olive trees, which they resemble.
Now that the main stream of visitors has departed, making it possible to ramble at leisure, stopping when and where the particular spirit moves you, for a meal or an overnight stay, allow us to take you on a tour of five of the region’s quality wine-growing areas.
In each one, we give you a simple recipe for earthly bliss: take a couple of outstanding vineyards, give a choice of nearby gourmet restaurants and charming hotels — some of which are available under one roof — and savour the combination in an environment that is one of Nature’s masterpieces.
The first vines were indeed planted around the coast by the Greeks, when they started Marseille, but it was the Romans who also deserve the credit for spreading vineyards throughout Provence. Now, they carpet the region, from its Mediterranean seaboard to its verdant inland valleys and forested hills, right up in order to its sculptured mountain ranges.
Within Roman times, all the wine produced was rosé, and that is still the colour of wine most often associated with Provence. But in addition to light, fruity rosés, perfect for summer drinking, the region furthermore produces a wide range of hearty reds and some surprisingly crisp whites.
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The fruit traditionally used for its reds are usually local varieties such as Mourvèdre (known as the dog-strangler! ), Tibouren plus Cinsault, now being blended along with international names such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache. The whites are a marriage of Provencal old-timers like Clairette, Ugni Blanc plus Marsanne, and relative newcomers to the region like Sauvignon Blanc plus Semillon.
Since 1935, when France developed a strict system of wines laws, the highest quality wines from a specified area are granted A. U. C status — Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. It is a tightly defined qualification of origin, ensuring that wines with all the A. O. C. label have got met a long list of requirements, including allowed grape varieties, maximum yields, minimal alcohol levels and vinification techniques.
The wine-growing areas of Provence stated in this article have all earned the appellation category: one as long ago as 1936, one as recently as 1995. With that kind of quality assured, you will find the wines sliding down therefore easily that we thought it best to provide a choice of nearby hotel/restaurants where one can rest from your tastings and gather strength for the next lap of the tour.
All the vineyards we describe are happy to have you come and taste their wines, and the vast majority have English-speaking staff. The opening hours we list at the end of the article were correct at time of going to press, but it never hurts to provide them a call before you go, just to check that there have been no changes.
Lastly, before we start, let us become quite clear that we will be getting just a few small sips from the huge and varied wine cellar which is Provence. We are merely uncorking a few sample bottles for you at a handful of remarkable vineyards. The region has countless other liquid assets for you to discover and add to your own personal address book. The votre santé!
Cassis: The oldest AOC in Provence (1936)
Allow us to begin at the very beginning, down on the particular Mediterranean Coast. Not far from where Greek sailors founded Marseille 26 centuries ago, the pastel-colored small port of Cassis nestles at the foot of Cap Canaille, France’s highest sea-cliff. From its picturesque harbour you can take a boat tour from the calanques, inlets of crystalline, deep-blue water carved into the white limestone coastline, or take the more lively option of admiring their transparent depths from above, by hiking along the well-marked, spectacular GR98-51 trail that edges the coast.
Once the view of these sparkling depths has worked up the thirst, internal refreshment is at hands, in the form of the excellent wines of Cassis, an unique phenomenon in Provence. In contrast to all the other wine-growing areas, which produce mainly reds and rosés, an excellent 75% of the wines of Cassis are crisp, clean whites, which are the ideal table companion to the well-known local fish stew, bouillabaisse.
Within the hillside above Cassis stands Château de Fontcreuse, a stately home once belonging to Colonel Teed, a British Army officer who dropped in love with the area and launched himself into winemaking in 1922. Nowadays the estate is run on exemplary lines by Jean-François Brando, the head of the Cassis vintners’ syndicate.
In the village of Cassis itself, and blissfully free of any bus tours, since they cannot park nearby, could be the elegant Clos Sainte-Magdeleine, which has most of its grapes, all organically produced, planted in terraces on the inclines of Cap Canaille, around the amazing Art Deco mansion. Its floral whites, with a definite tang of the sea to them, simply cry out for some fresh seafood to accompany them.
You will find a wide choice of dining places serving just that on the seafront. Among the best is Nino +33 (0)4 42 01 74 32 (Menu: 32EUR).. Their bouillabaisse is the genuine write-up and the service is relaxed and friendly. Just a little way out of Cassis, in an idyllic setting at the suggestion of the diminutive presqu’ile (promontory) of Port Miou, La Presqu’Ile (+33 (0)4 42 01 03 seventy seven Menus: 29 — 46EUR) may be worth seeking out for its combination of wonderful foods with a wonderfully romantic sea watch. To either work up an appetite or work off your meal, you will find five seaside tennis courts that may be rented by the hour.
If you would like to watch sunlight set over the sea, you have till November 1 to book straight into Les Roches Blanches (+33 (0)4 42 01 09 30; rooms 90 – 260EUR) a 24-room, 4-star hotel in a superb establishing, which closes for the winter. The nearby 27-room Hôtel de la Rade (+33 (0)4 42 01 02 97; Rooms 90 : 140EUR) stays open year-round and will give you the impression of going on a sail, without ever leaving shore. Poised over the sea, its teak patio with canvas-covered railings sets the particular nautical theme, which carries on inside, with seashell décor and metal portholes.
Bandol: The best-known AOC of Provence (1941)
A short, panoramic drive east of Cassis, the Bandol region spreads around the vacation resort of Bandol, with terraced vineyards climbing from the sea up to the Sainte Baume mountain range.
“Quality, not quantity, ” is the motto of the area’s winegrowers, and they adhere to a punishing set of regulations to live as much as that credo. Fresh rosés be aware of 55% of Bandol wines, but it is the gutsy, long-lived reds produced from the distinctive Mourvèdre grape plus aged in oak casks with regard to at least 18 months, that have made the area’s reputation.
On Sunday, December 4, Bandol will hold its yearly Fête du Millésime, a great chance to taste the new wines of this year’s harvest. There is always a theme – it is “Games” this year — and the wine producers have great fun getting dressed up. Join the crowd, which is abundant but happy, wandering along the interface from tent to tent, sampling and spitting, either into the spittoons provided, or directly into the sea. Right at the end of the day, the fish in the harbour must have a hard time swimming a directly line!
Like most beach towns, Bandol has a string of seafood dining places along the seafront. One of the best is the busy Auberge du Port (+33 (0)4 94 29 42 63; Menus: 32 — 42EUR). If you choose the Wine Fair, make very be certain to reserve! The more casual Wine Pub of the Auberge, the oldest a single in Bandol, serves an eminently reasonable 18EUR menu of barbequed meats and fish, with wine beverages by the glass.
Some of the greatest Bandol yellows, with a life expectancy of 20 years or more in good years, come from Château Pradeaux, which has been in the Portalis family since 1752. Just outside the beach town of Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, with an everlasting sea breeze protecting the vines from diseases, the château was created in the style of a Roman house. It is covered in rambling flowers, and has an assortment of friendly dogs snoozing in various corners.
Right in Saint-Cyr, is the four-star, 133-room Dolce Frégate (+33 (0)4 94 29 39; Rooms: 147 — 560EUR), a hotel with every contemporary comfort and convenience, as well as among the top ranked golf courses within France. Its facilities also include an inside heated pool, 3 tennis legal courts and a spa.
Just 15 minutes away, at the foot of the medieval hill-side hamlet of la Cadière d’Azur, Alain Pascal, the new star among Bandol vintners, named his domain, Le Gros’Noré, in memory of his father, a corpulent guy called Honoré, or ‘Noré, with regard to short. Alain, a former boxer, is a man who does not mince their words or compromise — especially on the quality of his wine beverages. Since 1997 he has been generating an outstanding red and a superb Mourvèdre-dominated rosé.
At the top of the village, L’Hostellerie Bérard (+33 (0)4 94 90 11 43; Rooms: 80 — 259EUR; Menus from 44EUR) is an inviting stop for a meal or for the night. Both an inviting 40-room inn housed in an 11th C convent and a fine regional restaurant, it has a superb view from its luminous dining room. Chef René Bérard shares his palpable love plus knowledge of Provençal food in the 4-day cooking courses he runs every month except January and August.
Côtes de Provence: The Biggest AOC of Provence (1977)
With a sprawling forty five, 000 acres of vines distributed from Aix-en-Provence to Nice, this appellation offers wines of every colour and style. Rosés make up 75% of the production, reds account for twenty percent and whites for just 5%.
The particular quickest way to get an overview of the immense quantity of vineyards is to visit the area’s Maison des Vins – the Vinotheque — in the medieval town of Les Arcs, on the river Argens. You are near to some spectacular scenery here, like the Pennafort gorges, where water cascades down deep-red rocks crowned simply by umbrella pines. At the Vinotheque you can sample a free selection of Côtes de Provence that changes every week and buy, at producers’ prices, any of the six hundred wines that are kept in stock.
In the idyllic countryside just outdoors Les Arcs, is Château Sainte-Roseline, a state-of-the-art vineyard located in a 12th century abbey. It is stopped at both for its consistently good yellows, whites and rosés, and for its Romanesque chapel, containing an enormous mosaic by Chagall and, in a crystal reliquary, the remarkably well-preserved 14th corpse of Sainte-Roseline himself.
Also in Les Arcs will be the recently built, magnificent Château Typeface du Broc, which combines two noble pursuits: winemaking and horse breeding. The château, with its stupendous Gothic-vaulted cellar, took four years of work and would be worth visiting even if you did not want to taste the particular wines. You would be wrong to pass them up, however. Everything on this fantastic estate, where peacocks strut close to self-importantly, is opulent and well-built, and the luscious, prize-winning reds, along with the full-bodied rosés, are no exception.
For dinner and the night, visit another marvel in the area: Chez Bruno (+33 (0) 4 94 85 93; Menu 56 – 110 EUR; Rooms: 84 — 130EUR), the particular truffle king of Lorgues. The genial, generous giant, Bruno may greet you in person, with the friendliness of a long-time friend. He also beams down as Jesus, from the humoristic mural of the Last Dinner painted on the walls of their restaurant! Do not take offence, but do take second helpings! The truffle menus are a gastronomic experience not to be missed, and four rooms await those who wish to process them in peace.
Opposite the particular deep-red cliffs of the Pennafort gorges, floodlit at night, the idyllic, Michelin-starred Hostellerie Les Gorges de Pennafort +33 (0)4 94 76 66 51; Menus: 49 — 110EUR; Rooms: 185 — 220EUR) is really a destination no self-respecting gourmet need to pass by. Its ebullient owner and chef, Philippe Da Silva, meals up such delicacies as a divine foie gras ravioli with Parmesan, and he always adds little extras, leaving you groaning with pleasure at the end of the meal. His wife Martine watches over the elegant, 16-room hotel, making sure that everything is of the same high standard as her husband’s cooking.