A Wine Lover’s Tour of the French Riviera
Most travelers come to the Côte d’Azur first and foremost for its magnetic coast. The beaches are of course the main attractions along France’s south eastern coast that stretches from Cassis to the Italian border, and are the main draw for chic travelers staying at luxury villa rentals in the French Riviera. As if the area were not attractive enough already, the region also boasts a delightful Mediterranean diet where with a cuisine that places its emphasis on seafood and fragrant spices like rosemary and thyme. But wait, something’s missing – we are, after all, still in France. What about the wine?
France is known for being serious about its grapes, and most people know that you can’t really go wrong with a nice Côtes du Rhône or a full-bodied Bordeaux. Though Provence’s wines may be lesser known, they definitely are not lacking in character!
The Reign of Rosé
The first thing to know about wine in the Provence/Côte d’Azur region is that it is revered for its rosé. In the department known as the Var, which covers 420 km of coastline and includes stunning towns such as Toulon and Hyères, rosés account for 45% of production, whereas white wines only account for a mere 5%! This traditional pink wine is dry and makes a good accompaniment to light dishes like salad and fish. Served cool, it is especially enjoyable on a sunny seaside terrace. As white wine is more rarely produced, to rely on it in this region is a faux-pas as locals usually choose to drink pink.
Notes of the Mediterranean
Though Provence provides about half of the country’s rosé, many critics fall in love with its bold, spicy, full-flavoured reds. The classic Mediterranean climate is defined by its abundance of sunshine and infrequent showers. Its particularly strong, dry wind called the Mistral actually has a positive effect on the vines, cooling the grapes from the heat and drying them after the rain. The vineyards benefit from a variety of types of soil, giving each wine its own distinct character.
Vineyards of the Riviera
Out of the eight wine regions of Provence, four occupy some part of the coastline. Côtes de Provence is the largest, followed by the Bandol, Bellet and Cassis regions. Each of these regions is part of the AOC labelling system (appellation d’origine controllé) that guarantees each wine was produced in a specific geographical location with local savoir-faire.
Côtes de Provence
The Côtes de Provence appelation covers a wide range of the coast including Toulon, Saint Tropez and Fréjus. This region is known for its dry and fruity rosé wines, which accounts for the vast majority of its production. Stop by Bormes-les-Mimosas, an adorable hilltop village known as one of the most abundant, colorful flowers in France. It also has some fantastic local wineries.
Wines from Bandol are made from grapes grown in the hills between La Ciotat and Toulon, and are internationally recognized for their quality. As one of the oldest vineyards in France, the Romans first started winemaking here approximately 2,500 years ago. Reds from Bandol are some of the best in Provence, known for their body and spice.
Located just West of Nice, the Bellet wine region is one of the smallest in France. Because of its proximity to Italy, Bellet wines are often similar to Italian wines. Hard to find anywhere other than Nice, the reds are voluptuous with spicy, peppery notes, while the rosés have notes of wild rose.
If you’re like me and prefer white wine to rosé, not to worry. Cassis is the only region in Provence that produces mostly white wine– over 75 percent. A high density of limestone in the soil makes it optimal for the production of white, and Cassis’ is considered the best in Provence. While the cassis berry liqueurs are produced primarily in northern France, you can still enjoy a Kir cocktail in the French Riviera (Crème de Cassis topped with white wine).
While sunbathing in the French Riviera, dedicate a part of the day to visiting some of its stunning vineyards. There are many classified estates along the stunning coast that offer guided tours and dégustations. Many luxury villa rentals in the French Riviera are within minutes of countryside brimming with local varieties of wine. Reserve in advance and make sure to enjoy the beautiful views while savouring the complex flavours of the coast.
About the author: Roxanne Bichard is a Montreal-born university student and travel blogger for Luxury Retreats. Currently finishing up her degree in Avignon, France, she has spent the past few months living in and exploring the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.