Images of Provence and the Mediterranean sea…sipping rosé along the portside in the sunshine!
Then there is the Spanish influenced border region of Roussillon, giving us wines that truly express this culture; deep, dark, brooding and earthy flavours.
Quite a contrast in styles and quite a place to be right now if you’re a winemaker or grape grower!
Always renowned for lower quality wines (usually table wines), the southern area of France is now receiving much more, and well deserved attention as it has been literally invaded!
Lots of money, time, new techniques and skills have been invested into this region but more importantly different grape varieties have been planted.
Even winemakers from other countries, such as Australia (Hardy’s has bought vineyards here), have invested in this ancient land of wine to fulfil its potential.
These increased plantings of the more popular international grape varieties has gained a lot of attention, such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon etc. These are blended, with or without the original regional grape varieties. This has dramatically increased the quality of the wine in the region.
It is the place to be at the moment in France, and you’ll pick up some superb wines at great prices! Another reason for the investment of third parties is that they have found that there is a lot of limestone in the soil in certain areas, which is a huge asset in the production of quality wines.
Hopefully now, the majority of local growers have at last realised that quality is definitely better than quantity! It is worth remembering that over half of the entire of France’s wines are produced in the South of France, mainly table wines, so you can imagine what some of it tastes like!
Vin de Pays d’Oc is definitely a name you should look out for. This is ‘country’ classified wine, produced from grapes grown in any vineyards from Provence, Languedoc to Roussillon.
Usually, the more specific a place a wine is specified to be from, then the better quality it is. But, with this particular Vin de Pays category, you can find some really superb wines.
At one end, you have got the wines that have just graduated one step up from table wines but at the other end you have those winemakers that want to experiment; to produce wines out of the confines of the strict AC regulations so aren’t allowed this top status. The AC status imposes strict rules on which grape varieties to use, vine age, methods and many more, so this doesn’t leave much room for the entrepreneur, especially those now wanting to blend international grape varieties with regional ones from the area.
The reason is similar to the Italian IGT category of wines. Within this, the wines also vary in quality from average to the extreme top end prices fetched for some of the Super-Tuscans (these are ‘non-traditional’ Italian wines not allowed fine wine status for similar reasons- see Italy section to compare).
The Vin de Pays d’Oc category is more interesting than other Vin de Pays in France (Vin de Pays de Jardin de la France in the Loire Valley, Vin de Pays des Comtés Rhodaniens in Eastern France etc).
This is because traditionally in the South of France, mainly local varieties were grown and used to produce wine. Tradition dictates, and therefore AC regulations demand, that these varieties should still be used. Also that only a very small quantity of International varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, can be added to improve the blend?
As I have said, now foreign winemakers alongside local winemakers are experimenting and have replanted many vineyards with International grape varieties. A third are sold as single varietals, which is extremely helpful marketing wise. This is where the grape variety is actually stipulated on the label e.g. Chardonnay Vin de Pays d’Oc.
Or these regional grape varieties are blended with or without International varieties. Here they will always state Vin de Pays on the label, but they are allowed to add their own vineyard or name as well. This is a good thing as it is very important that these regional grape varieties are never ignored or eradicated. It is essential to the area to retain its sense of place. They bring many fine qualities to the table, such as brambles and herb flavours specific to the region.
But, in a marketplace where the consumer is becoming a lot more pro-active, aware and knowledgeable about wine, these other avenues of blending and ‘compromise’ to improve the quality and selling power of these wines is definitely the way forward.
Unfortunately, a lot of the vineyard owners don’t see it this way. I don’t blame them to be honest. The French Government have had to impose orders to rip up and replace grape varieties in 2011. Many people are trying to stop them.
Provence is famous for it’s rosé wines. These are now also improving in quality, but it is the red wines of Provence that you should look out for as well. These have dramatically improved by the allowance of 30% Cabernet Sauvignon being permitted by the Government into the blends of the top rated wines. The AC’s.
Côtes de Provences AC is the largest appellation. Bandol AC is another appellation, which seems to have its very own presence. Only here people seem to know and appreciate the wonders of Bandol AC wines- powerful, liquorice reds produced from the Mouvèdre grape. Keep your eye out for this little secret!
Within the Languedoc-Roussillon area, individual appellation wines to seek out are St-Chinian AC, Corbières AC, Costierès de Nîme AC and Minervois AC. These are blended, full-bodied, spicy red.
In the South-West, below Bordeaux, there are three distinct types of wine produced which are worth noting.
In Bergerac, you get similar Bordeaux-style red and white wines from the same grape varieties and blends, but with a lower price tag! Do experiment with these.
In Monbazillac AC, the famous sweet wine Monbazillac is produced. Very similar to Sauternes but not quite reaching the soaring quality and prices!
Finally you have Cahors AC. This is further towards the border with Spain and is very Spanish in its influence and culture. Here the Malbec grape is grown, surprisingly (this is normally associated with Argentina). Intense, cedar-like, spicy reds are a wonder!
Of course, there are still those local growers who stick with tradition and there is naturally a large market for lower priced, standard table wine. But just be aware of these progressions and superb wines that can be found within the region or you’ll miss out!
At least because of these developments, I would like to hope that there would be an end to us chilling the life out of Southern France’s rosé wines and white wines so you can’t taste the flavours?!
- Full-bodied, spicy, brambly and herbed reds
- Dry and fruity rosés
- Herbal, dry whites
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Merlot (reds)
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Many local varieties
- Bandol AC
- Domaine de la Grange des Pères (Vin de Pays d’Oc red)