No trip to the south of France would be complete without a generous sampling of the region’s well-known wines.
Not strictly the province of the connoisseur, wine on the French Riviera is as plentiful as the region’s storied light and, many would say, just as good for the soul.
A wide portion of the Côte d’Azur or French Riviera is taken up by the Côtes de Provence. In the vineyards of the region a number of factors combine to create especially good conditions for the making of wine. In addition to the siliceous soils and limestone, plus cultivation techniques honed over generations, the glorious sun contributes to the production of Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Tibouren grapes of exceptional quality.
The annual production of the region is more than 160 million bottles, 75% to 80% of that being the dry, fruity rosé for which the region is most famous. Redolent of pink grapefruit and other red fruits, the Provencal rosé is a young wine, perfect for the summer months when served as an aperitif or paired with salads, tomatoes Provencale, and other staples of the Mediterranean cuisine like Picodon, Pélardon, and Feta cheeses.
About 20% of the annual production of the Côtes de Provence is in red wines, which tend to be quite strong and full bodied across the area. Only 5% of local production goes to white wines, which are vigorous and fresh, but well paired to the local seafood.
Some of the oldest vineyards in France are in the Bandol region, which lies in the hills between La Ciotat and Toulon. Wine has been made in this area for more than 2,500 years. More than half the grapes grown in the Bandol are Mourvèdre, with Cinsault and Grenache also present. The annual production is about 5 million bottles, making the full-bodied, spicy Bandol reds the most famous of their kind from Provence.
Finally, Bellet, located just west of Nice in steeply sloping hills where no machinery can function, contributes an annual production of 100,000 bottles to the Provencal repertoire. Using local grapes like Pignerol and Mayorquin for whites, and Fuella and Braquet for red and rosé, vintners produce high quality, strikingly original wines. (Bellet is, in fact, the only part of the region famous for producing exceptional whites.)
For visitors on holiday, wine tours throughout the French Riviera and broader Provence region are a popular day-trip choice. These outings normally include tastings and often wine-appreciation courses. Many of the larger vineyards have restaurants and shops, and, depending on the historical nature of the property, other points of interest like historic homes and chapels.
The Château Sainte Roseline at les Arc-sur-Argens, for instance, a 45-minute drive from Nice airport, offers tours of its cloister and chapel as well as the property’s mature and beautiful gardens. In addition to being a working vineyard, it is often the site of musical, cultural, and gastronomic events.
Wine can scarcely be separated from life on the French Riviera; it is as much a part of the region’s tradition as fine cuisine and gambling in Monaco, and celebrity watching in Cannes. Local tourism offices and the concierge at your hotel will be able to provide information on tours to vineyards in the immediate area. In addition to sampling fine regional wines, these days trips are also an exceptional opportunity to visit the beautiful countryside of the Côte d’Azur.
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