Wine Guide
Provence fine wine
Its very name conjures up images of blues skies reaching to even bluer seas; the sound of cicadas and warm, sunny days. France’s Provence region set in the eastern corner between Toulon and Nice offers some of the country’s most drinkable, although sadly not yet most investable, wines. Despite the lack of economic data on the region’s wine, we have seen sustained product demand for wines from Provence, and growth has been steadily rising since 2002. Exports of Provencal wine - notably rosé - have risen by 500% in 15 years, so this is definitely a region to watch.
From sea to sky
Provence’s unique setting between mountains and sea results in a wide range of soil, which in turn results in a vast range of wine. These same mountains protect the grapes from the infamous Mistral wind, although when the wind does blow, it has the added bonus of being a natural pesticide, and keeps the grapes cool. A clement climate, very little rainfall and over 3,000 hours of sun per year make for wonderful conditions for the various grapes. However, the varied soil and sub-soil lack uniformity, with limestone, shale, schist and quartz deposits closer to the coast, and clay and sandstone further inland. Typical Provencal plants such as thyme, lavender and rosémary can be seen growing almost everywhere, which affects the bouquet and perfume of the wines. Around 36 wine varieties are allowed in Provence.
Rosé wine - A Benchmark for Provence
Nine regions: Les Baux de Provence, Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, Coteaux de Pirrevert, Coteaux Varois de Provence, Palette, Cassis, Bandol, Cotes de Provence and Bellet make up the Provence wine region. Relatively small for a wine region - just 150 kilometres long and 100 kilometres wide, this is the most varied of all the wine regions in France. Despite still being still largely undervalued, some vineyards such as Bégude, Bunan, Ch de Bellet, Gavoty, Hauvette, Pibarnon, Richeaume, Rimauresq, Trévallon, Vannières are becoming well-known on the French investable wine circuit.

Most of us will be familiar with the region’s many rosés (88% of the region’s production). In France, sales of rosé have eclipsed white wine. This is where Provence reigns supreme - nothing captures the feeling of summer quite as effectively as a chilled bottle of the pink drink. These wines tend to be very pale in colour, light-bodied and dry on the palate, and display delicate flavours of grapefruit and red fruits. However, red wines (9% production) range from fresh and fruity to more full-bodied, barrel matured styles. The best white wines (just 3% production) often make a feature of the aromatic qualities of Rolle or Clairette.

However, rosé is very definitely the star of the show here, and not only because it captures a way of life that is envied the world over. Nonetheless, reds are not to be overlooked, particularly those from Les Baux de Provence. Think Cassis for Provence white wines, particularly Château de Fontcreuse, Clos Sainte Magdeleine, Domaine de la Ferme Blanche and Domaine Saint Louis for drinking, if not investing, purposes.
Bandol - a ferocious fine red wine that warrants (re)discovery
This superb, overlooked region produces perhaps the most noteworthy wines of all Provence. If Provence is all about rosé, then Bandol is the exception where red rules supreme. The secret of Bandol red wine is the perfect marriage of the Mourvedre grape, which combines a Cabernet-like elegance with a rustic charm, the warm Mediterranean sun, and low yields from the poor, rocky soil. The result is long-lived (ten years at a minimum) wines of unrivalled grip and intensity.

Although current production stands at 20% red, 75% rosés and 5% white wines produced in the Bandol region, this is a far cry from the 80% red and only 20% white/rose of the past.
“One vine, One bottle”
Bandol farmers have held true to this adage for centuries, hence the region has the lowest yields in France. Yet the area has established a reputation that reaches far beyond French borders and wines from Bandol are perhaps the best ambassador of quality wine for Provence.

If rosé is the people’s choice for summer, the Mourvèdre-dominated, stimulating, mouth-filling, flavoursome, well-structured Bandol red is the perfect choice for winter. These wines have the added bonus of also being the most age-worthy. The wine is distinguished by deep colour and intense flavours of black fruit, vanilla, spicy concentration and meaty notes. Fiercely tannic when young, it is aged in oak for 18 months and drinks well, but has the potential to improve for up to a decade.

Purists maintain that the red wine is the best expression of Provence, and lobby hard to change the world’s view that the Provence is limited to aromatic pinks meant for summer drinking. Perhaps one of the best statements of Mourvèdre worldwide, Bandol red wine is made from small grapes that grow tight clusters and need those famed 3,000 hours of sunshine to ripen fully. The Mas de la Rouvière is a fine example that is made from a base of Mourvèdre with lesser volumes of Grenache and Syrah. It has briary hedgerow scents and complex flavours of black fruit, game leather and spices over a background of rugged tannins that sweeten and soften with bottle age. It will cellar well for at least a decade and makes an excellent partner to grilled red meat dishes.

Noteworthy rosés from Bandol that would benefit from conservation and perhaps price increase would be Domaine du Tempier (from the “Godmother of rosé”), and its next-door neighbour, Domaine du Gros Nore. Both wines use traditional methods and focus on the Mourvedre grape. Clos Sainte Magdalene in Cassis and Château Simone from Palette are two others that might be worth a look, with the latter already making waves with collectors and investors alike.

But this is a region where life is literally rosy. Provencal rosé makes up over 30% of the worlds pink wine production, although production has tripled in the US and Spain over the last 10 years. Rosé makes up 10% of the global wine consumption, proving that wines from Provence are gaining in popularity among enthusiasts, so it will only be a matter of time before investable wines come onto the market. Trends show that the top four producers of Cotes de Provence will soon be able to produce a product that is worth keeping, not drinking, for a rainy day (although we agree both are fine)! It is worth noting that producers are more important all over Provence, rather than the coveted AOC designation.
Côtes de Provence - four producers worth knowing about:

With hundreds of acres of vineyards to choose from, the village of Puyloubier has a lot to offer the wine tourist. But, conscious investors have been keeping a close eye on Chateaux Richeaume for some time now. Not gaining the holy grail of classification - the AOC - through choice rather than quality, the rosé is brilliant and the whites, which include a wonderfully well-defined sauvignon blanc, are excellent. They keep extremely well too. Reds include an often wonderful pure syrah, which some consider the best in Provence.
  • 2011 Domaine Richeaume Cuvee Tradition, awarded Mundus Vini GOLD award in 2015 for (S Rhone Red blend)
  • 2012 Domaine Richeaume Cuvee Columelle Blanc, Vin de France, awarded Decanter World Wine award SILVER in 2017 (rare white blend)
Better known for beaches, Brigitte Bardot and beautiful people, Saint Tropez has some good wine, although we think it may be some time before anything investable comes on to the market. One noteworthy producer, however, is Riotor, set about 30 kilometres inland. Owned by the Abeille family of the noted Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate Château Mont-Redon, the fresh, aromatic rosés are worth considering, if only for your palette.
  • 2016 Château Riotor Cotes de Provence Rose, 90 score / Wine Enthusias
  • 2012 Château Riotor Cotes de Provence Rose 15.5/20 Jancis Robinson MW
La Londe des Maures
Found in the west of the region, much of the wine produced here is consumed and kept locally. Château Galoupet has been consistent in its superiority, with an average score of 88/100 in the past five years.
  • 2015 Château du Galoupet Cotes de Provence Rose scored 91 / Wine Enthusiast
  • 2015 Château du Galoupet Cotes de Provence Rose, Decanter World Wine Awards SILVER in 2016
Roquefort la Bédoule
Often overlooked by it’s larger and better-known neighbour Château de Roquefort (itself excellent) Château de Barbanau makes excellent dry, fresh white wine. Using only organic farming methods (think sheep that nibble away at any unwanted weeds), the Château makes 100,000 bottles spread in the following way: 50% of rosé wine, 40% of red wine and 10% of white wine.
  • 2016 Château Barbanau Cotes de Provence 'La Girafe Verte' Rosé scored 86 / Wine Enthusiast 2017
  • 2014 Château Barbanau Cotes de Provence ‘La Girafe Verte’ Rosé scored 86 / Wine Enthusiast 2015
And finally - What is an AOC?
The French classification system seems to be on anything that the French value as their gastronomic heritage, so don’t be surprised to see the letters AOC on butter, cheese, chicken, lentils and even lavender! The letters stand for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée and is the highest destination that can be given. This means that the product has met with the strict restrictions and requirements laid out by the AOC governing body. In the case of wine, because its quality is dependent on many variables such as weather and soil conditions, there is no guarantee that an AOC wine one year will be awarded the same status the next. The AOC is widely considered to be one of the best in the world (certainly the best in Europe) but has been criticised for its lack of flexibility in terms of innovation. However, purists will agree that with the strict parameters (only certain grapes can be grown, only certain pruning methods can be used) there is nothing better for keeping traditional winemaking methods alive.