Salut to Cote d'Azur wines.
The Cote d'Azur is famous for its beautiful golden beaches, lovely countryside, excellent food and fine wines. This is the oldest wine growing region in France and the leading producer of rosé wines. The character of the wines is synonymous with sunshine and holidays and is the perfect drink for beaches, picnics and al fresco dinners or sharing together as the sun sinks below the horizon...
A long history...
The vine was first brought to the south of France by the Phoenicians when they founded Marseilles 2,600 years ago, and today the vineyards of the region extend more than 200 kilometres and are divided into five areas. The geology of the area is diverse with a large area of limestone to the north and crystalline to the south. The soil is on the whole fine and well drained and gives the wine their distinct character. There is breeze from the local Mistral and glorious sunshine for more than 300 days each year, with no summer rain, so the area is perfect for vine cultivation. The Cote d’Azur, which is part of the Provence wine region, produces 160 million bottles of wine per annum. The rosés produced are pale in colour, fruity and full-bodied to taste, whilst the red wines are rich in colour and also full-bodied. In contrast, the whites produced are soft and silky on the palate.
The importance of Rosé IN THE CÔTE D'AZUR
In the last decade, the area has become the leading producer of rosé wines in France, producing 45% of the country's rosé wines which accounts for 36% of the world's total production. Exports of rosé wine have quadrupled in 20 years and are now worth more than 670 million euros. The French are not only the biggest producers of rosé but are now the biggest drinkers of rosé wines too - consuming 38% of the world total. The wine makers in Cote d'Azur have carefully marketed their rosés, focusing on an upmarket image and making them easy identifiable – producing excellent pale coloured dry rosés with little added sugar.
Pairing great food with fine wine
One of the great joys about visiting Cote d'Azur is the wonderful colour and flavours of its foods. Its markets showcase its abundant locally grown produce as well as its olives, olive oils, fresh fish and traditional dishes. What better accompaniment to a meal in the glorious sunshine than a glass - or two - of local wine? There are seven grape varieties grown in the area to produce the red and white wines: Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon. The varieties grown for the area's soft whites are Rolle Vignes blanc, Clairette and Semillon. It is fun to visit some of the local wineries and gain an insight into wine production and if you are planning to take some bottles home in your suitcase, what better way than buying them directly from their producer? In Nice, Domaine de Toasc can be found on the hillsides about ten kilometres from the town. The winery covers 12 hectares, with ten of these dedicated to vines and the other two hectares to olive groves. The winery is part of Chateau de Bellet and is one of France's smallest AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée). It is run by the Nicoletti family who produce fine wines made from the grapes grown in the sunshine and the winery is open to visitors all year round. AOC Bellet is made from Folle Noir (70%) and Grenache (30%) and is a ruby red colour with a very rich smooth taste with hints of cherries and oak. The wine makers feel that their wines complement the classic 'Nissarde' dishes of raviolis, farçi and Salade de Niçoise perfectly! Since 2012, the wines have been organically produced. Whilst you are visiting the winery, don't forget to pick up a bottle of its excellent organically produced olive oil.
Saint-Tropez one of the great vines growing areas
If you are spending time in Saint-Tropez, it is fun to explore some of the vineyards and discover the distinctive taste of the wines from this area which the winemakers say is a result of the grapes growing so close to the sea. The oldest winery in the area can be found just behind the iconic Pampelonne beach. In 1907, Henri Benet bought 27 hectares of land there and began growing grapes. The winery has been run by the Gabrich family for more than forty years, producing red, white and rosé wines. The winery's popular rosé wine is appropriately called '1907'. Domaine de Tourraque is a stunning vineyard and it is on a headland at Ramatuelle which is just along the coast from Saint-Tropez, beyond Pampelonne Beach. The vines grow right to the cliff edge overlooking a rocky bay and a little further along almost touch the fine white sand beach. The organic wines produced here are good quality and there is free wine tasting so you can discover this for yourself! There is a two and a half hour jeep safari style tour of the winery, with the winemaker at the wheel describing his life – the tour costs just under 30 euros, so isn't expensive, and really worth doing as it paints a memorable picture of life in the area.
Behind each vineyard – a great story!
Another winery that is situated at Ramatuelle is Chateau Volterra. The château was originally built by an Englishman who had fallen in love with a local woman, but his love was never reciprocated. Later it was bought by a well-known Parisian impresario, Leon Volterra, as he too had fallen in love with a local woman, Simone. They developed the winery and he became mayor and they gave lascivious parties for the rich and famous. When Simone died in 1989, the winery was bought by a Canadian consortium, which still runs it today.
More wineries are becoming organic at the cote d'azur.
Learning about organic wines is fun and Chateau Barbeyrolles is the perfect setting as you will see tractors being used and animals grazing amongst the vines, keeping the weeds down and providing fertiliser. The winemaker is Roger Sumeire, whose family has lived in the area since the 12th century. Roger's father established the vineyard and when he died, his children drew lots to see who would inherit the vineyard and Roger won!
Other vineyards near Saint-Tropez include Domaine Bertaud Belieu which produces red, white and rosé wines – with 80% of its production being the latter. The vineyards stands on clay and limestone and 12 varieties of grape are cultivated in particular Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah. The grapes for the red wines are cultivated on the vineyard's sunniest slopes as this ensures that they have a very distinctive flavour. The winery regularly hosts events for the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation – so keep an eye out for promotional posters! Louis Angelvin who founded the Maison Angelvin winery also believed that the taste of the wine could be affected by sunshine and minerals in the soil. He was a geologist who tried to perfect the taste of his rosé wine by altering the mineral content of the grapes and over the years, he was very successful.
So much tradition behind each wine label.
One of the largest wineries in the area is Chateau Minuty. The winery has been run by the Matton-Farnet family since 1936. The family has vast experience as it has been making wine for 300 years and even today, the family restricts production to ensure that its wines are of the highest quality and uses three local grape varieties – Tibouren, Rolle and Grenache. Domaine de la Madrogue has been run by the current family since 2007 and makes red, white and rosé wines which are all popular. Domaine de la Croix is quite a way from Saint-Tropez but is worth visiting. It is a large vineyard with 180 hectares and is run by Group Bolloré which offers tours, tastings and some great summer music events. Just across the bay from Saint-Tropez is its quieter cousin, Sainte-Maxime and it too has several wineries that can be visited. Domaine Beauses is the largest and best known one. This lovely family winery produces an array of traditional wines and for those who would like to relax over a glass there is a well-stocked delicatessen on site. Clos des Virgiles and Nicolas Sainte-Maxime are two other wineries that both produce good wines from their vines that are growing under the warm Mediterranean sun in vineyards overlooking the azure waters of the Mediterranean. There are some good wine tours in the area leaving from Sainte-Maxime and Les Issambres as well as Saint-Tropez. After a day wandering through vineyards, admiring the view and enjoying a glass of the local wine, you will definitely agree with the local saying - Une journee sans vin est une journee sans soleil - A day without wine is like a day without sun...