In a triangle formed near the Mediterranean coast by Nice in the east, Marseille in the west and Avignon to the northwest, lays the region of Provence.

This region the first in France to turn to winemaking 2,600 years ago, today holds 500 wineries and has 68,000 acres of vineyards. It is small in comparison to the nearly 10 times larger 6.7 million acres of Languedoc-Roussillon.

The siliceous and limestone soils of this area cooperate with mild winters and hot summers to grow Grenache and Syrah as well as Ugni Blanc, Rolle and Clairette, among others.

This area long considered a producer of mediocre wine has been experiencing a comeback during the last few decades. While regulations have caused many to forgo obtaining the vaunted AOC label (Appellation d'Origine Controlee) The VDQS (Vin de Qualite Superieur a step below AOC) wines are in taste second to none.

Many grapes are used in Provence, however the rose continues to be a specialty of the region. 75% of the total production comes from this and produces 140 million bottles, or 45% of total French rose output. Made from Carignan, Cinsault, Mourvedre and others its fruity zest is dry.

Also produced here, the Bandol and Bellet are treasured by connoisseurs of fine wine.

Between La Ciotat and Toulon in the hills grow Bandol vines, facing the Mediterranean Sea. First planted by the Romans 2,500 years ago the vineyards here are among the oldest in France. Bandol has been exported to India and Brazil for 2 centuries by the nearby port of Marseille.

One of the best full-bodied Provence reds is produced here with the spicy, red Mourvedre grown in this area. This wine can be somewhat difficult to find because it is produced on only 2,700 acres that yield only 5 million bottles.

Just west of Nice, Bellet is one of the smallest appellations in France. Rolle and Chardonnay are grown on 80 acres of land here and the plants become so steep that they must be worked by hand. This work produces 80,000 bottles of some of the best aromatic whites, fresh roses, and delicate reds available. The local Braquet forms a red that can age up to ten years. If they can be found be certain to pay attention to the honey and banana overtones of the white, especially good with shellfish and Banon cheese.

Visit the Chateau Sainte Roseline for a special treat. This area has been under cultivation for seven centuries. The less than 300 acres in this area is home for 11 varieties of grapes including, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cabernet Sauvignon to make red, and include Cinsault and Tibouren for the famous rose, and Rolle and Semillon to make whites.

Swirl the wine gently, sniff and taste.

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