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Provence is one of my favourite places in the world. At first I was driven there through my love of food. It is here that Elizabeth David and Keith Floyd looked to as a second home. But it is not just its food that makes this region particularly special.
Rhone reds were one of my first loves. The bold red fruit, warming spice, hint of nuts, papery acidity, and edge of meatiness is a wonderful combination. After Chilean cabernet, Rhone red was how I got into wine as a student years ago. Soft and tropical, these wines most certainly are not.
As if that wasn’t enough, it produces some of the best rosé you’ll ever drink. Neighbouring Languedoc joins it in producing vast quantities of wines between four and 10 euros in French supermarkets. Almost all of these are far greater quality than the similarly priced English supermarket counterparts.
It’s an enchanting place. One I try to revisit as often as possible. For like Floyd, I see it as the “heart of culture, civilisation and gastronomy.”
Pick up a bottle of red from this region and you’ll like find a combination of syrah and grenache. These grapes enjoy the hot regions. The dryness and acidity in many of these means they favour food (or a little ice - but don’t tell the connoisseur). The Domaine des Nais (€5.5) was my favourite of these with strong cassis (deep blackcurrant) and herbs on the nose.
Better, more balanced examples exist plentifully if you know where to look. A visit to Chateau Vignelaure prompted my favourite Provençal red of the trip: a cabernet-syrah blend that displayed blackcurrant like a flash back to childhood Ribena (€22). Here we drank a wonderful rosé too. Cheap rosé often lacks flavour and depth, but Vignelaure’s La Source (€9.9) had apricot and strawberry in surprisingly wonderful combination.
The best rosé is always the first you have after landing here. In a seafood restaurant in Marseilles, with a tuna steak salad sizzling away, Les Terres de Saint Hilaire (€29 - restaurant price) was the only way to start a holiday in the Med.
It’s not all red and rosé though. The white Château Tour Boisée - Marie-Claude (€40 - restaurant) from Minervois was something else. Here savoury notes and depth came through. I only wish I had another bottle to give it the tasting it deserved.
How to buy French wine in a supermarket
You’ll notice that French wine - and most old world wine for that matter - rarely shows a grape name. In France, at a certain point, we were expected to know what came from where. The land which the wine was grown in - the soil, the climate, the environment, the terroir, was more important than the grape itself.
Here’s a quick tour of what grapes to expect:
- Burgundy: Pinot Noir®, Chardonnay (W)
- Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot®
- Loire: Sauvignon Blanc (W)
- Alsace: Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer (W)
- Rhone & Provence: Syrah, Grenache (R/W)
- The Languedoc-Roussillon (R/W) is the biggest wine producing region in the world. Next to Rhone & Provence, it’s a hot climate region where you’ll find a wide variety of grapes grown.
While many bottles will opt for a more granular description, a specific village within the region for example, you should be able to find one of the main areas to start.
You’ll see this a lot in wine descriptions. Round means a nice full body that’s balanced. ‘Round in the mouth’ is often meant as a compliment and will usually indicate that tannins are low.