I have to return today to the rest of Southern France, a region packed with great wines, great values and great promise – the promise of discovery, adventure and satisfaction for the shrewd wine lover. While wines for the cellar may not be the strong suit of many of these regions, there are many gems awaiting discovery.
The South of France is really a fairly broad swath of wine country that extends from the tiny appellation of Bellet, found quite close to the border with Italy, to the tiny appellation of Irouléguy that is pressed up against the Spanish border nearly at the Atlantic coast. For the sake of today’s article, I will be focusing on the wines of Provence and the Languedoc-Roussillon regions. For more information on the wines of Southwest France, please refer to my previous review of those appellations which can be found here: Affordable French Wines
While I mentioned Bellet in my introduction, there are virtually no wines from this tiny appellation to be found in the international market. On the other hand, another appellation that also begins with a “B” – Bandol – is responsible for many of the greatest red wines of Provence.
Bandol, wines from ancient vineyards on the rocky coastline of the Mediterranean, represent some of the finest examples of Mourvèdre to be found anywhere on earth. Many would argue, the finest. These are rich, powerful wines with the deep savory character that Mourvèdre adds to blends such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape featured in a starring role, often but not always blended with Grenache and Cinsault. The best wines can benefit from decades of aging, but remain well-priced. Top producers include Domaine Tempier and Château Pradeaux, but the wines of Terrebrune, La Bastide Blanche, Domaine du Gros' Noré, Le Galantin and Château de Pibarnon are all worthy of attention.
Provence is best known for its wonderful weather, great cuisine, fabulous lifestyle and the wines that complete that picture. In many cases, these tend to be wonderful Rosés and some very attractive, if not particularly cellar-worthy reds, but that does not mean that there are no likely candidates for the savvy cellarer.
Provence’s wine region is pretty broad, but the small appellation at the extreme western edge of the region, Les Baux-de-Provence, is undoubtedly the star of the region for cellarable wines. It’s located quite close to Avignon and as such, can almost be considered as an adjunct to the wines of the Southern Rhône. Two producers in particular: Domaine de Trévallon (whose eponymous red is a surprising blend of nearly equal portions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah) and the Mas de Gourgonnier (whose wines more resemble those of the Southern Rhône with its mix of Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre) are true standouts in the region, producing wines that have established an enviable track record in the cellar.
Coteaux du Languedoc
Moving farther to the west, and in many ways into territory more aligned with Southern Rhône, one passes from Provence to the Languedoc. Here there are small appellations of distinction spread out among the edges of the core of the region, the Coteaux du Languedoc. The Languedoc-Roussillon region has recently moved to regional denomination, so all the wines of the region are entitled to the appellation Languedoc. The appellation Coteaux du Languedoc is a subregion of the Languedoc and within the Coteaux one will eventually find wines from specific villages with its own appellations, but for today we can make do with the subregions.
This is a rather large and complex region, with wines based on a minimum of 50% Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre with Cinsault and Carignan. The subregions have even stricter rules, usually requiring a greater percentage of Syrah, Grenache and/or Mourvèdre. The undoubted stars of the region include the Clos des Truffiers and Château de la Negly, though values abound! Look for Domaine Mas de Martin, Château Puech-Haut and my favorite, Mas des Chimères.
Faugères is a relatively small appellation to the west of the Coteaux du Languedoc. These vineyards are far from the coast that dominate most of the regional vineyards and provide a more varied and rocky soil terrain than the majority of the Languedoc. This is reflected in the wine’s character, which is a bit more rugged with mineral and licorice notes on top of the rich fruit and herb that is typical of the region. Two great producers worth trying are Chateau la Liquiere and the Domaine Leon Barral. For values, the Abbaye Sylva Plana is tough to find but worth the search and the Domaine de Saint-Antoine is an absolute bargain.
Saint-Chinian shares its eastern border with Faugères and the wines are quite similar. Here, the wine may tend to be a bit more muscular with firm tannins, yet at the same time more perfumed and becoming elegant due to the relatively larger proportion of limestone and sandy soils found here. There are many different interpretations of Saint-Chinian, though the wines tend to speak with the voice we’re growing familiar with: Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Domaine Rimbert has produced some fascinating and affordable Saint-Chinian wines, and both Clos Bagatelle and Domaine de Gabelas are great values when you can find them!