Updated: May 26, 2021
Provence is without a doubt, the wine region that evokes the most thoughts of summer holidays - Sunny pebbly beaches, the turquoise tinge of the Côte d'Azur and the scent of wild lavender mingling with the beach side rotisserie chicken stalls. This is all totally true, but what better wine to chug when it's so sunny than an absolute corker of a Rosé! They say that wines are made symbiotically with the local cuisine, both influencing each other of years - sometimes centuries - to pair phenomenally well without even trying. This is certainly correct of Provence, but I can think of nowhere else where the wine quite fits the climate better than here in the south of France. Clearly the French feel the same, with 75% of production being put into varying gradients of salmon.
Look up Provence in the dictionary and there'll be a picture of a group of friends on a sunny terrasse ordering "Another bottle of Whispering Angel please, Garcon", and it's true that we really are in the land of the pink. But to miss out on the brooding, gamey and herbal red wines of the region would be a travesty; wines made, along with the pinks, from the local grapes Carignan, Grenache, Cinsault and most importantly for red wine - Mourvèdre. Whites are there but few and far between, mostly rich, dry and delicious expressions of Vermentino and the likes. The appellations of Coteaux du Provence, Coteaux d'aix en Provence and Coteaux Varois de Provence (in that order) offer the largest production of the area, becoming slightly more specialised and arguably better made, though the winemaker can often offer a better picture of quality. Don't get me wrong, sitting on the beach drinking a rosé and eating said rotisserie chicken and potato dauphinoise can be as close as you get to heaven on earth (see picture of me enjoying myself with plastic cups), but huge demand can cause slap dash supply, and there's a lot of bad quality plonk out there - light colour doesn't always equal good quality, just as the converse is also true! That being said, the general quality of production is massively on the up from years ago as us lot have started demanding better quality wines that are more environmentally sound.
There are of course smaller appellations within Provence that do in fact often produce reliably better bottles across the board, with the most important and well known of these being Bandol to the East. It's as warm as Provence gets here, with coastal shelter from the winds, and Domaine Tempier is the most famous of the bunch making fantastic quality wines. The Mourvèdre based reds are rich and opulent that can be like drinking damsons infused with garrigue (the local herb blend) in their youth, and tobacco and spiced plums if you can hold onto a bottle for long enough. Their rosé was also described as "the best rosé in the world" by the wine critic Robert Parker, and I can't help but mirror his thoughts on this (unfortunately, as I often don't agree with the man). It's everything you ever want from a Provencal rose with dry strawberry and raspberry notes and a little creamy pepper bite. But it goes above and beyond - such is the purity of the wine, you easily pick out each fruit one after another, a volley of white peach, strawberry and lavender, with more body and structure than you'd imagine a rosé could have. It's not the cheapest bottle, but being pretty much the best example of this style you can buy, it's an absolute steal at £31.95. Beyond Bandol, other appellations to seek out include Cassis for heavy and rich whites that rarely make it out of the local market, and Bellet for some more speciality bottles in all colours, and if you're lucky you might find a bottle of pink made from the rare Tibouren grape. So that's my little intro to Provence: Sun, sea, sand and smashing bottles, just do try to spend that little bit extra next time and try something special like that Tempier...