Although Provence is one of the oldest wine growing regions in France, it is also one of the lease appreciated and explored by wine drinkers. Mostly known for its Rosé, Provence produces some of the most distinctive, delicious and food friendly red wines available. The main grape varietal that gives Provencal reds their unique character is Mouvèdre. Other varietals playing their role in these wines’ flavor profile are Grenache, Cinsaut, Syrah and Carignan. If you are looking to venture away from the familiar territory of Cabernet and Merlot, Provence is a good place to start.
One of the best regions within Provence for red wines is Bandol. Big, plumy and alcoholic, with spicy, concentrated fruit and lots of tobacco, Château Pradeux Bandol 1995 ($21.00) is a great example of what this region can produce. The finish is rife with a complex mixture of leather and herbs. Its ample fruit is balanced with enough soft tannins to allow it to age gracefully for at least another five years. This is a really fine, exuberant wine, off the beaten path, at a very good price. It makes me wish I were eating a garlic-crusted leg of lamb.
A lighter, simpler Bandol is Domaine le Galantin 1998 ($12.50). Gamey on the nose, it is clean and crisp on the palate, with loads of very fresh berries. It is a perfect picnic wine and would go well with grilled sausages.
Another wine region within Provence is Les Baux de Provence. In addition to the grapes used in Bandol, these wines also contain some Cabernet Sauvignon. Mas de Gourgonnier 1998 ($12.00) is worth trying. It could easily be confused with a lighter Rhône wine. This wine is deep in color, with a spicy nose and a velvety feel on the palate. Again, a nice value in a wine not many people are familiar with.
Speaking of nice values, Domaine de la Gautière 1999 ($7.00) is a fun, easy drinking red almost in the style of a Beaujolais. This wine when slightly chilled, is perfect for days spent poolside, when you feel like you should be drinking something red, but really aren’t in the mood.
If you aren’t in the mood and realize there is no reason to bother to act like you are, it’s time for a Rosé. Château Pradeaux Bandol Rosé 1999 ($20.00) is a good choice. It is a dry rose, well made, with firm fruit, a noticeable backbone and more body than most. Mouvèdre, Grenache, Cinsaut and Sauvignon Blanc all play their part in creating a spicy, fruity, clean wine. Commanderie de Peyrassol Côtes de Provence Rosé 1999 ($13.00) is more typical of most Provencal Rosés. Light and unchallenging, with a pretty pink hue, it is a wine that is more dependent on sun, surf and the right companion for it to come into its own than what’s in the bottle. At the right time and place, it can’t be beat.
Cassis, east of Mareilles and not to be confused with the black currant liqueur of the same name, produces white wine from the Sauvignon Blanc, Clairette and Marsanne grapes. Clos d’Albizzi 1997 ($14.00) is typical. It has an unusual nose of wild herbs in a barnyard setting, followed by a generous amount of stewed yellow fruit – apricots and plums – on the palate. It is an interesting wine and unique to the region.