Like most of France, Provence is a place that takes drinking to the level of an art-form. The region's hallowed vineyards produce a wealth of fantastic wines that can be enjoyed in practically every cafe, wine bar and restaurant, from the tiniest villages to the big cities. Many vineyards also offer guided visits and tasting tours.

Provençal Wines

With the exception of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Muscat, Provençal wines might not have the world-famous reputation of some French wine regions, but local vineyards turn out a fantastic range of wines: red, white, rosé.

Côtes de Provence

Best for

rosé, red

Characteristics

rosé is drunk young, reds can be served young or mature, Correns wines are now a leading organic sub-label

Where to try/buy

Maison des Vins Côtes de Provence, Les Arcs-sur-Argens; Vignerons de Correns, Correns; Château Ste-Roseline, Les Arcs-sur-Argens

Area

Haut-Var

Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence

Best for

rosé, red

Characteristics

rosé is dry, aromatic reds

Where to try/buy

Domaine de la Brillane, Aix-en-Provence

Area

Aix-en-Provence

Coteaux-Varois-en-Provence

Best for

red, rosé, white

Characteristics

reds must be drunk mature, rosés & whites are ideal summer-meal companions

Area

Haut-Var

Côtes du Ventoux & Côtes du Luberon

Best for

red

Characteristics

light & fruity

Where to try/buy

Maison de la Truffe et du Vin, Ménerbes; Cave de Bonnieux, Bonnieux; Domaine Faverot (www.cottages-faverot.com), Maubec

Area

Luberon

Gigondas

Best for

red

Characteristics

pungent fruit & spice aroma, best drunk mature (7 years or older), hence its relatively high price

Where to try/buy

Caveau du Gigondas, Gigondas

Area

Dentelles de Montmirail

Bandol

Best for

red, rosé

Characteristics

made with the rare mourvèdre grape, deep-flavoured reds, well-balanced rosés

Where to try/buy

Maison des Vins, Bandol, Domaine de Terrebrune (www.terrebrune.fr), Ollioules

Area

Bandol

Cassis

Best for

white

Characteristics

crisp, ideal with seafood

Where to try/buy

Le Chai Cassidain, Cassis

Area

Cassis

Beaumes de Venise

Best for

white

Characteristics

a sweet Muscat wine, drunk as an aperitif or for dessert

Where to try/buy

Balma Vénitia, Beaumes-de-Venise

Area

Dentelles de Montmirail

Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Best for

red, white

Characteristics

strong (minimum alcohol content 12.5%), full bodied, ages beautifully, mineral flavour, can be drunk both young & aged

Where to try/buy

Caves du Verger des Papes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape; Domaine de la Solitude, Châteauneuf-du- Pape

Area

Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Provence's Wine Regions

Côtes du Rhône

By far the most renowned vintage in this vast appellation – France’s second-largest, covering 772 sq km in the Rhône Valley – is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a full-bodied wine bequeathed to Provence by the Avignon popes, who planted the distinctive stone-covered vineyards, 10km south of Orange.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds are strong (minimum alcohol content 12.5%) and well-structured masters in their field. Whites account for 7% of total annual production. Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine growers, obliged to pick their grapes by hand, say it is the galets (large smooth, yellowish stones) covering their vineyards that distinguish them from others. Both whites and reds can be drunk young (two to three years) or old (seven years or more). Irrespective of age, whites should be served at 12°C, reds at 16°C to 18°C.

Another popular Rhône Valley grand cru (literally ‘great growth’) is red and rosé Gigondas, produced in vineyards around the Dentelles de Montmirail, some 15km east of Orange. The medieval golden-stone village with its ruined castle, Provençal campanile and stunning vista is a sheer delight to meander through, and its reds are among Provence’s most sought after. In nearby Beaumes de Venise, it is the sweet dessert wine, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, that delights – enjoy it as an aperitif or poured inside half a Cavaillon melon as dessert.

Côtes de Provence

Talk Provence and wine, and bright pink rosé instantly springs to mind. Dating from 1977, Côtes de Provence is the region’s largest appellation (and the sixth largest in France), producing 75% of Provençal wine and known predominantly for its rosé, which accounts for 84% of the 130 million bottles the appellation produces each year. It is generally drunk young and served at a crisp cool 8°C to 10°C.

Lesser known are Côtes de Provence reds, which account for just 13% of the appellation’s annual production. Most are drunk young and should be served at 14°C to 16°C. Fresh and fruity, they marry best with herb-scented grilled meat, tomatoes in olive oil, and tians de legumes (vegetable-and-rice gratin).

Older red vins de garde are a traditional accompaniment to game, sauced meats, traditionally meaty dishes like pieds et paquets and cheese; serve them at 16°C to 18°C.

Despite being the golden friend to fish and seafood when chilled to 8°C, Côtes de Provence white accounts for just 3% of wine production in Côtes de Provence.

Coteaux d'Aix & Coteaux Varois

Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence carpets 42 sq km north of Aix-en-Provence and around the Étang de Berre, while Cotaux Varois covers 25 sq km of notably chalky, higher-altitude land around the Massif des Baumes. Both appellations produce rosé in the main: red and white account for no more than 15% and 5%, respectively, of each production. Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence wines are generally dry thanks to the use of grenache grapes used in the region's reds.

Côtes du Ventoux & Côtes du Luberon

Vast areas of the region’s interior are carpeted with Côtes du Ventoux (69 sq km established in 1973) and Côtes du Luberon (35 sq km dating from 1988) vineyards. The latter has become particularly trendy in recent years thanks to wealthy foreigners and media stars who have bought up its vineyards; Ridley Scott’s romantic comedy A Good Year (2006) was filmed at Château La Canorgue, a biodynamic winery at the foot of Bonnieux village. The Maison de la Truffe et du Vin in neighbouring Menerbes provides a prime wine-tasting opportunity.

Both appellations are best known for their red wine, which makes up 80% and 67% of Côtes du Ventoux and Luberon wine respectively. Light and fruity, these reds are generally drunk when young and form the perfect accompaniment to white meats, cheeses and grilled red meats. Production is dominated by cooperatives – taste and buy at cooperatives in Apt, Bonnieux, Goult and Maubec – but the best wines remain those of private domaines.

Pastis: The Milk of Provence

When in Provence, do as the Provençaux do: drink pastis. An aniseed-flavoured, 45%-alcohol drink, pastis was invented in 1932 in Marseille by industrialist Paul Ricard (1909–97).

Amber coloured in the bottle, it turns milky white when mixed with water. It is a classic aperitif but can be drunk any time of day. Bars and cafes serve it straight, allowing you to add the water (five parts water to one part pastis).

A dash of sirop de menthe (mint syrup diluted with water) transforms a regular pastis into a perroquet (literally 'parrot'). A tomate (tomato) is tarted up with one part grenadine (pomegranate syrup) and the sweet Mauresque is dressed with orgeat (a sweet orange and almond syrup).

Leading pastis brands are Pastis 51 and Ricard, both owned by the Ricard empire. Taste them at Marseille's La Maison du Pastis.

Essential pastis etiquette:

  • Never order 'a pastis' at the bar – ask for it by brand such as Ricard, Janot or Casanis.
  • If you find it too strong, add sugar.
  • Bars in Marseille serve pastis in four glass sizes – a momie or mominette (dinky shot glass), a bock (double-height shot glass), a tube (tall, thin juice glass) and a ballon (like a brandy balloon).

Aperitifs & Digestifs

The region is home to a rainbow of spirits and liqueurs, traditionally drunk as a pre- or post-dinner treat. Aperitifs tend to be served on the rocks, while digestifs are served neat in shot-sized glasses.

  • Liqueur de Châtaignes A chestnut liqueur added to wine for a kir.
  • RinQuinQuin A peach-flavoured aperitif.
  • Vin d'oranges amères A bitter orange-flavoured aperitif.
  • Vin de noix A walnut-flavoured aperitif.
  • Farigoule A thyme-flavoured digestif.
  • Verveine A verbena-flavoured digestif.
  • Amandine An almond-flavoured digestif.

Fat Bastard

Legend has it that the unorthodoxly named Fat Bastard Gigondas vintage was named after oenologist Thierry Boudinaud allegedly told his English partner Guy Anderson upon tasting the wine: ‘Now zat iz what you call eh phet bast-ard’.