As a British kid growing up in the 1980s, I’m fairly familiar with the South of France. I’ve got all these memories of family holidays down at campsites on the coast. Most of these memories revolve around my poor dad having to drive us from Liverpool to Perpignan via the Dover to Calais crossing. Three screaming kids in the back. Kylie Minogue’s latest album on repeat all the way. Dad, thank you for not losing it!
Now the South of France has a different slant for me. It’s one of the most commercially important wine areas of Europe. It’s a vast area from the border of Italy to the East, all the way up to and including the foothills of the Pyrenees at the border with Spain.
You can usually split the area up into 4 main areas. The most famous and important in terms of some seriously high quality wines is the Rhône Valley. Itself split between the Northern and Southern Rhône, its sun drenched hills open out into baked plains as you head south towards the Mediterranean. The valleys of the Northern Rhône get seriously hot, but there’s a wind called the Mistral that cools down the slopes at the right time, which allows the grapes to slowly develop flavours over the growing season.
The other three areas to keep in mind are Provence to the East of the Rhône, and Languedoc and Roussillon to the West. It’s this western part that is now killing it on the shelves of supermarkets across Britain. Obviously if you’re going from valley plains all the way to the foothills of the Pyrenees you’re looking at a really varied landscape. And it goes without saying it’s bloody hot in the growing season! If you have a grape that needs sun, then you’ll find a great place to grow it here. Arguably sometimes it’s a bit too hot, so maybe the flavours don’t get time to develop before the grape’s ready to go, but you get guaranteed ripening and high yields of otherwise tough grapes to make solid quality supermarket stars!
So what do we have in terms of grapes that need some heat? Syrah’s there, Grenache is there, Carignan and Mouvedre too. And as for the whites? Well amoungst others is our New Wine This Week; Viognier.
Other posts in NWTW Week 17: