Côtes de Provence
Côtes de Provence is the largest appellation in Provence. It has a reputation for floral, inexpensive rosés. However, due to the region's size the wines produced here are incredibly diverse, ranging from low-quality $5 offerings to some of the Provence area's best cuvées. Côtes de Provence consists of four noncontiguous regions, two of which border the sea and two of which are entirely inland. All in all the appellation covers more than 80 villages across Provence, more than Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence's 50-odd communes. Around 15 million cases of wine are produced annually, of which around 12 million are rosé.
There are some dedicated producers who are attempting to boost the reputation and quality of the appellation. Most of these producers are making red wines, generally from Rhône grapes that do well in the hot sun, in the best vineyards of Côtes de Provence. Despite its size, the region is hardly stagnating, and in fact it is one of the most promising appellations of Provence just because of the large number of microclimates it encompasses.
Made an AOC in 1977, Côtes de Provence was the first large AOC in Provence; up until then, wines not made within one of the small, specific appellations were labeled under vin de pays.
Climate and Viticulture
Describing the climate here is difficult, since Côtes de Provence is made up of four separate regions which do not border on each other. Just the largest one of these four regions is the size of the second largest appellation of Provence! Generally, the climate is hot, but the cooling influence of the Mediterranean is present in some of the vineyards and absent in others.
As with most of Provence's appellations, the common grapes here are the same as in the Rhône: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, and to a slightly lesser extent Cinsaut and Carignan. These, along with the intriguing local grape Tibouren, make up the majority of most red and rosé blends. International grapes are becoming more common, although there are many regulations designed to limit their use. Cabernet Sauvignon is gaining in popularity here. Among white wines, Chardonnay is seeing some use, but very little white Côtes de Provence gets produced.
Though the Côtes de Provence appellation is generally known for its flavorful, but somewhat homogeneous, rosés, there are also many producers who make distinct wines that transcend the average quality of the appellation. We list a half dozen of them here.
- Château d'Esclans: Esclans produces rosés here that are significantly above the norm in quality. Four cuvées are made. The fruity, floral, open-ended but strongly mineral Esclans is a good wine for everyday drinking, while the Whispering Angel is significantly more intense, with mellow fruit flavors. Much more sophistication is found in the fragrant, lush, richly flavored Les Clans. Best is the expensive but exceptional Garrus; this one has a velvety texture and is full of flavor ranging from wild fruit to smoke to spice.
- Domaines Ott: This domaine is famous for their rosés, the best of which is the rich, tangy Château de Selle. The red Domaniers de Puits Mouret is also notable.
- Commanderie de Peyrassol: These rosés, which are about $20, combine floral elegance with thick, deep aromas of bitter red fruit and herbs. Surprisingly intense and mineral, the wines can soften with age.
- Domaine Richeaume: This domaine, producing wine almost exclusively in Côtes de Provence, is one of only a few producers of the region to make truly great reds. The rosés are good, with flavors of intense red fruit and minerality. But the varietal Cabernet Sauvignon here is a truly modern Côtes de Provence, showing flavors of black fruit, earth, and smoky, spicy oak.
- Chateau de Roquefort: Priced at around $15, the Corail de Roquefort is easily one of the better rosés here, with wild red and orange fruit flavors and energetic florality.
- Domaine Sorin: These are generally reliable wines. The basic red and rosé are nothing more than average, but the Cuvée Privée and Cuvée Tradition lineups are much better. The red version of the Cuvée Privée is probably the best, full of roasted, spicy flavors of fruit and herbs. Exceptionally smooth yet powerful, this wine is similar to many Rhône cuvées in style.
Surprisingly for an appellation of such size, Côtes de Provence has no subappellations.