The French classification of wine can put one’s head in a spin, and that’s before the tasting begins. We hope this quick guide will help you negotiate (and enjoy) the wines of Provence.

First things first

For the absolute beginner here are some basics. Provence has two main wine regions: Provence and Rhone (which includes the far north of Provence).

In the Rhone region are the mainly red Cotes-du-Rhone wines, which include the almost mythical Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cote-Rotie and Hermitage.

Meanwhile the southern Provence wine region is noted as the home of rosé – wine that is really enjoying its moment in the sun right now – and thankfully as its popularity increases so does the quality.

French classification system

At the bottom of the league table of French wines are Vin de France or Vin de Table (table wine), and Vin de Pays (country wine) – these are what you might find as the ‘house wine’ in a basic restaurant.

From here on up wine is ranked by the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée, or controlled designation of origin), which is a certification granted to certain wines, cheeses and other produce. AOC produce must be made using traditional methods, with certain ingredients, and in a set geographical location. Once the AOC gets involved, the quality of a wine is determined by  just about every stage of wine production from the type of grape to how dense the planting of vines.

There are 360 AOCs in France and most are in 11 key wine regions – such as Provence and Rhone. An AOC can be a region, a village or a specific vineyard. The more defined an area of production, the better the wine – so once a village name starts appearing on the bottle’s label you know you are going to be tasting good things.

Provence wines

The main appellations of the Provence region are Cotes de Provence, Coteaux Varois and Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence. It’s in the latter that the light and dry rosés come into their own. Specific appellations to look out for include Bandol (red and rosé) and Cassis (white) while the Luberon is one of the fast-improving appellations.

To find out more about a Cotes de Provence wine, look at the label:

Level 1: Cotes de Provence.
Level 2: Cotes de Provence with a denomination like Fréjus, La Londe, Pierrefeu and Saint-Victoire.
Level 3: Cotes de Provence Cru is the top level, awarded to 18 specific estates in this region.

Rhone wines

The Rhone region (which includes part of northern Provence), is the second largest appellation in France. Here you’ll find the iconic appellations Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cote-Rotie and Hermitage. Not quite as fancy but recommended are wines from the villages of Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Beaumes-de-Venise, and Vinsobres.

To find out more about a Cotes-du-Rhone wine, look at the label:

Level 1: Cotes-du-Rhone.
Level 2: Cotes-du-Rhone Villages.
Level 3: Cotes-du-Rhone Villages, with a named village.
Level 4: Cotes-du-Rhone Cru is the top level awarded to 16 specific estates in this region.

Wherever you say in Provence there wil be wineries nearby – check out our hand-picked Provence holiday rentals!