French Riviera

full of surprises!

The Côte d’Azur, or French Riviera, is one of the regions of France that is the least well known for its winemaking. Perhaps this is because the total production is indeed very small and only comes from a hand full of locations.

And yet, the Riviera is actually one of the original areas of wine production in France going back to antiquity, and in fact has been making highly prized wines for longer than you might think.

Let’s go on a short tour of the key vineyard areas…

We all know the Côte d’Azur for its resorts like Cannes, Antibes, Menton, Monaco and of course Nice – the regional capital, with its rich history and diverse culture.

However, less well known than these famous names, and just a few short miles back from the coastline you’ll find vineyards tucked away in the hills with some of the most stunning views over the Mediterranean.

You don’t actually even have to leave the city of Nice to find one! – The Bellet, this jewel of an Appellation is one of the oldest in France (recognised in 1941); one of the smallest - with only nine vineyards; and the only AOP in France that is contained within city limits…

The vineyards of the Bellet are to be found on the hill of the same name at Saint-Roman de Bellet, immediately to the north-west of the city centre, and having climbed up over 200m/650ft in altitude. Here city streets give way to narrow, winding lanes which lead to splendid mansions and villas with views to die for – fields and greenhouses that give a clue to the horticultural past of this area – which now comprises of 650 ha (1,500 acres) of protected land, but of which only about 60ha (130 acres) are actually currently planted with vines. The nine vineyards, between them, only produce around 200,000 bottles per year – and all have decided that organics are the way forward. Really quite unique!

Vignobles de la Côte d'Azur - Wineries in the Côte d'Azur French Riviera

The steep slopes are cultivated in man-made terraces that date back to the Roman period, when this vineyard was first planted. Here the soils are a very particular mixture of rolled pebbles and sand with some clay veins, the deposits of a long-ago geological period when this area was on the sea bed. This is well draining soil that is low in organic matter and allows the vines to push their roots deep, to look for water in the hot summer months.

The climate is of course Mediterranean – long, hot, dry summers with intense periods of rain in the late autumn and mild winters. However there is also a secondary influence and this comes from the Alps immediately visible to the north. This combination of sea breezes and mountain air brings a cooling freshness at this altitude that gives the resulting wines much of their distinctive style, which you’ll discover if you come on a tour with us.

Saint Paul de Vence Côte d'Azur French riviera

In addition, the Bellet has two grape varietals that are unique to this very local area, known as Folle Noire and Braquet. Both black varietals that get used in the production of the powerful Reds and gourmet Rosés for which the Bellet is highly prized.

The Rosés of the Bellet are quite simply outstanding. Often exclusively or majority based on the Braquet grape, these wines demonstrate a nose often of wild roses, violets and some sweet spices. Unusually amongst Mediterranean Rosés, these are wines capable of aging well and after several years develop more complexity and accentuated soft spice notes, like saffron. These are truly gourmet Rosés, to be appreciated with food as opposed to quaffed.

Cannes île monastique de Lerins Côte d'Azur French Riviera

The White Wines of the Bellet – for which the whole area was famous back in the 19th and early 20th Century, are often quite citrusy with a hint of salinity resulting from the onshore breezes. The typical Rolle grape, sometimes blended with a touch of Chardonnay, produces wines of great finesse and style – perfect with Mediterranean seafood and even local cheeses.

Now that you have begun to appreciate some of the treasures that are just on our doorstep – we can explore a bit further up into the hills and continue our French Rivera wine tour…

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