Marseille's local fine wines
By Liz Berry MW and Elizabeth Gabay MW
This Guide was last updated on 24 April 2011
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The vineyards of Clos Ste-Magdelaine overlook the bay and fishing village of Cassis. © Mick Rock/Cephas.
Bandol and Cassis were two of the first Provence vineyard regions to be recognized with Appellation status. Cassis is by far the smaller of the two appellations, a cluster of vineyards around a small fishing port. Being so close to Marseille, it inevitably became a smart place to go for weekends, Sunday lunch or even to buy a holiday home. Surrounded by some of the highest cliffs in France (the calanques) it is a beautiful spot for sailing and walking. The downside is that while the wines have a ready market in local restaurants, the vineyards themselves, lying cheek by jowl with villas, are steadily shrinking, under constant threats from housing developers. Inevitably, this puts pressure on the price of wine production, and the wines can seldom be said to be great value for money.
By comparison, Bandol is a much larger appellation, although still small. I particularly like the compact feeling as you drive around undulating hills with open views of vineyards, olives and woods sloping towards the sea. The coastal strip is popular as a family seaside resort. Most of the vineyards are in the hilltop villages inland from the coastal town of Bandol, with the majority around Le Plan de Castellet and La Cadière d’Azur.
The entire vineyard region of Provence extends from Les Baux in the west to Nice in the east and as far north as the Gorges du Verdon. The Mediterranean climate provides over 3000 hours of sunshine each year and little rain. The mistral wind and, sometimes violent, thunderstorms are the main threats to the vineyards. There are however, subtle differences in climate depending on proximity to the sea, mountain ranges, river valleys and altitude (with the highest vineyards reaching up to 500m). Harvest along the coast is usually a good month earlier than the more northerly vineyards.
In Bandol and Cassis the vineyards are on south facing vineyards scorched by the sun. However, the high temperatures are tempered by the coastal location and the proximity of steep cliffs that also offer protection against the northerly mistral. The main characteristic of the Bandol appellation is the stone-like aridity and low fertility of well-drained, highly calcareous soils. To preserve this character, the appellation area includes only the plots of land situated on hillsides in eight communes to the south of the Massif de la Sainte-Baume. The natural dryness of the soils is balanced by the humidity of the air from the sea and by rainfall, low yet perfect to compensate for the water deficit during summer.
The fastest route to Provence from Paris is the A6 to Lyon and the Rhône Valley. From here continue south along the A7 and carry on to Marseille. To reach Cassis and Bandol take the D559 from Marseille. By train, the TGV runs from Paris to Nice stopping at Avignon, journey time 2 hours and 40 minutes, Marseille 3 hours, Cannes 3½ hours. The region is also serviced by several local airports with European flights: Nîmes, Avignon, Marseille, Toulon, and France’s second largest airport Nice.
Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence
Maison des Vins, RN 7, 83460 Les Arcs sur Argens
Maison des Vins de Bandol
22 Allées Vivien, 83150 Bandol
Tel: 04 94 29 45 03
Cassis Tourist Office
Quai des Moulins, 13260 Cassis
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