Nice Wine! Hidden Grapes of the French and Italian Riviera

By: Chrissie McClatchie

One of the more exciting aspects of the big move overseas is in discovering the gastronomic delights of your new homeland. Kangaroo in Sydney? Champagne in Champagne? The spectrum runs from the weird to the wonderful!

The last seven years for this Sydney girl have been a veritable voyage into the culinary treasures of Southern France and Northern Italy. For my home now is Nice, the capital of the French Riviera and France’s fifth largest city. With one foot in France and the other in Italy, there is a distinct blending of cultural lines, one of the many charms this city can boast.

Some of the discoveries I’ve made since moving here? An espresso is the perfect digéstif at the end of any meal. That I prefer socca, a savoury chickpea pancake, to a kebab after a cheeky vino or two. Speaking of a cheeky vino, I’ve also discovered that I really (I mean really) like a chilled glass of rosé on a sunny afternoon.

Which is lucky, since the home of this crisp, salmon hued nectar, happens to be just down the road in Provence. As you’d expect, there is a fermented grape juice to suit all tastes and budgets in this part of the world. However, some of the most unusual experiences are to be found where you may least expect. Here’s an introduction to some of the best in or around Nice:

Bellet

A little known fact is that Nice is home to one of France’s smallest wine regions! The AOC Bellet is a tiny enclave of eleven vineyards, or 50 hectares in total, found in the hills to the west of the city. An easy twenty minute trip from centre-ville will see you arrive along a ridge with sweeping panoramas from the mountains of the Mercantour behind the city down to the sparkling coastline of the Promenade des Anglais and beyond.

These are still family run, small operations, providing a fascinating contrast to the commercial conglomerates common in the new world. In fact, most vineyards double as the family home! A visit will see you introduced to the grape varieties indigenous to Nice, Braquet and Folle Noir, used to make rosé wine and red wine respectively. It will also teach you about the historical significance of this appellation, once favoured by Thomas Jefferson and Louis XIV. With a glass of Bellet, you’re in great company.

Îles de Lérins

One of Cannes premier tourist attractions are a series of small islands called Les Îles de Lérins. To reach them, it's an easy and picturesque 15 minute boat ride from the city’s glamorous Croisette. Locals and visitors alike are attracted to Île St Marguerite, where the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask was once held captive, and neighbouring Île St Honorat, who has housed a continual monastic community since the 5th century.

No visit to the the Abbaye de Lérins on Île St Honorat is complete without a petite dégustation of their wines; the monks produce a very reputed selection of white and red wines from a small plot on the island. With a backdrop of Cannes and the glittering coastline, these are surely some of the most spectacularly located vines in the world!

Var

Leaving behind the Alpes-Maritimes, we move to the next department along, the Var. One of the most picturesque corners of the country, the Var is home to perhaps the most famous fishing village in the world, St Tropez. Pull up a chair on the port and watch the world go past with a glass of local wine in hand. Chances are it will be pink! For this is the home of Provence rosé and the roads leading to and from St Tropez are lined with row upon row of vines. The main varieties grown along the Côteaux Varois? Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsaut, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Carignan.

One sip and hopefully you’ll agree that the Mediterranean summer and a glass of Provence rosé are the perfect climate and wine match!

Dolceacqua

Just across the border in Italy’s Liguria, set up in the valley behind Ventimiglia and Bordighera, is hidden my favourite of them all, the sweet water which is Dolceacqua. A perfectly preserved medieval village is reached by a high arched stone bridge once captured by none other than the French Impressionist Claude Monet. The terraced hills which extend up from the valley are home to much agriculture, think olives and basil – Liguria is the land of pesto after all.

Perhaps the greatest export of Dolceacqua is the red wine which bears its name: Rossese di Dolceacqua. Not readily available outside of Liguria (because it’s too good!) this is a lighter, fruitier red which is best drunk young. If you prefer a drop of white, their local Pigato grape makes a delicious, refreshing example which demonstrates why Italy is perhaps the world’s greatest wine producing country!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingChrissie McClatchie is an Australian expat living in France. Blog description: A blog for all things wine related on the French and Italian Riviera (as seen through an Australian's rosé tinted glasses!)
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Contest Comments » There are 7 comments

Phoebe wrote 5 years ago:

I really enjoy reading Chrissie's posts about all the delicious wine in this area, which is where I live too and I've learnt a lot from her. Keep up the great writing Chrissie!

Michaela wrote 5 years ago:

I love to read all Chrissie's articles as they help me to discover wines from South of France and Italy. After reading Chrissie's blog it is much easier to make the choice where to spend sunny Saturday afternoon with your family or friends and which wine to taste. Always looking forward to read Chrissie's great posts.

Iarla Byrne wrote 5 years ago:

Always very informative and educational. Great blog, Chrissie - keep up the good work!

Eloise wrote 5 years ago:

Oh, Chrissie's blog makes we want to pack up and move to Provence! Love reading her posts which inspire wanderlust and wine-cravings at the same time. What a fascinating life she leads!

Stephanie Hearne wrote 5 years ago:

Chrissie, you transport me back to France as I read your blog. Love it! I'm booking a trip to France for 2014! Keep up the good work.

Brenda Shanley wrote 5 years ago:

This is a great blog Chrissie, I have learned lots of tips about best wines and where to find them and enjoy them. I am not a wine expert, far from, however this blog always provides me with the essential amount of information to seek out the wine, with your very catchy phrases, always well written. Look forward to reading more, keep writing !

Renu Pavate wrote 5 years ago:

Delightful! To travel, to discover and raise the glass. Santé!

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