The geography of the Alpes Maritimes means that the historic vineyard regions were often separated by mountains and valleys. Often the same variety was grown in different places, but given a different local name, adding confusion to the number of local grapes.
Wine styles were also very different, with sweeter and more aromatic wines, especially those made with Muscat, more popular than the drier wines of today.
In 1843 Roubaudi lists the varieties found in Bellet with the red Bellet wine including more white than red varieties ‘la clarette, la fole, le roussan, le role, le spagnou, le pignerau, le braquet, le verlantin et la trinquiera.’ The grapes used for the white wines of Bellet were ‘le spagnou, le pignerau, la clarette, le verlantin, le muscat blanc.’ The best Bellet wines also contained ‘muscat blanc ou rouge, de la fole, du roussan, du role et particulièrement du braquet.’
In 1969/70 the principal grapes had to make up at least 40% of the wine. Today they have to make up a major proportion of the wine and there is stricter control over which varieties are used.
Further details of each variety are being added to their individual pages – follow the links as each page is created.
Principal Grape Varieties – Red and Rosé
Braquet, Folle Noire (Fuella) and Cinsault
Secondary Grape Varieties – Red and Rosé
Grenache, Roussane, Rolle, Spagnol, Clairette, Pignerol, Bourboulenc
Cinsault has a high level of productivity with good acidity, colour and, especially in old vines, good fruit character – often quite meaty and chunky. It can be low in tannin if over harvested and its high yields and good health does tend to encourage wine makers to over use it in which case it benefits from being blended with firmer varieties. It can make excellent rosé.
Grenache lacks colour and tannin but does have high sugar levels which can boost up alcohol but also contribute to the sweet fruitiness in many rosés. Earlier harvesting, as in rosés, also reduces tendency to oxidise as well as suitable yeasts. The tougher the environment and the lower the yields the better the quality. Older vines also produce better quality wines. Traditionally tended to oxidise easily and this was remedied by the addition of white varieties – although why this should help not sure. Later harvesting can lead to richer spicy fruit.
Principal Grape Varieties – White
Rolle (Vermentino), Roussane, Spagnol
Secondary Grape Varieties – White
Clairette, Bourboulenc, Chardonnay, Pignerol, Muscat
Rolle – A white variety – a clonal variation of Vermintino (Malvasia) and Pigato. Rolle is a traditional grape in the region, dating from the time when this part of France was part of the kingdom of Savoy and linked to Liguria. In the 1980s, Rolle was only found in Bellet, but has since spread west to become a major player in quality white wines in the region.
Clairette produces white wines high in alcohol and low in acid and a traditional tendency to oxidise. Can have an aromatic floral aroma. Fruity when young but needs to be blended with higher acid varieties to stop the wine becoming ponderous. Likes dry soils.
Robert Cohendet of Via Julia Augusta: Traditionally the Clairette was harvested late and mixed with Rolle and blended in with the other red varieties to produce a lighter red, but the Parisian market asked for a heavier red style and so the wine styles changed.
Roussannne – An elegant and delicate white variety which contributes liveliness and aroma. Normally found in western Provence and the Rhone.
Spagnol – no longer used
Pignerol – no longer used
Bourboulenc – An ancient white variety once found commonly throughout the midi and now very rarely. If picked too early it produces a neutral wine, but if left to October produces wines with much more character.
Chardonnay – Has relatively high sugar leading to high alcohol, can produce high yields without loosing too much character. Harvest time is critical to prevent acid levels falling. A good neutral variety which reflects terroir and winemaking well. Often added in a small percentage to Rolle to give extra weight.
Muscat – Used to be far more common in southern France but is increasingly being replaced by other varieties. Can give an attractive grapey aroma and taste.