Just 20 miles southeast of Marseille, the pretty little seaside town of Cassis is backed by a wine-producing region known for its light, elegant whites. Though small, with only 12 producers, Cassis is one of the oldest Appellation d’Origine Contrôlées (together with Sauternes and Châteauneuf-du-Pape), dating to 1936. Cassis whites, which are excellent with seafood, characteristically have a complex nose that marries perfumes of citrus fruits, white flowers, honey, almonds and la garrigue, the wild herbs that grow in the countryside here. The white grape varieties of the zone are Marsannay Blanc, Clairette Blanche, Ugni Blanc, Sauvignon, Bourboulenc Blanc and Pascal Blanc. Among the producers offering tastings and cellar tours, Clos Sainte Magdeleine, open to visitors Tuesday through Saturday from April through September, is one of my favorites.
Clos Sainte Magdeleine
Avenue du Revestel - 13260 Cassis. Tel. (33) 4-42-01-70-28
Further east, the Var department is a major wine-producing region, where many wineries have shifted from volume to quality during the past 20 years. One of the best of them is the Château de Pibarnon, a beautiful estate in Bandol that has been owned by the Saint Victor family for the past four decades. It produces white, rosé and red wines, but the reds are especially noteworthy and a fine choice with lamb and other red meats. Pibarnon reds are made from Mourvèdre and Cinsault grapes and characteristically have a woody nose with notes of heather, cherry, plum, nutmeg and cinnamon on the palate. Tastings and cellar visits from Monday through Saturday.