The booze cruise in our backyard, vineyards of the Var
The wine harvest has been safely gathered in, and now it’s time to take a tour around one of our region's greatest resources, the vineyards of the Var. Provided the driver leaves the degustation to the others, this is a delightful way to spend one of the those clear, still autumn days this area enjoys. A tasting note for the reserved English: do not feel you are obliged to buy after you have tasted at any particular vineyard. You are there to please yourself, not the owner.
Start point is the Provence wine HQ at Les Arcs, La Maison des Vins (www.maison-des-vins.fr), a terrific resource offering all the info you will need to bespoke your own wine tour. In the vinothèque you will be astonished as you are presented with a choice of 800 Côtes de Provence wines. To narrow things down to manageable numbers, each week the sommeliers of the Maison des Vins select 16 wines which you can taste for free. The excellent restaurant is open all year, except on Sunday and Wednesday evenings and all day Monday.
The co-op at Taradeau is a great example of what can be done to cheer up the cave co-operative tasting experience. They don’t have to be dark and chilly places where you have to taste through chattering teeth. This light, airy and beautifully presented co-op shop should not be missed. Look out for their superior 3-litre boxes of red. The Cuvée Les Grain rosé is a simple Vin de pays du Var, good value at €3.20 a bottle. See www.vigneronsdetaradeau.fr
Over towards the sea, the Domaine des Planes (the D7 between St. Aygulf and Roquebrune-sur-Argens) is run by the Rieder family, who are passionate about their organic approach to winemaking. It’s a beautiful place, open for tasting Monday-Friday 9h-12h30 and 14h-18h. Saturday: 9h-12h30 and 14h-18h30. Closed on Sunday. For more visit www.dom-planes.com
A British winegrower of distinction, Betty Cundall is at Château des Chaberts at Garéoult (www.chaberts.com), not far from Brignoles. She produces Coteaux Varois en Provence wines that are regularly featured in the best of the French wine guides – the Hachette Guides des Vins – and her Prestige 2011 white praised in the 2013 edition.
The Domaine du Bercail (www.domaine-du-bercail.com) at Puget-sur-Argens is an excellent and inexpensive lunch stop. They do good work here as part of the ADAPEI scheme, getting people with mental disabilities in to life’s mainstream through work programmes backed up by medical treatment. Their Demoiselle rosé is light and delicate, accompanying a self-service plat du jour that costs around €10.
The area to the north of Le Muy is a happy hunting ground indeed for the itinerant wine-guzzler. One of the stars of the area is the lovely Chateau de Rouët (www.chateau-du-rouet.com), which nestles against the red cliffs of one of the Estérel outliers. The Côte de Provence rosé from this domaine, which has been producing wine since 1840, is a quality act, dry but with a deep, satisfying flavour. Take the chance for a head-clearing walk around the lovely Gorges du Blavet, not far from Chateau Rouët on the road to Bagnols-en-Foret.
Both the Château des Demoiselles (www.chateaudesdemoiselles.com) at La Motte and nearby Château Ste Roseline are under the same ownership and are impressive establishments that have la visite down to a fine art, though give them a miss if you see coaches in the car park, it’s popular with big groups.