did you know: Bellet wine
Did you know that Nice has its own official winemaking region? And that it is located directly within the city limits?
One of Nice’s best-kept secrets, at least to those who stick to the beach-and-yacht scene, are the stunning vineyards of Bellet.
Bellet is an A.O.C., or Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. This is an official designation by the French Ministry of Wine (yes, this exists!) that guarantees the quality of the wine produced there. Hundreds of AOCs exist throughout France, each with its own characteristics and flavors.
The tiny A.O.C. of Bellet, tucked in the hills of Nice Ouest, is known for its small-production, high-quality, artisanal wines. In fact, they were the favorite wines of Thomas Jefferson, the 18th-century American founding father and lover of wine. He paid dearly to have Bellet bottles shipped regularly to Monticello, Virginia. Luckily for us, no shipment is needed! And it’s just as well because even today the wines are rarely found outside France and cost quite a bit to ship – though not so much as on wooden ship in 1780!
The only urban A.O.C. in all of France (that is, located entirely within the city limits of a major city), Bellet is named for the rolling hills on which it sits, and the name itself means “beautiful.” With only 10-12 producers, Bellet is one of the smallest, as well as oldest, A.O.C.s. While the official A.O.C. system was founded in the 1930s, the vineyards of Bellet date back to ancient Greek and Roman times. In fact, local gardeners are sometimes surprised to see a vine randomly pop up on their property – a hardy survivor of those ancient Greek and Roman plantations.
Bellet wines tend to be on the pricy side, as they are limited in number and use high-quality production processes, such as oak barrel aging and sorting by hand. But with Bellet wines available by the glass in some niçois restaurants and reasonably priced bottles at boutiques such as Le Gout de Nice, these wines remain accessible to locals like us. Take full advantage, as they tend to be exorbitantly priced or impossible to find outside of the Nice region!
The tiny domaines of Bellet have a rustic and authentic feel. If you are imagining a large, polished reception area with a menu of artisanal cheese plates to accompany your glass and a sommelier on standby, purge that thought immediately. Visit a Bellet winery and you will likely see the winemaker on his knees in the dirt pruning the vines or hauling equipment to the cave where the wine is made. Because of the limited production, most vineyards have only a handful of employees and do not cater to tourists. Only two vineyards – Chateau de Cremat and Chateau de Bellet – are set up for tourists to drop in unannounced for a tasting.
But this doesn’t mean that the other vineyards are off-limits! On the contrary, Bellet’s winemakers are passionate about their art and always excited to welcome visitors for a free tasting and a chat. Simply call ahead to schedule a visit. If they are not too busy, they may offer to show you around the property and the vines. You may even get prodded to sample some off-menu homemade grappa or olive oil.
However, because the Bellet AOC is so low-key local, many of the winemakers speak only French. Unless you know French, therefore, the full experience of the Bellet vineyards cannot be enjoyed. But never fear – sharing a drink with a native speaker is one of the best ways to practice. So, call ahead, drop in, and drink up!