BLOUIN ARTINFO Tinkled Pink: Rosé Wine Pleases Palates, Champagne Becomes Collectible

Oenophiles, it is time to raise a glass and drink pink!

Perennial proclamations that rosé has taken its place among reds and whites as a respectable quaff at last sound perfectly credible. “Rosé is now turning up on the menus of restaurants and clubs everywhere — even in places you wouldn’t expect it,” says London wine importer Colin Smyth, pointing to the drinks list of London’s Oxford & Cambridge Club, which currently has a Club Rosé (Domaine Gavoty, Provence) on the first page. “Some French rosés and Italian rosatos are actually pretty good. Spanish rosado is some way behind, but give it time. I’d recommend giving the Gavoty a go.”

Rosés may have conquered wine connoisseurs, however, it’s not clear that they can be considered collectibles. This is in part because, beyond the premium vintages and Champagnes, most are relatively inexpensive and short­lived.

While some rosés from France come from the cooler Loire Valley, and from the Champagne area for some sparkling varieties, many of the biggest and best names are from the southern Rhone, and especially from Provence nearest to the Mediterranean Sea. Production methods differ from one winery to the next, but with all adding dark­skin grapes as part of the process.

Serious wine buffs like Smyth long looked down their noses at rosés, citing a number of reasons: Rosé producers, unless they had their own vineyards, were often forced to use lower-quality grapes and blended different varieties with little real discrimination. The wines were thought not to keep as well as reds and whites, developing an unpleasant aftertaste. And perhaps the most damaging blow to their image came from brands like the frizzante Mateus rosé from Portugal that began to be stocked on supermarket shelves in the 1970s.

Most of these criticisms are no longer valid, but a bad reputation sticks among wine snobs. Even now, when their wines are seen as fashionable alternatives to reds and whites, rosé producers feel pressed to defend them as more than a quirky fad.

“A lot of men joke about its color and its flowery bouquet,” says Smyth, holding up a bottle of Gavoty to the light. “It’s ‘getting in touch with my other side’ or whatever. It’s traditionally a feminine drink.”

Bordeaux­born, U.S.­educated Sacha Lichine, who acquired the Provençal Château d’Esclans winery 10 years ago, accepts that rosé may have started as a ladies’ drink but insists that it now has a much broader appeal, thanks in large part to its versatility: “It’s about English women who went down to the south of France. It’s about St. Tropez, it’s about Cannes. It marries well with food of every sort — you can drink it before, after, whatever.”

“Rosé became better­known due to the French Riviera lifestyle, where rosé is for us what Champagne is elsewhere,” says Jérome Pernot, whose acclaimed Château Léoube uses traditional processes, with no second­quality grapes or second presses.

So is rosé finally being accorded the attention it deserves? According to Louise Sydbeck, the managing director of Riviera Wine, which supplies wine to yachts and organizes courses and tastings, “it depends on who you would ask. The producers in Provence take it very seriously, since it represents about 85 percent of their production. Globally, the rosé category represents nine percent of the world’s production, and most of it is consumed within a year of the harvest.”

Sydbeck credits Lichine with sparking the rise in the Provençal market with his oak­aged superpremium rosés, like the award­winning Whispering Angel.  “It is classic Provence,” says the vintner. “It’s Grenache grape predominantly. You are allowed in France to co­ferment white and red grapes. You are not allowed to ferment them separately and then blend them.” Lichine is also proud of his Garrus, a balanced wine with faint oak influences, made from 80­year­old vines and barrel fermented “in a Burgundian style.” Billed as the most expensive rosé in the world, it commonly sells for $80 a bottle.

In another proof of the passing of the old stereotypes, Nicole Sierra­Rolet, principal of Chêne Bleu, contrasts yesterday’s “cheap and cheery” rosés, usually served ice cold to cover up imperfections, with her bright pink, perfumed Rhône Valley number, produced using pneumatic presses, long cold maceration times, and temperature-­controlled fermentation, then fined out with powdered organic peas rather than chemical agents. The sophisticated result beats many lighter reds and complex whites, especially for gourmet alfresco dining on a terrace or even a yacht, Rolet says. The recommended serving temperature: a cool but not frosty 14 to 16 degrees Celsius.

Domaines Ott, which became part of Louis Roederer in 2004, also has an enviable reputation. Its master of wine, Mark Bingley, attributes this to the method of production, which uses only the lightest pressing. The sacrifice of volume, he explains, “is more than compensated by the textural finesse of the wine.” Certainly the Domaines Ott Clos Mireille Rosé has won acclaim from winemakers, with wine writer Matthew Jukes saying that the 2013 has “heart­achingly pretty flavors.”

The best Provençal rosés, in Sydbeck’s opinion, are (in no specific order): Les Clans and Garrus, from Château d ?Esclans; Négrel Cadenet, from Mas de Cadenet; Clos Cibonne; Domaines Ott; Minuty Rose et Or, from Château Minuty; and Cuvée 946, from Château Gassier. With such a selection of quality wines, it’s no wonder that the market for rosés is booming. “Rosé people are tickled pink,” says Smyth. “Its market is getting 10 percent growth a year.”

That growth does not extend to the collectible market, however. “Although it is definitely interesting and sometimes even impressive to taste some older rosés,” says Sydbeck. “It will never be a wine style for long­term collectors. Even among the top producers, with a couple of notable exceptions, the wines only last a couple of years, and some have even seen their best after the first summer.”

That’s not the case for the sparkling version. Rosé Champagne, all of course from the cooler Champagne region, is a different story, says Smyth, adding, “Now this is collectable and keeps for longer.”

Sotheby’s wine specialist Damian Tillson broadly agrees. “Grande Marque Rosé is made in very limited quantities and can attract strong bids at auction, particularly when it has some bottle age, because they are rarely seen,” he states. “That said, they are generally understood not to have quite the same lifespan as vintage or even some non­vintage Champagnes, but the very top cuveés are fabulous.

“The best, and these can improve in bottle and indeed last for several decades if stored properly, are Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé, Dom Perignon Rosé, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé, Krug Rosé (non­vintage), and Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rosé.” Others include Bollinger Rosé, Pol Roger Rosé, Ruinart Rosé, Billecart Salmon Rosé, and Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque Rosé, says Tillson.

By Mark Beech