So many people think of rosé as a throw-away wine that you drink only in summer. And in many cases they are correct. Most rosé wine is made to be drunk early and quickly – but not all of them. Some rosé wine is “serious.” It’s made with superior grapes in a technologically advanced facility by top-notch winemakers. Oh, and it can get pricey.
A case in point is the Chateau d’Esclans from Provence. This wine, made in vineyards owned by Sacha Lichine, is made like a classified Bordeaux from where Mr. Lichine hails. The wines are made from both red and white grapes (Rolle – aka Vermentino). The red grape is Grenache, a departure from the local workhorse, Cinsault.
You might be wondering how this can be if it is illegal in the EU to blend red and white wine to make rosé. I had the same question, so I asked Mr. Lichine, son of famed wine impresario Alexis Lichine.
According to Lichine, in Côtes de Provence AOC up to 20% of your vineyards can be planted with white grapes. In order to use those grapes in rosé wine, they must be macerated (color leached from skins) and fermented (to create alcohol) in the same vat at the same time as the red grapes. You can actually use whatever percentage of white grapes as you like in the wine – you just can’t grow more than 20%.
The grapes for these particular wines are planted on plots differentiated by grape variety and age of the vines. They are generally picked 7-8 days later than most grapes in the region in order to have higher sugar and color. The grapes are put into small containers with dry ice to bring and keep the temperature at around 45 F on their way to the winery. They are sorted manually and electronically three times.
About 90% of the juice fermented to make the wine is free run. This is juice that flows freely from the skin of grapes under their weight before they are pressed. Wine made this way is more expensive because there is less of it and it is higher in quality than pressed juice. Pressed juice contains more tannins and tends to be more bitter. The 10% pressed juice is blended into the free-run juice right before fermentation.
Chateau D’Esclans bottles four separate cuvées:
Whispering Angel is made from Grenache (73%), Rolle (4%), Cinsault (9%), Syrah (8.5%) and Mourvedre (5.5%). The juice is vinified in stainless steel creating a wine that is fresh and bright with a dry clean finish. The 2009 vintage is widely available in New York for about $20 per bottle.
Esclans, the second label in the lineup, is made from 85% Grenache (39% from 80 year old vines) and 15% Rolle. There is no additional maceration here. About 20% of the juice is vinified in 600 liter barrels called demi muids, the rest in stainless steel. It retails for about $35 per bottle.
Les Clans, the first of the higher end cuvées, is made from grape vines that are between 50-80 years old – 75% Grenache (48% of 80 year old vines) and 25% Rolle. Again, there is no maceration. Alcoholic fermentation is done in new and second year demi muids for 10 months. “Batonnage” or stirring of the dead yeasts to impart wonderful creamy mouth feel is done twice weekly. This sells for about $80 per bottle.
Garrus – the grand dame of rosé wine – is made from vines that are at least 80 years old. It is a blend of 70 % Grenache and 30% Rolle. It is vinified in the same manner as the Les Clans.
Only six barrels of Garrus are made in each vintage. Of those, 50% is sold directly to people who moor their yachts in St. Tropez. In fact Sacha Lichine likes to tell how some people have contacted him for the exact specifications of his double magnums so their ship’s wine cellar can be constructed to accommodate them perfectly. This wine is textural, elegant, dry and complex. It sells for about $100 per bottle.
Pop’s in Island Park, Long Island, carries all four of these wines. Their prices are $20.12 for Whispering Angel, $32.58 for Esclans, $78.65 for the Les Clans and $98.15 for the Garrus.