JANCIS ROBINSON – Can pink wine be fine?

Pink wine production is now seen as a serious business around the world – not least thanks to the efforts of Sacha Lichine (ex Ch Prieuré-Lichine) and his team at Château d’Esclans in Provence, which has really raised the bar of ambition among producers, particularly with their top-of-the-range bottling Garrus, currently retailing for almost £100 a bottle. It would therefore not have been difficult to have doubled the number of wines at this blind tasting, but the selection gave a good overview of the current state, and wildly varying styles, of today’s rosé wine production.

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Particularly in Provence, where pink has long been the dominant wine colour, bottle shapes have become particularly creative. There are skittles, cylinders, glass boxes and ever more distinctive variants. For this reason, all 36 wines were decanted into identically neutral clear glass bottles, which not only usefully deprived us of any clues as to their identity, it provided an excellent view of their hues, which varied from the palest of pale greyish salmon (the typical Provençal tint) through some blueish lipstick pinks to colours so deep they were really pale reds. All the wines were 2014s except for six 2013s, mainly superior bottlings given extra ageing.
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The most common impression given by these wines was of determinedly modern low-temperature fermentation aromas with more than a suggestion of paint, and such is the determination of many producers to make their rosés fresh, the acidity can sometimes taste rather jaggedly bolted on. But in practice I found some of the lower-acid wines were some of the most interesting; in some of them a slight astringency added the structure that was lacking. What I was looking for was character, and it was evident that some wines would make seriously interesting wines for the table.I was particularly pleased to have the chance to taste all four current wines from the Esclans stable – Whispering Angel 2014 from bought-in fruit that retails for about £22, Château d’Esclans 2014 itself that now also carries the words Rock Angel on the label and sells for around £29, the more oak-dominated Les Clans 2013 at £60 and Garrus 2013 from one particularly old vineyard at a bold £100 a bottle. The older, more ambitious wines did not shine for me when I tasted them blind – perhaps they are still too young, or perhaps 2013 was a particularly challenging vintage. Both Les Clans and Garrus were still unformed on the nose, still a little chewy on the palate and did not stand out from the crowd, whereas Château d’Esclans Rock Angel 2014 stood out as being the finest and most alluring wine on the table. According to all the background information supplied, this was the only wine in the tasting to contain some of the ancient Tibouren grape. Perhaps that was what appealed so strongly about the complex fume of this beautifully balanced, satin-smooth wine. It seemed to me to be the only one of the four that is reasonably fairly priced. It was this wine above all that proved to me that rosé can be a seriously fine wine.

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