The finest rosés in the world
How much fun is a one horse race? I suppose that depends on whether you are the trainer or the horse. Château d’Esclans has been winning every rosé race in the last ten years with its wines and yet the trainer, owner Sacha Lichine, is so driven that he not only wants to win, he wants to put as much distance as possible between his mount and the pack. He cannot win by any more margin though judging by his two brand new 2015 elite rosé releases, Les Clans and Garrus. Due to hit the market any moment now, and being offered En Primeur by a few prescient wine merchants, these wines further transcend the world’s rosé category. In fact, I believe, that for the first time in my 30 years in the wine trade, that a perfect rosé has just been made. I realise that this might be viewed as a highly incendiary or perhaps a laughably fanciful comment. Many cannot begin to imagine that rosé could, in any form, reach such heights, and they might have been correct a few years ago, but today this is blinkered and outdated thinking.
Château d’Esclans makes serious wines for serious wine lovers and as such they conform to all of the hallmarks of great sparkling, white, red, sweet or fortified wine. They have exquisite fragrances, impeccable palates, heroic finishes and sensational balance. They will also age well, too, which is not necessarily a requirement for this style of wine. In addition, they look the part, with jaw-dropping design and a price tag to match. The large formats available are some of the most visually striking vinous vessels in the wine world and, most importantly, everyone who tastes these wines falls for their charms immediately and never forgets the experience.
Both of these cuvées are made from old Grenache vines with a cunning addition of the white grape Rolle (Vermentino) which adds aromatic detail, mid-palate slipperiness and glorious length to the whole. Viticulture and vinification is carried out to exacting standards, from harvesting at sunrise, to optical grape-sorting, destemming and slight-crushing at 7-8°C to avoid oxidation. There is no maceration employed here, and mainly free run juice is used with a slight addition of the first pressings to add gravitas. The alcoholic fermentation is carried out in new and second year demi-muids (600L French oak barrels) and lees stirring is carried out twice weekly during the ten-month maturation – this is critical to building richness and texture in the wines. The most incredible and magical technique used here though is the individual barrel temperature control system. This is the only winery in the world in which I have seen this extraordinary piece of kit. This otherworldly apparatus snakes down from the ceiling of the winery plunging glycol-filled steel tentacles through small holes in the oak barrels. This incredible system maintains optimally cool temperatures in the wine which in turn slows and lengthens fermentation allowing these heavenly creations to build their flavours incrementally.
2015 Château d’Esclans, Les Clans, Côtes de Provence (19/20) is a wine which finally found its feet in 2014 and this stunning vintage further defines its character. There is an initial blush-inducing tenderness to this wine which almost makes you apologise for disturbing it in the glass. Thereafter it gathers its skirts and strikes a firm pose parading ginger-lily and pink grapefruit touches alongside the red cherry-stone theme. Château d’Esclans’ rosé hallmark is the gossamer texture of the wines from Whispering Angel, via Rock Angel and then on to these two deities and in 2015 these wines are smoother and longer than ever before. The acidity is proud and combative and there is still spiciness and traction lingering on the palate minutes later. This is a heroic wine and it further underlines the Les Clans model – one of scintillating charm balanced with brittle attitude.
2015 Château d’Esclans, Garrus, Côtes de Provence (20/20) is a wine which I feared I would never taste. I have tracked this wine over the years through the 18s, 18.5s and into the 19s and last year I sensed we were on the brink of perfection, but I couldn’t push myself into a perfect score. When I tasted the 2015 wines out of barrel last year I was convinced that they were even finer than the ‘14s and this meant that a perfect Garrus was possible. Now that the wine is bottled, and has had a chance to settle, I am certain that we have found a superstar release. As always, Garrus has more depth and power than Les Clans and in 2015 it seems to flaunt its 80+ year old Grenache vine credentials on its sleeve. This wine might have the palest of coral colours but it is made from imperial red fruit. The alcohol (14% vol.) informs you that this is not an ephemeral rosé, unlike so many. This is a wine which is thrumming with bass power and yearning to be set free from its restraints. It has a depth of fruit on the nose which I have not seen before at this estate. Savoury, chiselled, powerful and majestic, Garrus is a product of its idyllic environment, its highly talented creators, Sacha’s inspirational vision and also the raw red earth from which it was torn. I sense that Garrus will, one day, be mentioned in the same breath as wines like La Tâche, Latour, Vieilles Vignes Françaises and Le Montrachet. I don’t know when that might be but in the meantime I will be serving this rosé at the same table as these other great wines in the knowledge that it has finally lived up to its promise.