By Michael Hepworth
I was not aware that almost 85% of the wines from the idyllic region of Provence were in fact Rosé These wines are used as a welcoming tool for friends and visitors alike, and are made for sharing. The grape growing tradition in the region dates back thousands of years, and although certain Provencal wines have a solid worldwide reputation, others remain an undiscovered secret.
If you think that Rosé is an uninspiring wine for food pairings then think again. The versatile wine goes perfect with seafood, lamb, pasta and Asian food, and in the right circumstances can blend with such items as pork with orange sauce and goat’s cheese. I checked out just two different wineries over an intense 2 week period, and came up with the following observations. The experience has also permanently changed my perception about Rose.
There are literally hundreds of vineyards from the landscape around Ax-en-Provence to the Riviera city of Nice stretching 200 kilometers from east to west, and it blends in to create a unique way of life. The warm dry climate is helped by the Mistral, which deters disease and promotes healthy vineyards. There are15 different grape varieties, with each one receiving separate vinifying, and then blending each variety to create balanced wines.
France produces 28% of the world’s Rose, and 40% of that emanates from Provence. The most common Provence rose varieties are Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre, Tibouren, Carignam and Cabernet Sauvignon in that order. Production each year equals 130 million bottles from 462 outlets (mainly private cellars).
These are the hard facts and one prime example of a top Rosé from Provence would be the wines from Chateau D’Esclans, a famous 700 acre estate located 30 minutes north of St. Tropez. This winery produces the most expensive rose wines in the world. Owner Sacha Alexis Lichine moved there from Bordeaux where he ran his fathers vineyards until 2006. His father was known as the “pope of wine” so he always had big shoes to fill. Recruiting winemaker Patrick Leon from Chateau Mouton-Rothschild was also a smart move, and he makes the wines from free-run juice fermented in 500-litre Burgundy oak barrels.
He has taken Chateau D’Esclans to another level, and according to spokesman Paul Chevalier, “Most people around the world think that Rose wines are like the other “pinks” such as white zinfandel (sweet and sugary) and are mistaken for a starter wine.”
This range is by far the most sought after Rosé in the world, but once you try this stuff you will never go elsewhere. Creamy and full of subtle spices, it also packs a bit of a punch.
Lichine, obviously a marketing genius, used a Studio 54 jetsetter approach to sell the first batches, and then in 2007 it suddenly popped up in the Hamptons. Now Miami has hooked on to the Rosé boom, and the easiest D’Esclans wine to be found at $19.99 is the Whispering Angel. Other versions such as the Esclans 2007 ($35) are light and fruity with a hint of strawberry, and the Les Clans ($60) is an intense and elegant wine with a hint of raspberry and spice. Absolute top of the line is the Garrus Rose ($100) available only at premium wine stores and expensive gourmet restaurants.
If your budget is a bit tighter then you might want to search out the Rosé wines from L’Estandon winery situated in Brignoles in the center of the Provence region. The area consists of shallow and alluvial soil and the wines can be purchased for around $10. A winery since 1947, these wines are also relatively new to the U.S. market and are perfect for the summer months and are much easier to track down than the high end versions from Chateau D’Esclans.