By Roger Voss, The Wine Enthusiast, November 11th 2014:
Château d’Esclans–Domaines Sacha Lichine–Whispering Angel (Provence, France)
With an assist from Bordeaux, Sacha Lichine has helped put Provence rosés on the map.
While Provence rosés have experienced great success in the United States over the past few years, none has achieved the luxury reputation of Château d’Esclans’ Garrus.
Garrus lies at the peak of the rosés in the Château d’Esclans range—Whispering Angel, Château d’Esclans, Les Clans and Garrus. Together, they have reinterpreted our idea of rosé wine, giving Esclans the same prestige as any Bordeaux chateau.
Yet, it’s impossible to separate the success of the wines from the ambitions of its owner, Sacha Lichine. His background as the former owner of Château Prieuré-Lichine in Margaux, Bordeaux, has governed his approach to Esclans and its wines.
Esclans was run-down when Lichine bought the estate from a Swedish pension fund in 2006, but he says it was “one of the most beautiful vineyards I’ve ever seen.”
Lichine knew the Riviera from childhood vacations with his storied father, Alexis Lichine.
“My father drank rosé, and when I sold Prieuré-Lichine, I wanted to move to Provence and make rosé,” says Lichine. “But I wanted to make a real wine out of rosé. So I asked Patrick Léon, just retired as technical director from [Château] Mouton-Rothschild, to help me.”
Garrus, a $100 bottle of barrel-fermented rosé, was an immediate headline-grabber when it launched in 2006. Sourced from a parcel of old vines on the Esclans estate, Garrus was aimed straight at the luxury category—the Dom Pérignon of rosé wines, as Lichine describes it.
With his knowledge of the Riviera crowd, Lichine targeted ship chandlers, yacht brokers and the luxury hotels of Antibes and Cap Ferrat.
“I knew we had arrived when I got a call from one of the top yacht builders saying, ‘Could you please send me the dimensions of your three-liter double magnums?’?” says Lichine. “He wanted to make sure he built a fridge on a yacht that was big enough.”
Extending the range from luxury rosé to ones that appeal to the broader market has been an easy step for Lichine. Whispering Angel is the entry-level wine in the Provence rosé range, retailing for $22. It’s tank-fermented and released in the early spring following harvest.
More recently, Lichine has donned a négociant’s hat and launched the Sacha Lichine Selections range of Vins de France, retailing around $12. Made by Léon, these are wines “aimed at catching new rosé drinkers on the way up,” says Lichine. “We want to be the rosé specialists for all occasions.”
Lichine and Esclans have created a buzz in the Provence rosé market, helping to elevate and expand the reach of rosé. A success story in both wine sales and quality, we’re delighted to name Château d’Esclans–Domaines Sacha Lichine-Whispering Angel as our 2014 European Winery of the Year.