Author: David Williams
Sacha Lichine has launched the world’s most expensive rosé. Jane Anson finds it more than lives up to its reputation.
Sacha Lichine is not a man to just dip his toes in the water. Eating, drinking, working … even fatherhood, as his five children attest, is something that he likes to dive right into. So if you had to pick one winemaker to launch a daringly, laughably expensive rosé wine, his name would definitely be one to bet on.
In retrospect, it seems incredible that it’s taken this long for some enterprising winemaker to launch the world’s first truly boutique rosé. Its popularity has been going through the roof for a number of years; UK rosé sales have doubled in four years and now stand at between 5 and 7 per cent of the wine market.
“Robert Parker said recently that Côtes de Provence was France’s most undervalued terroir,” explain s Lichine. “And rosé is booming all over the world, so it seemed like the perfect time to see if we could make a serious version – the world doesn’t need another red wine, but this is a real chance to make an impact. And there had to be something to challenge Domaines d’Ott.”
How do you set about making a rosé that can convince buyers to part with around £50 to drink it? In Lichine’s case – since deciding to concentrate on rosé in early 2001 – first take six years to find the right property, choosing the €3 million sprawling Ch âteau d’Esclans in the pretty village of La Motte in southern Provence. Invest a further €2 million in updating the vineyard and cellars, including individually temperature-controlled barrels. Then hire Patrick L éon – former winemaker at Ch âteau Mouton Rothschild and Opus One – use plenty of dry ice to keep the 80 -year -old Grenache vines cold from vineyard to bottle, ensure only the free run juice goes into the top cuvée and top it all off with eight months in 500 -litre Burgundian barrels, with lees stirring twice a week.
There are five wines in the range – all shades of delicate pink. The first is a vins de pays rosé, from the red-gold skins of the white grape Roussane. The rest are Côtes de Provence, from the excellent value, deliciously crisp Whispering Angel (€15) to the top of the line Garrus, retailing at €75, and all 1,600 bottles of the inaugural vintage have already sold out .
And is it worth the money? I was, of course, sceptical when I arrived at the property, as I have a slight obsession with rosé wines – not so much in drinking them but in finding fault with them. The Château d’Esclans (mid-price in the range) I found a bit clunky, but the rest have undeniable freshness and delicacy, and bursts of minerality that can only come from winemaking that really respects the terroir. Garrus and Les Clans, the two top wines, have the nose and length that you might expect from a white Burgundy, and the barrel ageing has imparted none of the creaminess that can dampen the palate of an over-oaked wine.
Garrus is definitely a rosé to be seen with – it has already made an appearance at St James’s Palace and the most exclusive hotels on the Côte d’Azur. At that price, and with the Lichine name, it was always going to find a market; it’s an added bonus that it stands up to its myth.