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What is it about Provençal pink?

28 Jun 2008 by Jancis Robinson

This is a longer version of an article also published in the Financial Times.

See also my tasting notes on selected pink wines and champagnes.

“The world is awash with rosé,” observed an old friend who once managed one of London’s most famous hotels somewhat testily to me the other day. “How on earth are we supposed to know which of them to drink?”

Later that same day I met an old girlfriend for the first time for over a decade. In the interim she had married and I asked about her hedge fund husband. One of his favourite leisure activities apparently is drinking. And what does he drink? Why, rosé.
It is certainly true that the most visible change in what goes into wine glasses over the last few years has been the newly respectable status of pink wine, even for men, and the dramatically increased volumes of it that are to be found on sale in the UK and the US. But I would argue that even seasoned wine drinkers need even more help in finding the best rosés than in identifying the best reds and whites because there is just so much opportunistic pink wine about.
Typically a retailer keen to take advantage of the fashion for rosé goes to their regular red wine suppliers and asks them to produce a pink version of the wine they are already buying in deep red. But what makes a good red wine does not necessarily make a good pink wine.
In fact - hold on for huge generalisation – I am not at all convinced that Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé is a particularly good idea, for example. The great grape of the Médoc’s forte is tannin, concentration and longevity. None of these is a particularly positive attribute in a pink wine, which, in my view, should be perfumed, fruity (though not sickly sweet) and rather precocious. Cabernet Sauvignon’s parent, Cabernet Franc which produces lighter, softer, more aromatic wines seems more suitable for rosé production to me. 
A wine such as Château de Ligré 2007 Chinon Rosé (£8.90 Yapp Bros) is absolutely lovely – fragrantly leafy perfume with a soft, fruity texture but a bone dry finish. This is obviously made from delightfully ripe Loire Cabernet Franc grapes yet has only 12.5% alcohol and would make a great partner for all sorts of white wine foods. Considerably less subtle but good value is Foncaussade, Les Parcelles Rosé 2007 Bergerac (£5.69 Waitrose), which is only 12.2% alcohol and is made from equal parts of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon very, very gently pressed. Like all the pink wines recommended here, this is a wine that actually has character. The most common fault in widely available rosés is a deficiency of flavour combined with an excess of sweetness.
Pink wines are now made virtually everywhere wine of any colour is made. Probably the most inventive rosé ever to come my way was a pink retsina style from McLaren Vale in South Australia. The number of rosés produced outside Europe must have quadrupled over the last three or four years. The best New World examples I have come across so far tend to be big, bold, quasi-red wines that are not unhappy to be served chilled. Charles Melton, Rose of Virginia 2007 Barossa Valley (£12.25 www.winedirect.co.uk) is the current vintage of the prototype of this beefy barbecue style of pink.  
But the more rosés I taste, the more I am convinced that the corner of the world that makes the best (and some of the worst) rosé is the most obvious place of all, Provence. Admittedly the sheer weight of summer tourist traffic throughout the region, from the Lubéron to the Italian border, sustains vast quantities of under-flavoured, often over-sweetened Provençal rosé, but the best examples - fine, delicate, herbily scented and satin-smooth  - represent my pink wine ideal.
From a base in the hills south of Draguignan, Sacha, son of the late Alexis Lichine, who was one of the most cosmopolitan and energetic wine promoters of the mid 20th century, has effected a real coup in the form of his Château d’Esclans range. By airily suggesting that his most expensive bottling, Garrus, is worth over £60 a bottle, he has done the whole category a great service – from rosé producers’ point of view. Doubtless next year we will see all manner of outrageously priced pink wines.
I have tasted Lichine’s Garrus (suggested retail price £65), Les Clans (£45), straight Château d’Esclans (£22) and the most basic Whispering Angel (£15) recent bottlings of the 2007 vintage and absolutely loved Château d’Esclans 2007 Côtes de Provence, which seemed to me by far the best value. Whispering Angel shouted a bit too much for me, while the Garrus and Les Clans did not strike me as worth the premium. The regular 2006 (not 2007) is about £24 at Fortnum & Mason, Harrods and Nickolls & Perks. UK stockists for the entire range of 2006s can be found below but I would head for Goedhuis who have an offer of the 2007 regular bottling at a mere £105.75 for six bottles, to be delivered next month. 
Never have I come across a wine more suitable for a Glyndebourne picnic. The key to the indubitably superior quality seems to be particularly old Grenache vines, some 80 years old we are told, with some pale skinned Rolle (Vermentino) grapes, and part vinification in large, old oak casks.
Very much in the same mould, though less expensive, are Clos Ste Magdeleine 2007 Cassis (£14.75 Yapp Bros), which is superbly pretty with scents of some sort of herb oil and R de Rimauresq 2007 Côtes de Provence which is made by the Wemyss family who own Fonty’s Pool in Western Australia and sell this lovely dry, scented rosé mainly to restaurants in the UK (also available from www.everywine.co.uk and the Wine Cellar Campbell Moor, Isle of Man). Both of these Provençal rosés are made from the Cinsault grape that can make such lusciously fruity reds and pinks for early drinking, together with Grenache and the Mourvèdre of nearby Bandol for the Cassis, and Mourvèdre and the strictly local Tibouren for the Rimauresq.
Another British producer of pleasing, if less complex, Provencal rosés is Julian Faulkner, whose Jules 2007 Côtes de Provence Rosé sells for only about £7 a bottle, has in the past been imported by Noel Young and can be traced via www.jules-wines.com. Domaine Gavoty, Cuvée Tradition 2007 Côtes de Provence (£7.95 Jeroboams) is also very serviceable and even better value is Les Quatre Tours, Signature 2007 Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence (£7.95 Stone Vine & Sun) which has a really appetising dry finish. All of these Provençal examples are a particularly beguiling shade of very pale pink – although pink wines today vary from red-with-a-dash-of-water through many a shade of orange and lurid lipstick pink to virtually-indistinguishable-from-white-wine.

One of the most popular styles of rosé traditionally was very pale pink Sancerre. This popularity has tended to bolster prices but Fournier, Les Chanvrières 2006 Sancerre Rosé(£9.19 bigger Tescos) is fair value, as is Simonnet-Febvre Rosé 2006 Bourgogne (£6.99 N D John of Swansea) whose delicacy and high acidity seems to have preserved the (Pinot Noir) fruit of this rosé, most unusually, into its second year.

Unfortunately, last year's miserable summer seems to have left too many fading 2006s on the lists and shelves of UK wine merchants, and ensuring the freshest pinks wines into retail distribution in the US seems to present a particular challenge.

See my tasting notes on more rosés, both still wines and a revealing blind tasting of pink champagne. For international stockists see www.winesearcher.com  
UK stockists of the Château d'Esclans range:
 
Whispering Angel stockists
Crown & Castle Hotel
Edencroft Fine Wines
Galtres Fine Wines Ltd
A Hadleigh Wine Merchants
Hayward Bros. Wines
Henderson Wines
Heroes Fine Foods Ltd
Hunan
Isle of Eriska
JW Lees & Co
Liquid Treasure
The Madejski Hotel
Miles Better Wines Ltd
Mounts Bay Wine Co
The New Wine Shop
Nickolls & Perks Ltd
Playford Ros
Priory Wines
Edward Sheldon Ltd
Wined Up Here Ltd
Erik Laan Fine Wines Ltd
The Stonhouse
The White Hart Pub
Swig Wine Merchants
La Zouch Cellars
Yauatcha
 
Ch d'Esclans stockists
Champany Ltd
Edencroft Fine Wines
Fortnum & Mason
Galtres Fine Wines Ltd
Harrods
Nickolls & Perks Ltd
RVB Cuisine Ltd
Sake No Hana

Ch d'Esclans, Garrus stockists
Edencroft Fine Wines
J W Lees & Co
Jacaranda
Swig Wine Merchants
The Royal Oak

There are currently no UK stockists of Les Clans.
 
Tags:  pink wine
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