Peach skin and aquamarine
The ultimate dream of every wine region is for its wines to make an impact like madeleine cakes from the Marcel Proust novel. This is when one takes a glance at the label, the unique bottle, smell its aromas, taste the trademark flavours. Then, inside one’s inner cinema, pictures of a certain landscape, hills, forest, vineyards, cities, seasides and freedom – in short, memories of a happy holiday – flash up. Provence rosé goes even one step further: it can conjure up pictures of a happy holiday, even for those who have never actually been to the French Riviera.
Provence rosé has had to come a long way for the drink to match the appeal and the ambience of the landscape. The rosé, which has been breaking every sales record recently, has a history of 2,500 years. However, without the latest technology – it cannot be made. Its modern-day rise started when during the years of prosperity after World War II, the tourists flooding the Cote d’Azur would later recall the refreshing rosé with a more beautiful colour than anything else as a happy memory after their holidays. However, for it to become a worldwide fashion item, a cunning marketing genius was also needed, who repackaged and repositioned the cheap and little-valued, local drink.
It was Sacha Lichine who connected sailing, sea and luxury with the pale peach-coloured Provençal wine. He came up with an easy to remember English name for it and its creature came to life. By today, they sell seven million bottles of Whispering Angel annually. For the complete picture, it’s important to add that lasting success was based on quality: Provence rosé is a sophisticated, aristocratic wine, which is not just separated from the other wine regions’ rosés by its packaging.
There’s no other wine style in which excellence depends so much on restraint and discretion. The power and the beauty of the character of big white or red wines often overwhelms the imbiber. However, rosé enchants with the fact that it’s so delicious and easy to drink that we hardly notice when another sip has already gone down. The rosé that calls attention to itself with its personality is a bad rosé. The secret of its greatness is in roundness and subtle notes and it’s not understood in too many places outside of Provence. Good Provence rosé is the easiest to drink – it’s free of any sharp edges, the palate is seamlessly smooth and the bottle is emptied quickly.
As easy as it is to drink, it’s as hard to make. For the perfect rosé, one should ‘tap’ the aromas and flavours of the grape skins, so that the taps of colour and tannins remain shut. Rosé is usually a white wine made from black grapes, so the technology is also that of white wine: gentle pressing, an oxygen-free environment and temperature-controlled fermentation. In the case of the more ambitious rosés, all this is accompanied by keeping the wine on the lees and possibly by shortish barrel ageing, which makes the texture richer and creamier. But one has to deal with it carefully – because from the ideal rose, nothing can stand out, as its main values are balance and elegance.
There are many misunderstandings regarding rosé, and it’s unfortunate that none of them can be called groundless. The world is not black and white, even when it comes to pink:
Rosés are a rootless, modern junk
Rosés are in fact the flintstones of wines: the most ancient type of wine. If only the colour is considered, then at the beginning of European civilization, everybody was drinking rosé. In ancient Greece and Rome, it didn’t matter whether the grapes were white or black, they were grown and harvested together. The dark skins coloured the white juice, thus the wine became red. According to the rules of classic etiquette, wine was supposed to be diluted by water – only barbarians drank it without water – and the pink colour had already been arrived at.
Of course, rosés are about more than just the colour. After two and a half thousand years of evolution, what is considered as the standard of rosé today, and what its current status is based on, emerged around 2005: the peach coloured, strictly dry, aristocratically sophisticated Provence rosés in haute couture bottles.
Rosés are made by mixing white wines with reds
In ancient times, this much was basically true, as there were no harvests based on the colour of the grapes. However, the production method has changed a lot since then. Today, there are two ways of making rosé: the saignée and skin contact methods. In the case of the former, two birds are killed with one stone: after pressing, the juice of the black grapes is poured from the top of the tanks, from which a thinner, paler wine (the rosé) is made, while the concentrated part continues on its way to become a more substantial red. In the case of the second method, rosé is the sole goal: in this case, the juice, the skins and the flesh of the fruit are macerated together for an hour or two, and this way the juice obtains some extra flavours and colour. This latter way is the method used in Provence, and the quality and style that is achievable this way plays a crucial role in the growing scale of rosé consumption all around the world.
Making a rosé is child’s play
This statement is a misconception that is unfortunately shared by many winemakers. A modest, austere, sweet or sour rosé is the consequence of this attitude. A geniune rosé is not a by-product, not the diluted juice of red wine – certainly not a Provençal rosé, anyway. Making rosé calls for serious expertise and experience, or even more, there’s possibly no other category of wine that requires more precision to make. For a Provence rosé, a perfectly picked harvest date is necessary, as are immaculate grapes and technological discipline, right down to every fine detail.
Rosé is the wine of crispy acidity
Acids are unquestionably among the focal elements of wine’s harmony, however, their freshness doesn’t come from quantity, but quality. The tighter and more natural the acidity’s connection to the wine’s other elements, such as fruit and texture, the more convincing the result is. Freshness is born within the grapes, written into the fruit and is determined by the ripening process – while it’s the job of the winemaker is to find, explore and preserve it. Nothing could be further from the sophisticated and elegant Provence rosé than the biting, sharp acids of half-ripened grapes.
Rosé is good for just a year
Rosés are undoubtedly connected to the summer and most of them are not meant for several years of ageing, but it would be a mistake to think that they only taste good in summer, and it is also not true that they should only be consumed within 12 months. Regarding their durability there are some extreme examples, like Viña Tondonia Rosé Gran Reserva, which is aged in barrels for four years and at the age of 10, it’s still regarded as young. Indeed, one shouldn’t hurry with the barrel-aged rosés of Chateau d’Esclans – their best course is not run by the spring following the harvest. A serious rosé shows more at the age of one than its freshly released predecessor.
The paler, the better
The people of Provence are to blame for this superstition, as the colour of the rosés here ranges from barely perceptible peach skin to barely perceptible salmon colour. However, paleness is not an indicator of quality – in fact, as the popularity of pale rosé began to rise, some winemakers explicitly resorted to decolourization, which then resulted in approaching colourless, almost scentless and practically tasteless wine. However, it is undoubtedly true that the faint hue is a trademark of modern Provençal rosé.
Provence rosés are expensive
In fact, there’s no other style of wine in which the most expensive would be as accessible as in the case of rosé. Provence is for rosé what Burgundy is for Pinot Noir or Bordeaux for Cabernet. However, one could buy a car for the price of a bottle of Romanée-Conti and the money spent on a bottle of Chateau Latour could cover a modest family holiday. In contrast, from the price of the best Provence rosés, one could only possibly buy a pair of flipflops from a good brand.
Château La Coste
Beyond the already familiar brands, we would like to introduce new wines from Provence every year. We regularly taste the wine region’s big names but we prefer the elegant, appealing modern style and it’s also important that we select from organic wineries. We encountered the wines of Chateau La Coste at the eatery of Argentine chef Francis Mallmann, who runs the estate’s wood-fire kitchen.
Château La Coste is the lovechild of an Irish property developer and hotel owner, Patrick McKillen, who not only has great ideas but also an endless source of credit to build them with. The estate has 200 hectares of vineyards, but even the most blindsided wine enthusiast would not call it simply a winery. The multiple buildings on the site were designed by the greatest contemporary architects, including Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel and Richard Rogers, and the sculpture park features works by Alexander Calder, Louise Bourgeois and Ai Weiwei, among others. In recent weeks, Château La Coste has been in the news because Bob Dylan’s latest work, a mobile sculpture made from a railroad car, was added to its range of exhibits. Beside the hotel and 28 rentable villas, there are four restaurants on the property – one is run by world-famous Argentine chef Francis Mallmann.
The vast grape plantation between Aix-en-Provence and the Luberon National Park is cultivated organically, and also according to the principles of biodynamics. The winery, with a total functioning area of 10,000 m², consists of two half-cut cylindrical metal structures on the surface, while the cellar was built 17 meters underground.
Château La Coste Rosé 2021
A classic, elegant, genuine Provence rosé. Its base material is mainly Grenache and Syrah. It has a relatively fuller pink colour. The nose is intense, refreshing and tempting, with peaches, pears, blueberries and raspberries. The palate is fruity and rich, with mineral, creamy seeds and good texture. The vibrant acids linger on with a hint of a tannic finish.
Sacha Lichine, the offspring of a Bordeaux chateau owning family, came up with the idea around 2005 to make the world’s best and also most expensive rosé. To complement it, he commissioned Patrick Léon, Mouton Rothschild’s retired chief winemaker, and with its marketing, they targeted the yacht owners of the Caribbean.
Garrus rosé, positioned at the top, eventually proved too expensive – even for them, but its cheaper partner, Whispering Angel, became a worldwide success and, thus, the craze for Provence rosé began. The recipe developed by Léon has been adopted by many since then: picking completely ripe grapes for the sake of aroma-richness; avoiding oxidization with berry selection and constant cooling; preventing excessive extraction; and enriching and fine-tuning the texture of the wine by keeping it on the lees. Also, in the case of expensive wines, barrel ageing can also be used. Despite the palm tree and angel decoration, Chateau d’Esclans’ wines are discreetly elegant, lean and classic in style.
CHATEAU D'ESCLANSWhispering Angel Rosé 2021 Magnum
Figuière came into the ownership of the Combard family in 1992. Alain Combard, the co-founder of the famous Chablis estate, Domaine Laroche, decided to give into his homesickness after 22 years and return to his native region of Provence. Building on his experiences in Chablis, he set the goal of making great wine from rosé as well. The successes achieved since then and the status gained by his wines, have justified his decision.
The estate is now run by his three children with the same commitment and in the same spirit. The winery’s belief has also remained the same:
“A good wine is made on the vine, and a good vine needs living soil. In the cellar, we only help nature, we try to minimize human intervention. We respect the resources of nature, we do not control or force fermentation, we avoid unnecessary steps, we give time to the processes, we protect the originality of all our plots and varieties. We seek to make sure that our wines evoke the purity of the slate cliffs of the Massif des Maures.”
Figuiére Mediterrannée Rosé 2021
The trump card of our assortment, the Swiss Army knife of Provence rosés. A fruity, fresh and easy to drink wine with peach, orange peel and strawberry on the nose. The palate is creamy, relatively full and has a good structure, accompanied by refreshing acidity and a pleasant sourness reminiscent of peach seeds on the finish. A sophisticated yet friendly wine.
Figuiére Premiere Rosé 2021
It has been one of our best Provence rosés for years. It is excellently balanced between aristocratic remoteness and fruity, appealing directness. Besides the tropical fruits and barely ripe peaches, it offers subtly sour aromas of citrus fruit and marzipan. Alongside the creamy texture, there’s vibrant acidity on the lively, exciting palate.
Mas de Cadenet
Mas de Cadenet first appeared in our selection last year. This year, we brought in two wines from them – besides the rosé, also a red Syrah-Grenache blend. The estate has been owned by the Negrel family since 1813, and is currently run by the seventh generation, by Maud and Matthieu.
The Montagne Sainte Victoire is a reccuring motif of Cézanne’s paintings, and one of Provence’s best terroirs was also named after it. All the producers of the PDO territory cultivate organically. The south-facing, 60-hectare vineyard of Mas de Cadenet is located at 250 metres above sea level. They have been certified organic since 2013, the average age of the vines is 35 years old, while the oldest ones are over 70 years. The age of vines is a key factor in the permanence and quality of the wines. Their leading products are the rosés, but they also make red and white wines.
Mas de Cadenet Cotes de Provence Sainte-Victoire Rosé 2021
An elegant, fragile and fresh rosé with an even paler colour than the average. The wine region’s main three grape varieties – Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah take the lead. It offers very pure, natural aromas. Besides the peach, citrus and apricot stone notes, the palate is approaching salty. Owing to the lively but not at all sharp acids, the finish is refreshingly crispy and dry.