Why, You’re Blushing! :: Rosé Wines of Provence

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Apr 1, 2014

The 2014 edition of the Vins du Provence wine event stopped through Boston on March 3. This year's event took the theme of Provence in the City; it might just as well have taken the theme of Provence Ascendant. With Provence blush wines increasing in sales by double digits every year for the last decade -- 2013 alone saw sales soar by over 40% -- the rosé wines of the Provence region are carving out a commanding niche in the overall wine market.

It's more than the bottom line, of course, that makes this trend interesting. In wine culture, rosé was for too long dismissed as the sweeter, less interesting product, something best left to beginners or assumed suitable for the young, and of less interest to mature wine drinkers with more developed tastes.

That perception is fading like the flavor of a shallow wine with a short finish. As rosé wine gains new luster, it also attracts fresh respect -- and a whole new following among oenophiles. Here's a mere sampling of what industry professionals, restaurateurs, and journalists encountered in Boston recently, when close to 40 winemakers poured their wares for an appreciative -- and still somewhat surprised -- audience.

Château de L’Escarelle

iPink, 2013

Château de L’Escarelle rep Patrick Lobier presented "iPink," a newly created wine targeting the younger set. Marketing efforts aimed at younger consumers have emphasized the friendly character of rosé wines; their lightness, their refreshing character, the way they pair well with food and are often somewhat on the sweeter side.

This contemporary, light-hearted wine, made of Grenache and Syrah, meets those criteria but still manages to embrace the Provence tradition, Lobier told EDGE via a colleague he’d roped into translating. He added that this wine is ideal as an aperitif; the notes in the event booklet further add that this is a good match with Provençal and Italian cooking.

The nose has an enticing floral character that includes notes of grapefruit, the result of calcareous clay soil. The mouth is very pleasant, fresh, and light -- but with a tannic undertone that lends complexity. The long finish reveals notes of vanilla and strawberry.

Clubber, 2013

Another wine targeting the youth market, Clubber has taken off in the Caribbean and Brazil, and the South of France is starting to catch on as well, Lobier told EDGE. A blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah, this vintage offers a bright red berry in the nose, along with vanilla and a touch of honey... or maybe that’s the hawthorn flowers the tasting notes mention? There’s no arguing with the generic flavor description: "Full bodied, round, and elegant." Strawberry dominates the long finish.

Prestige, 2013

"iPink is for drinking with a pretty girl on the beach," Lobier asserted gleefully. "And if all goes well, you can follow up with a bottle of Prestige at night."

Translate that into the language of love spoken by our tribe, and you still get a pleasing result. This rosé is made of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah. Its growth in calcareous rock soil lends it that glimmer of hawthorn flowers, but it’s foremost a berry-up-front sort of mouth, light but also darker than iPink or Clubber -- maybe, dare we say, a tad more grown up.

Caves D’Esclans Sacha Lichine

Whispering Angel, 2013

Caves D’Esclans Sacha Lichine Representative Tom Schreckinger poured tastes of four wines for EDGE, starting with Whispering Angel. This rosé is made up of an all-star lineup of varietals: Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Rolle, Carignan, Tibouren, grapes grown in chalky clay. The notes say this has an "aromatic nose with finesse," but truth be told, I get a savory impression. The mouth features "outstanding acidity," the notes say, which to me translates as a flavor profile bursting with more savory notes, as well as slightly sweet berries.

Chateau D’Esclans, 2013

This rose is made of Grenache, Rolle, Syrah, Tibouren, and Cinsault and grown in chalky clay. It offers some grapefruit and a slightly jammy mouthfeel; it’s really rather delicious.

Les Clans, 2012

This rosé is drawn from Grenache, Rolle, Syrah, Tibouren, and Cinsault and grown in chalky clay. Another rep at a neighboring booth talked about some Provence wines coming across as an "aggressive Sauvignon Blanc," and here’s a prime example: It’s a formidable wine that opens up to a milder finish.

Saint André de Figuière

Magali, 2013

The classy wines of Saint André de Figuière put a fine food forward with Magali, 2013. This rosé is made of Cinsault, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah; the grapes are grown in a shale soil. This is less floral, offers white fruit, most noticeably pear. The notes speak of a "bouquet of citrus fruits and red fruit," with a palate "evoking the juiciness of apricots and grapefruit."

Premiere de Figuiere, 2013

Made from Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Grenache grapes grown in a "schist soil with quartz veins," the nose of this rose offers a "hint of citrus," according to the notes, which to me comes across as notes of Bergamot, light berry, and white fruit. On the tongue, this wine boasts dark, buttery texture and earthly fruits like fig along with hearty apple.

Les Maîtres Vignerons de Saint Tropez

Saint Roch les Vignes, 2013

Les Maîtres Vignerons de Saint Tropez offered three blush wines for the tasting, starting with Saint Roch les Vignes, 2013. Originating from the northwest of Toulon, this wine is a blend of Grenache and Cinsault grapes. The nose is of dark, tannic fruit -- a real contrast to a delicate flavor redolent of peach and eucalyptus / rosemary.

Château de Pampelonne, 2013

This rosé is made of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, and Tibouren grapes grown in "granitic sand on a gneissic base," the notes say, going on to describe "hints of white-fleshed and citrus fruit." Yes, and also a mineral character with notes of vanilla; this is a very bright wine, with a strong character of peach and a strawberry finish. The gregarious rep, John O’Neill, called this the big brother of...

Mas de Pampelonne, 2013

This rosé is composed of Grenache, Cinsault, and Tibouren grapes grown in that same "granitic sand topsoil on a gneissic base," which comes across in the mineral and schist-laden nose. The mineral character persists on the palate, with a long finish offering emergent white fruit and luscious red berry.

Château La Martinette

Rollier de la Martinette, 2013

Geraldine Menard, the rep for Château La Martinette, noted that the wines from this vintner are "meant to be drunk on any occasion." Mais ouis; that is, of course, trés Provençal, and Rollier de la Martinette, 2013 exemplifies what Menard meant: It’s a wine for any occasion, with a floral nose that sports notes of vanilla. On the palate, this wine is redolent of white fruits, especially peaches, with a strong strain of Sauvignon Blanc in its character, as well as grapefruit. It’s endlessly complex.

Château la Martinette, 2013

Syrah, Cinsault, Grenache, and Rolle comprise this rosé, which is derived from the same limestone soil as the Chateau la Martinette. It’s mild all around, but elegant. "This is the one you can find in gastronomic restaurants," Menard says. "It’s associated with the meal." By this, she means that Château la Martinette is a good match for pork and fatty meats such as sausages.

Aurore sur la Moskova, 2012

This rosé is comparatively rare; the 2012 vintage produced only 1,500 bottles. The reasons for such scarcity include a handpicked harvest and fermentation for several months in oak barrels before the wine is matured in fine lees for 3 - 4 months. The nose offers a typically floral character, but with exotic fringes such as orange blossom; the flavor profile also boats citrus, with a trace of grapefruit, as well as white fruit.

Château Pigoudet

Pigoudet Premiere, 2013

Château Pigoudet introduced their wares with a pour of Pigoudet Premiere, in which Grenache and Cinsault are joined by Cabernet Sauvignon, with Syrah rounding out the quartet of varietals. There’s something wild and goaty about the nose, perhaps as the result of the clayey, chalky soil, but the flavor is floral: This is a rosé full of roses and strawberries, with a butter-and-jam texture.

Château Pigoudet Classic 2013

The 2013 is the first vintage of this cuvée, which is made of Grenache and Cinsault, grapes drawn, the notes point out, "of our best parcels." The notes go on to proclaim, with some pride, "Chateau Pigoudet Classic reflects our terroir," which includes a clayey, chalky soil.

The nose on this cuvée is far less sweet and floral than the typical rosé, and brighter; the earthier notes of fig and dark fruits are even lighter here than elsewhere, and its berry notes are all plump and red. The rep, Aurelien Pont, noted, "You can drink it until midnight."

Château Pigoudet Insolite, 2013

This rosé is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Syrah grapes grown in clayey, chalky soil. "Aromas of strawberries and melon," promise the notes. "Hints of citrus leading to a refreshing finish." Which is to say this this a very light and cheery bottle, with the usual red berry flavors playing out in an unusually subtle manner. "More body, more strength," Aurelien exclaimed.

Familie Quiot -- Domaine Houchart

Domaine Houchart, Côtes de Provence Sainte Victoire, 2013

A wild terroir leaves its mark on the vintages produced by Familie Quiot. Start with Domaine Houchart, Côtes de Provence Sainte Victoire, 2013: A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre grown in "gravel and limestone soils," this rosé has a nose of sweet wild strawberry, plus plum and apple embedded in a luxurious and jammy mouthfeel.

Domaine Houchart, Côtes de Provence, 2013

Crafted from Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Cabernet Sauvignon, this rosé is touted as a good pairing to seafood and fish, or even cheese soufflés. The nose is opulent to the point of perfume; the flavor is round and full, and proceeds with a complex unfolding in degrees: Red berry, red fruit, vanilla, caramel, and floral notes all emerge in their turns.

Famille Sumeire Vignerons en Provence

La Croix du Prieur, 2013 rep Annabelle Sumeire poured a splash of this cuvée, saying, "I like to start with this one -- it’s a more casual wine."

Casual, perhaps, but also subtle: This wine is about half Cinsault and about half Grenache, with a smidgen of Syrah. The nose is hardly overwhelming, but rather plays coy with hints of citrus and berry. On the palate, this rosé offers up bright red fruits and berry and notes of Bergamot.

Château Coussin, 2013

Derived from 70% Grenache, 25% Cinsault, and a dash of Syrah (the grapes spring from clay and limestone soil), this rosé presents a delicate nose that gives way on the tongue to a floral character. It’s sweet, without being cloying, and redolent of white fruits, especially peach.

Château Coussin Cuvée César, 2013

A cuvée made from 70% Grenache, 25% Cinsault, and 5% Syrah, grapes that grow in clay and limestone soil. The nose is, again, something of a wallflower -- but the first sip explodes with a jammy mouthfeel, loaded with cherry and sporting intimations of lemon and vanilla. This glass is a complete rosé experience.

Château Roubine

Cru Classé, 2013

One personal favorite was Château Roubine’s Cru Classé, 2013. This blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, and Tibouren offers a very complex flavor full of red fruits and citrus. It’s also a very dry wine, much to this reviewer’s taste.

Inspire, 2013

This somewhat tannic rosé, derived from 100% Tibouren grapes, is similarly dry; mostly white fruits, but faintly floral in the long finish. This glass is something to savor.

The takeaway: Don’t fear rosé! The blush wines of Provence are more grown-up than you might have thought, and they have plenty of variety and complexity to offer the discerning palate. Only a snob would deny himself the pleasures of these vintages, so uncork some of these bottles and enjoy. Summer is coming!

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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