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Drinking Pink :: Vins de Provence 2012

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Apr 13, 2012

"Some people are afraid to drink pink," wine rep Patricia Allen Lornell told EDGE at the Boston stopover of the 2012 "Vins de Provence" tour, a celebration (and education) centered on rosé wines from the Provence region in the South of France. "They don't want you thinking they're drinking white zinfandel."

Not that there is anything wrong with that, mind you, other than a reputation (deserved or not) that white zin is the wine of choice for the immature palate. But rosé is not the same as blush wines, which have a higher residual sugar content. Though rosé has long been confused with blush wines--an unfortunate, and unfair, association--that's starting to change as American wine drinkers exapand their palette, and their palates.

The world of rosé wine is so much deeper, richer, and broader than it's been given credit for. Yes, rosé wine often has a sweetness and a light freshness that we might associate with summer afternoons and frivolity, but even so, a good rosé can offer just as much complexity, and unfold its manifold aromas in just as delightful a fashion, as any top-quality red or white wine. In some instances, rosé offers the best of both worlds: The lightness and spirit of a good white wine together with the rich nose and artfully interacting flavors of a full bodied red.

According to a release from the Vins de Provence office in the United States, exports of the region's rosé wines leapt by 62% between 2010 and 2011. Market projections anticipate an even greater response for 2012.

"These numbers confirm the continuation of an upward trend that began in 2003," the release said, "and that has seen double-digit growth rates in each of the intervening years."

The release noted that the American market is not alone in responding to the region's wines. Russia, too, is importing more bottles from Provence, as is Brazil.

"What we're seeing in the U.S. is market reflects a global trend," noted Vins de Provence's Julie Peterson. "Those who appreciate great wine and the Mediterranean lifestyle are turning to Provence rosé for its versatility, food friendliness, and gold standard quality."

All of those qualities were abundantly in evidence at the Boston event, where 23 vintners--many of them returning after last year's event--had set up tables at Gaslight du Coin Brasserie in the city's famously gay-friendly South End.

Caves d’Escalans

"This is what they’re drinking in the Hamptons," Lornell confided as she poured a splash of Whispering Angel, a Côte de Provence rosé, into a glass and handed it to EDGE.

The wine, a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Vermentino, Tibouren, and Syrah grapes, offered a strawberry essence that was more savory than sweet and carried a lingering, darker edge--almost bitter, but not quite. Overall, the vintage was just the sort of antidote that a connoisseur might hope for to the stereotype of rosé as a kind of alcoholic Kool-Aid, proving that an aroma of berries and fruit need not be dismissed as trivial or one-note.

"As we go up the mountains, the vines get older," Lornell noted, handing EDGE a glass of Château d’Esclans, a fruity, soft wine with just a little spiciness and, as Lornell pointed out, "a touch of oak."

Provence rosé wines do not usually spend time in oak barrels, but Caves d’Esclans offers two other vintages that carry a distinctive oaky flavor. One of them is Les Clans, a wine that moves away from berries and fruit and embraces a mineral aroma laced with sweet, but restrained, notes of caramel and vanilla. "This is my favorite," Lornell said. "This is six months in oak, and I don’t think there are any other rosés in oak. It’s like drinking silk."

A fourth bottle, Garrus, prompted more joy from Lornell, who punned on the wine’s character with a reference to Whispering Angel. "You drink this," Lornell said of Garrus, which spends eight months in oak, "and you see angels!"

To EDGE, the Les Clans, which spends two months less in oak, was more likely to evoke divine visions; it carries just enough oak to be distinctive and delicious, without starting to stray into the realm of chardonnay.

Château de Brigue

Château de Brigue was also on hand the event, with red, white, and rosé wines, each in two editions: a Prestige and a Signature.

"Château de Brigue is located in the heart of Côte de Provence wine country between Aix en Provence, Cannes, and Saint Tropez in the South of France," the vintner’s press material noted. "Domain de Brigue is one of the largest family domains in Provence with 278 acres of vineyards, with exceptional soils and vines, and a state of the art winery facility."

The Château de Brigue Signature white offered a nicely acidic taste of pear with a hint of citrus. The wine was an intriguing blend of Rolle, Claret, and Semillon. The Prestige white, made from 100% Rolle, was, as the vineyard’s rep noted, "spicy," but it also had a smooth and silky mouth feel and a sweet finish.

The Signature red, from all Syrah grapes, was a dark, dry, and rich offering, with a mineral quality and a tannic character reminiscent of pomegranate. Drier still was the Prestige red, made from Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah: A full-bodied wine with a substantial character and very dark flavor.

But the stars of the hour were the rosé wines. The Signature rosé, a blend of Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Cabernet Sauvignon, offered a balance of mineral, citrus, and fruit, with apple and berry in the forefront and hints of pear and grapefruit emerging. The vineyard’s press notes promised that the Signature rosé would "pair beautifully with lighter world cuisines from Mediterranean to even Asian dishes," a claim EDGE kept in mind while sampling the fare provided by Gaslight (sumptuous duck and delectably prepared chicken) to accompany the wines.

The Prestige rosé, made from Syrah, Grenache, and Semillon, was a bright and cheery glass in which a vanilla aroma blanketed red currant and strawberry notes. The press materials went so far as to call the wine "racy," though another adjective from the notes, "elegant," struck EDGE as more a propos.

Château Léoube

Château Léoube was purchased a dozen years ago by an enterprising Englishman who refurbished the vineyard and its facilities and now produces his wines from organically grown grapes, using no yeast in his fermentation process.

The result is a line of wines that is full, rounded, and flavorful. In keeping with the modern approach to the wines’ production, the bottles do not bear old-fashoned paper labels; rather, the names of the wines are embossed right on the glass.

The Rosé de Léoube unfolds on the tongue with flavors galore: Every part of the tongue is engaged with fruit, citrus, and hints of vanilla. This wine is made from Syrah, Cinsault, Grenache, and Mourvedre. The press notes declare that this wine "really shows the influences of the sea." This is a breezy wine, whether it’s on onshore or an offshore gust, with a pale color that you might not take, at first glance, to belong to a rosé at all.

Similarly, a taste of Secret de Léoube may not register on the palate as a rosé. Rather, as Château Léoube rep Claire Mennetau told EDGE, "If you close your eyes you could think it is a white wine." She’s right: Even with eyes wide open, this is a full-bodied vintage, due to what the official description calls "an extra does of Cabernet" amongst the blend of Cinsault, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a bright (but not overly so) wine with a definite mineral character, and the full body of this glass is not heavy by any means.

Unmistakably rose in look and flavor is Petit Rosé Tout Simple, a 100% Grenache wine that offers the characteristic light body of a rosé together with a crisp dryness and a taste of green apple. This wine, Mennetau told EDGE, comes from the producer’s youngest vineyard, the product of which Chateau Léoube usually sells to another winemaker. "But this was uncommonly good," Mennetau confided, "so we made a new cuvée."

Château Margüi

Organic vineyard Château Margüi boasts a special status as a spot between Aix-en-Provence and Saint Tropez where wine has been produced from at least the time of the Roman Empire.

Château Margüi had two wines to sample, a white and a rosé. (The vineyard also produces a red.) The white, which is mostly Vermentino with 8% Ugni Blanc, is matured in oak, and has an oaky, butterscotchy taste with a hint of something more exotic--saffron, perhaps--and a floral aroma.

The Château Margüi rosé is a 50-50 proposition, made from equal measures of Grenache and Cinsault. Its pale color belies the rich nose that awaits; the flavor is sweet, light, and complex, with a floral forward character.

Château Miraval

Château Miraval is almost literally a rock star among vineyards: The estate once served as a recording studio for bands such as Pink Floyd, thanks to its previous owner’s other job as a jazz pianist. In celebration of its musically storied histoire, Château Miraval has a rosé wine named after the band, which recorded part of its classic album "The Wall" on the estate.

Pink Floyd is made from Cinsault and Grenache. Like many aficionados of driving, loud music, it has a young character, but it is not as audacious as one might fear; rather, it is soft and mellow.

The musical motif is present also with Play Bach, the estate’s red wine, made from Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. This cuvée has a sandpaper-dry nose, but when it hits the tongue it unleashes an explosion of flavors: Dark fruits, chocolate, a lingering oakiness that comes from the wine spending half of its maturation in barrels.

Another red wine produced by Château Miraval is La Mascaronne, which shares a dark fruit character but also offers a tannic character with a hint of leather.

Clara Lua is the estate’s white, and they produced so much of it that it was actually something of a strain on the estate. But the result made it all worthwhile: Clara Lua erupts with a sweet rush, bearing a character of wood and lingering with a long caramel finish.

Domaine de Rimauresq

Domaine de Rimauresqu offered two rosés and two reds for tasting.

The first red, Petit Rimauresq, made from Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Carignan, is a dry, rich, complex wine both in the nose and on the tongue. A jammy mouthfeel gives way to a leathery and supple character; this red was a five star experience.

The Cru Classe Cabernet, made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Grenache, is more tannic and not as soft at the Petit Rimaresq, but its Cab-forward character still makes for a complex and rewarding glass.

The Petit Remaresq rosé is a very bright and jammy wine made from Grenache, along with Cinsault and Carignan. The official description called it "dry and dusty," which may account for the sense that everything here was in the nose.

But the Rimauresq Classique rosé was more flavorful and complex, with a red fruit flavor and a mineral character.

Domaine du Grand Cros / Jules Wines

"When I pulled the cork, I was so flooded with red fruit!" exclaimed Ellisa Cooper, the rep for Domaine de Grand Cros / Jules Wines, as she handed EDGE a glass of the winemaker’s Esprit de Provence, a rosé made from Grenache, Cinsault, and Carignan.

The nose and flavor were bright with notes of red berries--strawberry, raspberry--but the wine was not overly sweet. Indeed, it proved to be surprisingly rich, living up to the official description that called it "well balanced, elegant, and creamy."

The company’s other rosé, Jules, was also made from Grenache, Cinsault, and Carignan, along with about 5% Tibouran. This wine registered the Cinsault before all else, with a fragrant peach and citrus nose that offset its minerality to pleasant effect.

Domaine de Grand Cros / Jules Wines also had an Esprit de Provence red on hand that proved quite dry and possessed plentiful body. The flavor was restrained--"austere," Cooper called it--but notes of spice and pepper kept it lively.

Famille Quiot

Jerome R. Quiot of Famille Quiot was on hand to discuss the fruits of his family’s vineyard, but his American colleague, Alec Milligan, tipped EDGE to a Quiot family legend.

The painter Cezanne, a family friend, used to visit the estate. "He’d hang out, play some cards," Milligan recounted, "but they used to tell him, ’Don’t bring the paintings. They’re terrible!’ "

Fortunately, avant-garde taste in modern art is not needed to produce a tasty wine. Famille Quiot’s red, made with Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, is a fruity wine, with pepper notes balancing the berry character and a breath of vanilla wafting through. It’s a dark and rich red wine, the name of its cuvée--Tradition--being suited to its virtues. "This is not barrelled in oak, but maybe you still get that impression," Milligan noted.

The Famlle Quiot white, marketed under the name Domaine Houchart, is made from Claret and Rolle, and is a sweet, fresh glass with a creamy mouthfeel. The wine is fermented at a low temperature "to have a very pure aroma of the grapes," Quiot explained.

The Famille Quiot rosé, made from Syrah, Cinsault, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon, has what Quiot called "small tannen" to preserve its striking rosé color. The vintage is a fresh and fruity one; the grapes are transported in CO2, and are protected throughout the entire process from exposure to oxygen--which might account for the slightest tingle on the tongue, a bare hint of sparkle.

Les Domaines de Provence

Les Domaines de Provence came to the event with two reds and two whites in addition to a pair of rosé wines.

The first white, hailing from Les Domaines de Provence’s Abbaye Saint Hilaire vineyard and named Coteaux Various en Provence, is made from 100% Vermentino. Coteaux Various en Provence is a sweet, but not cloying, wine that is so very nicely balanced that it certainly will gain an audience in America. The wine’s quality comes from a combination of factors: The grapes come from the vineyard’s oldest parcels, the press notes say, and they are left on the vine until they reach a state of over-ripeness. The juices are then fermented at a low temperature for three weeks.

The second white, Domeni, also comes from old vines--thirty years old, according to Cameron Mercer, the winemaker’s rep at the event. The grapes used are Rolle, Vermentino, and Ugni-Blanc. The result is sweet and a little syrupy--a bit like ice wine.

Of the reds, the Coteaux--a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon--is aged in oak barrels for as long as a year and a half. The wine’s origins, like those of the white wines, are with the estate’s oldest vines, some of them more approaching four decades old. The result is an intense wine of rich complexity, with oak and leather overtones.

The red Domeni is made with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a severely dry wine with a tannic character, but beneath that are notes of berry and fruit that shine through in the finish.

The two rosé wines were similarly named, one Coteuax and the other Domeni. The Coteaux, made with Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah, "bigger and badder," Mercer noted, which also meant that it was deeper and dryer than the typical rosé, making for a lovely glass. Again, the wine comes from the oldest of the estate’s parcels, using over-ripe grapes and low temperatures during the three-week fermentation process.

The Domeni, made from Syrah and Carignan, is more typically light and fresh, and a lovely glass in its own right.

Les Vins Bréban

Les Vins Bréban, another among the family-owned and operated estates, brought several rosé wines. Château Castel des Maures--Cuvée Jeanne, made from equal parts Grenache and Cinsault, has only found its way to our shores as of last year, when it found a market in New York. Now it’s available all up and down the East Coast. This flavorful wine is full of red fruits and berries, a refreshing, dry wine that avoids heaviness but is not thin.

Domaine de Paris is made from Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault, with some Carignan. Though the press notes say nothing about schist being present in the soil, it carries a very slight pungency, a hint of grapefruit that helps balance the wine’s fruit (raspberry, strawberry) with its acidity.

Domaine de Pontefract is made from Grenache, Cinsault, and Carignan. This rosé is so very light that that it seems to float on the tongue, with a lovely aroma of peach, but that’s a nearly deceptive character: A fullness lies beneath, a mouthfeel that the French call "gras."

With rosé having taken off in the U.S. markets, the word would seem to be out: there’s more to these wines than entry-level stuff. Complexity, richness, and fullness of body are the watchwords for rosé, and the wines of Provence are delightful evidence that Americans need no longer fear "drinking pink." Salud!


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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