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2nd June 2020

Rosé Tinted Spectaculars

Provenance : Provence

Provence is a little too warm and sunny to produced balanced red wines. It's not just temperature - there are plenty of hotter places where wine is made - but an excess of sunshine can make the grapes go over-ripe before sufficient sugars have built up in them. This is the reason why, historically, a lot of the grapes here are made in to Rosé (in effect a white-style wine made from black grapes, if you think about it). Even a little further west, in Languedoc, the dominance is for red wines, partly because it is cooled by so much more wind.

Provence is pretty-much the only place in the wine world where Rosé has always been taken seriously. Black grapes that may go over-ripe if left to full maturity - thus producing over-alcoholic raisiny red wines, which are not very summery - can instead be picked a little earlier, and made into rosé. This captures more freshness, more red fruit flavour than black, limited colour or bitterness, and less alcohol. Apart from isolated pockets in northern Spain (for the same reason), Provence is the only place where the best vineyards are given over to Rosé production.

The fact that Provence is so adept at making great dry rosé wines very beautifully dovetails with the local food. Flavours of olive (from grassy virgin olive oil right to intense tapenade) really prefer more flavour than most white wines can offer, and yet benefit from being accompanied by something cold. Ratatouille, and other intense tomato flavours, are similarly hard to match with a big red wine, but rosé works well because of its crispness.



Extracting colour and flavour from the skin of the black grapes – while avoiding layers of harsh, bitter tannins - is a real skill, and accounts for why rosé can run from the extremely cheap to the very expensive. Among the best grape varieties for accomplishing this is Grenache (Garnacha in Spain) which can provide lovely wild strawberry flavour whilst also giving a fresh, herby pepper and spice quality. Grenache (and the other significant local variety, Cinsault) produce pale wines, even as reds. And so pale has become the byword for quality rosé the world over. But not all Provençal rosés are made from Grenache/Cinsault (although many of the best are, hence the thought process).

Wines made from Mourvèdre in Bandol, and from Syrah elsewhere in Provence will naturally be deeper in colour. as will rosés made from a plethora of other varieties worldwide. Make a rosé from Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, and it it doesn’t have deep colour, it will be insipid and dull. You cannot filter out colour without taking flavour with it.

2019 was a superb vintage for Provence (following four heatwave years which were less easy to handle), so the new crop of Rosés just released are very possibly the best ever!


Five producers to look out for!

Domaine la Suffrène
This producer in Bandol is at the forefront of making rosé from the local grape, Mourvèdre, which is deeper than the Grenache that dominates in the rest of Provence. From the darker orange colour to the extra layers of spicy fruit flavour, and the coastal lick of salinity on the finish, these are the best rosés for food. Try with bouillabaisse or similarly rich Mediterranean flavours.

Domaines Ott
With their properties in both Côtes de Provence and Bandol, many lifetimes of heritage and know-how, unique bottle shape, and high profile, it is no wonder that Ott remains for many the go-to Provence producer for many people. And all this did not come about without good reason. Reliably beautifully made wines.

Château d’Esclans
An exquisite property with a lot of history and an enviable location in the valley above St Tropez, Château d’Esclans was totally overhauled under the ownership of Sacha Lichine, and is noted for producing the globally celebrated brand, ‘Whispering Angel’, and the ultra-high end boutique ‘Garrus’, an exquisite very pale barrel fermented wine, which could easily be mistaken for the finest of Burgundies.



Château St Martin
With history of winemaking going back two thousand years into Roman times, but a modern approach these days, the exquisitely situated Château St Martin nestling behind Taradeau, is a Cru Classé estate making a range of rosé from the light and fruity to the complex Reserve, and a special cuvee, ‘Eternelle Favourite’, made majority from Provence’s indigenous grape variety – the distinctly floral Tibouren.

Domaine de Rimauresq
Owned by the Wemyss family, of Scottish distilling fame, Rimauresq is an exquisite property south of Le Luc, in the heart of Provence, producing a range of red, white and rosé wines. Their Cuvée Rebelle Rosé, from a majority Grenache, is an especially good buy with its flavours of summer berries and floral violets.

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