Provence in the City :: The Rise of Rosé
Back in the day, rosé wines didn’t get much respect. Regarded as sweet starter wines for neophytes--not too complex, certainly not threatening--rosé wines occupied a place somewhere above Bartles and James and below the mildest of chardonnays, not worthy of serious interest.
No more. Now rosé wines are not only growing in popularity, they are boldly busting out of their stereotype. Rosé wines can still be light, sweet, and as blushingly innocent of character as their tint suggests--but that blush can also suggest an assertive character, less the hue of a downy apple cheek than a ruddy, fulsome maturity marked by strength and gusto.
In short, rosé wines have grown up, and they’ve found an audience not just among casual drinkers but also among oenophiles. Certainly, the three-city tour of the Provence in the City wine event presented an array of rosé vintages from Provencal vintners that challenged stale notions and shook the palate awake.
The Boston edition of Provence in the City took place at a fitting venue, the Gaslight Brasserie du Coin in Boston’s South End. The very first samples of Provencal rosé to greet the wine tasters were those of Le Cercle des Vignerons de Provence, "The Circle of Provence Vintners."
The winery’s export manager, Jérôme Degonde, poured from three of the winery’s vintages. As he did so, he offered his own take on the place rosé has taken in the wine world: as a light, low-alcoholic refreshment fit less for drunken revels than everyday companionship.
"I sell my wine to fine restaurants and to pizzerias," Degonde declared. To him, that was a badge of honor: wine need not be restricted to the realm of the snob. It ought to be the libation of the common man.
To that end, rosé’s dry, crisp character is as important as its perceived sweetness, which can range from faint floral notes to an overt flavor of fruit. "We find that rosé has to be pleasant to drink, and won’t give you a headache," said Degonde. "Not too much sulfur, and not too much alcohol."
Degonde also had a vision of the wine’s social importance. "I hope this will take the young generation away from hard spirits," he said. He thought rosé wine fit the bill perfectly: "What do young people want?" he asked. "Something fruity with a kick." The future of wine, Degonde insisted, was going to be a highly democratic one: "The day is coming when young people will be drinking wine from cans, the way they drink beer," he predicted. "When wines start selling wine in cans, it’s going to take off. It will be everywhere, all at once."
Entering ’The Circle’
Degonde was pouring three Le Cercle des Vignerons de Provence vintages. The first was a Côtes de Provence, a brand called Estandon that was a blend of Grenache and Syrah, plus some Syrah. The wine was floral, light and crisp, and not very complex. Still, it was refreshing, and that, said Degone, was the point. The wine had a "relaxed and informal" character that was in keeping with the image the winery wished to cultivate for rosé. "That’s why we went with the screw cap," Degonde said. The price reflected that sensibility, at $12.99 per bottle.
The second wine Degonde poured was a Coteaux Varois en Provence called Terres de Saint Louis. This wine was also light and floral, though it offered a little more complexity, with citrus as well as apple. This, Degond reckoned, would serve as a good aperitif. The wine was even more affordable, at $10.99 per bottle.
Degond then poured another Côtes de Provence, Domaine de Caseneuve.
Château de Saint Martin
Adeline de Barry of Château de Saint Martin follows a family tradition in working for her family’s vineyard. The de Barrys have been producing wine since 1740.
"The château has nearly always been manages by ladies," the tasting guide informs the reader.
de Barry’s three Côtes de Provence Rosé wines, all 2010 vintage, include the Grande Reserve, Cru Classé, a blend of Grenache, Tibouren, Syrah, Cinsault, and Carignan that has a complex flavor of mineral and fruit: Strawberry, salt, and citrus come to the fore.
Eternelle Favorite, Cru Classé is a dry, multi-layered wine that carries jasmine notes and grapefruit, along with a hint of passionfruit--though the notes cite white peach and licorice. The notes also say the wine has a "vivid attack," which is certainly true. This wine blends Tibouren, Carignan, and Grenache grapes.
The Comtesse de Saint Martin has a buttery savor about it, with a strong essence of berry and apple: a wine full of character that remains light and refreshing, this is the result of an all-old vine blend.
Les Vins Bréban
Les Vins Bréban is represented by Karin Bréban, whose family has been running its winery for 50 years.
The Provence Rosé, made from 50% Grenache, 35% Cinsault, and 15% Syrah, is "Easy to drink," notes Mdme. Bréban. "Fresh and refreshing--that’s why people drink it in summer." It’s a good wine to enjoy with or without food, with floral notes and flavors of cherry and vanilla.
The Château Deffends originates from "the golden triangle for Provence Rosé," says Mdme. Bréban. "Here it’s quite warm, and you’ve got one of the best soils," which allows for a more complex wine--in this case, a vintage full of minerals, currant, and fruit that’s created from a blend of 40% Grenache, 40% Cinsault, and 20% Syrah.
Teh Domaine de la Chapelle Saint Victor is a Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence rosé blending 50% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, and 20% Syrah for a very soft, light effect that carries a perception of sweetness without a sugary character.
Many of the vintners at the event offered delicious, refreshing wines with fruity and floral characters, but a couple also poured libations that awoke the palate with an earthy savor, enriching the imbibing experience--what another writer described as a "French funk."
Domain de la Fouquette’s John Neal poured a glass of Rosée d’Aurore that jumped out from the rest at once. The wine, made from a blend of 65% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, and 5% Rolle, had grapefruit as its first impression, but quickly opened up into a complex realm of the senses while retaining an almost effervescent lightness.
Neal attributed this complexity and loamy grapefruit taste to mercaptans in the schist of the area’s clayish soil. Maecaptans are sulfur compounds, but a few molecules in the grapes can lead lend a distinctive taste to the wine. In this case, they gave the rosé Neal was pouring an olfactory punch that lit up the glass.
’Estate Grown and Bottled’
Château Minuty produces an "estate grown and bottled cru classe," Jean-Etienne Matton of the Matton-Farnet family told EDGE.
Their Château Minuty Rose et Or was aptly named, sporting a golden color and a complex bouquet with grapefruit and mineral flavors. Each grape, Matton said, is harvested by hand and then selected. The wine is almost all Grenache--95%--with just a hint of Syrah (5%).
The Cuvée Prestige, with 90% Grenache and 10 Tibouren, offered a similarly flavorful sip, with a floral nose.
Both selections come from grapes produced without herbicides or pesticides, and use a free-run juice technique before fermenting in stainless steel tanks. You’d never know steel was involved in the production of these refreshing wines.
A few glasses of wine with friends may make for a relaxing evening or enhance a good meal, but this event proved to be an education. Rosé can be for novices--but it can also delight seasoned wine drinkers. Blinders shed, I left the tasting with a taste for rosé and a renewed love for the South of France.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: The Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence (CIVP), known in the United States as the Provence Wine Council, is an organization representing more than 600 Provence wine producers and 72 trade companies. Its mission is to promote and advance the wines of the Provence region of France. The organization’s members together produce 95 percent of Provence’s Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) wines. Its U.S. web address is www.winesofprovence.com