Think rosé; think Provence! Although pink wine is produced in most of the wine regions of France, it often comes a poor third after red and white. In contrast, Provence has really made rosé its own. The principal appellation of Provence, Côtes de Provence, produces significantly more rosé than red or white – 75 per cent to 20 per cent red and just five per cent white wine. Pink wine has an image problem; no one takes it very seriously. It is frivolous and fun; you drink it on hot summer days over long languid lunches, after which a siesta beckons. On a winter’s day in London, it simply will not do. And serious wine drinkers ignore it. They see it as a compromise, the wine to choose when you are not sure whether to drink red or white. All these preconceptions need overturning. In fact rosé is remarkably versatile and compliments a variety of dishes. In Provence itself I was delighted to discover how well it accompanies barbecued lamb chops with herbs, not to mention the summer classics, such as salade niçoise, or the variety of provençal fish dishes.
Most winemakers will tell you that pink wine is much harder to make than either red or white. In many parts of France it is produced by the saigné method – this is a term that translates very clumsily into English. Quite simply, you take your vat of fermenting grapes which are destined for red wine and run off some of the juice, thereby ‘bleeding’ the vat, after a few hours, which of course has the effect of concentrating the red wine as well as giving you some rosé, which you finish making like a white wine, with a cooler fermentation than for the red.
However, in Provence they take much greater care. Firstly grapes intended for rosé, will make only rosé. They may be given some skin contact, depending on the variety, or they may be pressed immediately. Infinite care is taken to avoid oxidation so that the flavours remain fresh.
There is a research centre that has been set up specifically to address the problems attached to rosé, from the vine to the bottle, in order to help the numerous wine growers improve their wines. Nathalie Pouzalgues, who runs the centre, is vivacious and intelligent, and absolutely committed to the cause of rosé. Colour is one of the most difficult things to get right; it can vary so much from the most pale and delicate of pinks to a much deeper pink that is almost red. They have established a colour chart of possible grades of pink – it has a marked resemblance to a Dulux chart - and have selected the colours that you find most commonly in provençal rose. As colour has such a subjective effect on our judgement of flavour, they taste initially with a black glass, which is a very disorientating experience, making you realise just how important colour is for your appreciation of a rosé.
The appellations of Provence allow for several different grape varieties, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsaut, Grenache Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tibouren amongst others, which all behave in different ways. Consequently they have worked to ascertain how best to treat the different grape varieties. Cinsaut and Tibouren are ideal for rosé, as they produce a very pale colour, even after a few hours of skin contact, whereas Syrah has a much deeper colour and should be pressed immediately. Grenache too requires less time on the skins. Generally Grenache is deemed to provide weight; Cinsaut elegance and Syrah structure. Different grape varieties have been planted in the same soil to see how they vary, as well as the same grape variety in different soils, again to discern the differences. The nuances are intriguing and provide the wine growers with a rich artist’s palette for blending.
There was a tasting in London last week, mainly of Cotes de Provence. What follows are a few of the highlights: I've given the UK agent or stockist, plus a recommended retail price, where appropriate. They are all from the 2009 vintage, unless otherwise stated.
Château Barbaneau - The Wine Society - £9.50
A provencal rose should look pretty and this does. It's a delicate pale pink and on the palate the fruit is delicate but ripe, with a firm note of acidity and a fresh finish.
Château Coussin - Oddbins £13.99
A very pale ethereal colour. Quite rounded and ripe on the palate, with good fruit, hints of raspberry and maybe strawberry.
Château d'Esclans, Sacha Lichine. Goedhuis
The two wines from this property, with its previous associations with Bordeaux - think Chateau Prieuré Lichine - were the most expensive of the tasting. Cuvee Garrus is a mind-bloggling £65.00 - I was relieved to find that I much preferred the basic wine which is a mere £16.50. It is very delicate, but with a surprisingly powerful structure and backbone, and fresh fruit.
Chateau du Galoupet - Oenoville: firstname.lastname@example.org £9.70
A pretty pale colour. Quite an appealing herbal note on both nose and palate, with a firm dry finish.
Chateau Leoube - Corney & Barrow - £12.50
A pale colour orange pink. firm and fresh on the nose, and quite ripe and rounded on the palate, with a dry finish.
Chateau Sainte Rosaline - no UK importer
This is one of the traditional estates of the appellation, and vaut le detour for the wonderful chapel with a Giacometti lecturn and a Chagall fresco. The Prestige de Roseline is delicate on the nose and surprisingly powerful on the palate, with rounded fruit and body.
Domaine du Grand Cros - Jules UK - email@example.com £7.99
Light pink with some herbal fruit on nose. Good depth and weight and nicely balanced. They also make a cheerful sparkling rose, with some refreshing dry fruit. It is a methode traditionnelle.
Chateau Rimauresq - Boutinot Ltd. Waitrose. £8.99
This too was one of the original grand crus classes of the appellation. The colour is light which belies the rounded ripe palate. There is an elegant balance of fruit and flavour.
Domaine Saint Andre de Figuiere, Cuvee Magali - £9.25 Robert Rolls Fine Wines
Delicate nose, with an equally delicate palate, with light fruit and fresh acidity. Nicely balanced with an elegant finish. The owner of this property, Alain Combard, used to work in Chablis, but the lure of the south was too strong....
Chateau la Calisse - Coteaux Varois-en-Provence - £10.75 Hourlier Wines, Derby.
Delicate colour, with a fresh bouquet. Elegant fresh fruit on the palate. Nicely balanced and finely crafted.