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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."


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