The Wines of Provence: Fifty Shades of Rosé

Photo Francois Mill/CIVP

About this time every year, I emerge from winter’s cocoon with only one thought: sipping a glass of gossamer-hued, mouth-watering, fruity rosé. And it’s not truly a rite of spring unless the rosé is from sun-filled Provence. Rose lovers like me can always count on a consistent style from Provence – light-bodied, crisp and fruity wines that are always dry. But what I discovered at a Provence Wine Council tasting in SF last week is that these wines can also show beautiful depth, expressiveness and even class that are unique to this region.

WP_20140306_11_42_00_Pro (1)Master Sommelier Eric Entrikin captured some of the nuance in rosé wines during a pre-tasting seminar. He described the “herby” character in one of the wines, what the French would call garrigue, the aromatic woody scrub of lavender, rosemary and thyme that scent the Provencal landscape. He also picked up on the more savory aspects of some rosé, like the Chateau Coussin Cotes de Provence Sainte VIctoire 2013, whose foodie descriptors included notes of prosciutto. My translation was more umami than meaty, but I get it.

These wines from Provence show such strong typicité because the grapes are grown, and the wines made, specifically for rosé and not as a by-product of red winemaking. Most of the wines are made by direct pressing of the red grapes with just enough skin contact to coax out a beautiful spectrum of hues. Some rosé wines are made with slightly longer “maceration” of the juice with the skins but don’t confuse this with saignee, an early bleeding of a portion of the juice to concentrate a red wine. In Provence, the pressing or maceration captures the entire lot of the grapes.

A Taste of the Mediterannean

Mas de Pampelonne 2013I was tasting through the various wines represented by the Maitres Vignerons de Saint Tropez and was particularly struck by one of them. Can one get the taste of the sea in these wines, I asked one of the representatives, referring to the hint of salinity on the finish. Yes, she said, especially the Mas de Pampelonne Cotes de Provence 2013 (SRP $19). It was precisely the wine I was referring to. I love this hint of the sea because it gives length to the wine as well as lifting the flavor of food. It’s a great food wine that will surely transport you to that Saint-Tropez beach house; after all, the wine is named after a popular beach there.

The Grenache, Cinsault and Tibouren grapes are grown in granitic sandy soils over a gneiss base. The wines of Maitres Vignerons de Saint Tropez are imported by Jeff Welburn Selections, Van Nuys.

Real Class

Jean-Pierre Fayard and nephew, Napa Valley winemaker Julian Fayard

A rosé that jumped out at me during the seminar was the Chateau Sainte Marguerite Cru Classe 2013 (SRP $25) for its beautiful balance and a minerality that gave the wine such precision of flavor. Then I noticed the Cru Classe designation. Provence is one of the few wine regions in France that have a classification of quality estates as in Bordeaux. The classification was established in 1955 for now 18 chateaux with exceptional terroir and quality. During the trade tasting, I chatted with the owner Jean-Pierre Fayard for a few minutes before I realized the connection with Julien Fayard, a Napa Valley winemaker whom I noticed on the floor that day. Chateau Sainte Merguerite is the estate where Julien learned how to make his lovely Azur rosé wines here in California as I wrote in this blog post. Obviously, good taste runs in the family!

The blend of grapes in this rosé, like most of the wines, is primarily Grenache and Cinsault, but Julien reminded me of the nuance that individual grapes can add to the wine, with Syrah adding to the fruit intensity. The grapes are grown on ancient schist soils and certified organic. Chateau Sainte Marguerite wines are imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., San Francisco.

A Regal Rosé

Chateau de Saint-Martin caveShowing the elegance of rosé wines from Provence was the Chateau de Saint-Martin Grande Reserve Cru Classe 2013 (SRP $22), another Cru Classe from Cotes de Provence appellation. This was a really lovely wine, balanced and round, with a richness I thought could have come from neutral barrel ferment. Instead, I was told, fermentation is carried out in stone, carved out of the caves above to the right (the old wood casks are no longer used), as it was historically done for this very old estate established in 1740. This estate has been continuously run by the same family, through a distinguished line of Countesses. This feminine touch could explain the prominent use of Tibouren in the blends, one of the most perfumed of the grapes used in Provence rosé.

Chateau de Saint Martin bottle shotI loved Chateau de Saint-Martin’s Eternelle Favorite Cru Classe 2013 (SRP $25) too, a very pretty wine lilting with the scent of wild strawberry flowers, composed primarily of Tibouren, plus Carignan and Grenache. The wine pays homage to women in style and packaging, with the bottle shaped like a perfume bottle and the name referring to a King’s beloved. Chateau de Saint-Martin wines are imported by The Wine Source, Gardena.

Authentic rosé wines from Provence are widely available around the U.S. but the Provence Wine Council has a good retailer section by state for the shop near you.

Rosé season is back!