‘Two is company, three is a crowd’. Tasting one or two fresh, high altitude rosados from Rioja is interesting; tasting three or four, and a theme starts to appear. While Rioja may be best known for its red wines, its rosado revolution is showing great promise.
First published in The Buyer June 2019
Created in 1987 IGP Pays d’Oc has become regarded as the New World winemaking region of France, with single varietal wines its calling card. But the denomination is not always associated with rosé, especially when its near neighbours are the three appellations of Provence, which is odd given that it produces almost half a million hectolitres every year. In a ‘tasting special’ The Buyer asked leading rosé expert Elizabeth Gabay MW to taste-test 97 Pays d’Oc rosé, to pick out the best according to varietal and style and advise us on which ones we should put our money behind.
Pleasantly surprised by the range and quality on offer Gabay concludes “Chapeau to IGP Pays d’Oc Rosé!”
IGP Pays d’Oc may not be a denomination which springs to mind when considering French rosé, but with 23% of French rosé production 1.6 million hl in 2018 (compared to 1.1 million hl from the three combined Provence appellations of Côtes de Provence, Coteaux Varois and Coteaux d’Aix), it is certainly a market sector worth considering.
Following Languedoc winemaker Robert Skalli’s studies in California in the late 1970s, he became convinced that the climate in Languedoc was similar to that of California, and that the Languedoc could be the New World region of France and could produce quality single varietal wines. The denomination was created in 1987. Today, Florence Barthès, the director of the IGP Pays d’Oc says that single varieties are the DNA of the denomination with over 90% of wines being labelled as varietals (in reality this means at least 85% of the wine is made from a single variety). Amongst the rosés, Grenache remains the single most popular variety, closely followed by Cinsault then Syrah.
Faced with the daunting task of tasting 97 IGP Pays d’Oc rosés, I was expecting a degree of uniformity and fashionable restrained dryness. ‘Find ten or twelve examples you like’, I was told. Instead, I was bowled over by both the quality and range of styles on offer, and struggled to limit my selection. My favourites included varietal expression, with some more joyful, others more serious and complex. There may not be a single style, but there is certainly lots to discover.
Grenache Noir and Grenache Gris
Grenache, which can include both Noir and Gris versions, came in a number of different styles. I particularly liked the version by Domaine de l’Herbe Sainte [not in UK] with its classic salmon pink colour followed by an explosion of wild raspberry fruit on aroma and palate, ripe creamy body, a fine mineral core and long mouthwatering acidity. Gerard Bertrand’s Naturae had intense strawberry jam fruit with vibrant, intense acidity that left the mouth tingling with fresh fruit.
The pale Gris rosés of Languedoc have more akin with Provence rosé. Les Vignobles Foncalieu’s Le Versant [Inverarity Morton and Hennings Wine, about £9.99 retail] was a pale shell pink with creamy white peach and apricot fruit, round, rich, creamy texture and an overall lush softness backed by long vibrant acidity. Les Jamelles Clair de Gris [not in UK] made with Grenache Gris had intense raspberry, whte peach fruit, fresh pear, white flowers and lemon and lime acidity – a lovely wine for a summers evening in the garden – softer and riper than a white wine, with fresh vibrant elegance. Calmel & Joseph’s Villa Blanche [Daniel Lambert Wines, around £11.99 retail] 60% Grenache Gris and 40% Grenache Noir was a more structual style with creamy white peach fruit, redcurrants, wild bramble and fraise de bois fruit. A serious dry rosé with nice complexity and intensity. Les Collines du Bourdic’s Eclat de Gris [available through Sommelier Consultant] had delicate creamy peach and apricot fruit with hints of wild berry tartness and lime acidity.
When I was researching my book in 2017, I was overwhelmed by the sheer scope and variety of rosés coming out of Languedoc, ranging in quality from basic entry level quaffing wines upto some truly exciting and high quality rosés. The range of styles also made it hard to define a ‘Languedoc’ character. In 2018, Languedoc produced nearly 2.5 million hectolitres of rosé, an increase of 25% in two years and represents 16% of the region’s production, up from 10% in 2008, The region is now the largest producer of rosé in France with 30% of the total, much of that falling into the IGP category, double that of Provence, and now, with almost 70% of rosé production sold in bottle moving it beyond the basic jug wine image.
With such a dynamic growth in production and quality, having the opportunity to taste is always interesting. So I leapt at the chance when Rosemary George MW, author of the recent book on the Wines of Languedoc, invited me over to taste seventy-four rosés from the 2018 vintage from around Languedoc (which stretches across the Mediterranean south west of France), in a tasting organised for by Estelle Nijhof of the Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins AOC du Languedoc (CIVL). Emma Kershaw of La Maison de Rire also joined us for the tasting. Continue reading
I am often asked how I see rosé developing. Is it just a fashion? Will the market soon become bored of neutral pale pink ‘lifestyle’ wines, drunk icy cold by the pool and move on to something else?
My answer is yes … Pinot Grigio, simple rosé – both styles have been overdone by volume, mass appeal and lower prices. Cheap watery Chardonnay, light grassy Sauvignon Blanc went the same way. My opinion only, I am not selling wine and I am probably nowhere near the average consumer. If anything, I am a rare wine geek searching for wines which catch my attention. I do not think this light, simple style will disappear, but I do feel that there is a growing number of very exciting rosés being produced with more and more wine merchants are listing some fabulous wines. Kermit Lynch, The Wine Society, Les Caves de Pyrene, Yapp Brothers, to name just a few, have some great examples. Continue reading
In March 2019 I had the good fortune to be invited to visit the Canary Islands by Gabriel Santós of La Laguna University in Tenerife. At the university I met young winemakers, and tasted and discussed their red, white and rosé wines.
I also visited a few vineyards, where, because of the region’s isolation from the mainland, phylloxera never arrived in the Canary Islands, meaning that vines can be hundreds of years old, often trained using traditional methods.
Tasting the wines of Provence has been a bit erratic this year. While Côtes de Provence had a stand at both WineParis (11-13 February) and Prowein (17-19 March), the 2018 vintage had often only just been bottled and were still quite young and closed. My preferred time for tasting the new vintage rosés is later in the spring, often at the generic appellation tastings, usually in April. However, for various reasons, the appellations of Côtes de Provence and Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, have chosen not to hold their annual tasting in 2019, leaving only Coteaux Varois to present their wines.
The Coteaux Varois annual tasting is always held in the gardens of the Alain Ducasse restaurant at La Celle in Brignoles, due to the fact that the Maison des Vins is in part of the same old monastic building. In past years, the tasting has fitted neatly into the small garden in the corner of the old monastery, giving it a neat back drop and a certain elegance, with colour co-ordinated ice bags and bunches of flowers, giving the tasting fantastic visual appeal. See earlier posts. Continue reading
Having to assert that there is serious wine in Bordeaux is a strange way to start this post, but mixed feelings over pink Bordeaux was certainly evident when I was researching my book on rosé.
Serious rosé in Bordeaux is still a minority product which is showing considerable promise. Christer Byklum, the Norwegian Bordeaux specialist commented that in all of his visits to Bordeaux he is very rarely shown any rosé wine, ‘almost as if the producers themselves are a bit ashamed of them.’ He is more likely to taste Bordeaux rosé in a restaurant than in a cellar. He also pointed out that readers of his wine reviews are unlikely to be interested in rosé wine.
The emergence of lighter rosé
One of the most difficult tasks for the modern rosé winemaker appears to be how can you make a rosé which stands out from the crowd without changing what is taken to be the essence of rosé?
While writing my book on rosé, one of the most important questions which arose was almost philosophical. How do you define rosé wine?
Pink – but ranging from creamy white to pale red.
Fermented as white wine – except when involving longer skin maceration, like orange wine, and no fermentation on the skins. But wait! a number of rosés do start their fermentation on the skins before withdrawing the juice….
While researching rosés for the Rosé book, Gamay stood out as a variety which was particularly attractive for pink wines. Good fruit, acidity and light colour make wines which range from fresh crisp and fruity in cooler climates to rosés with greater depth and intense fruit while retaining a lighter colour in warmer climates. Styles range from simple and fresh to more complex.
The following French rosés, all made with Gamay, have been tasted at various times over the past year.
Mention the Douro, and it is not rosé that immediately springs to mind. Most wine lovers will immediately think of rich, dark, powerful port. For many, the first Portuguese rosé which springs to mind is Mateus rosé.
But this is not just a story of discovering a new rosé, but also a story of chance meetings, and how, by travelling and talking to people, our knowledge of wine expands. It can be difficult for buyers and journalists to find new wines of interest amidst the plethora of estates vying to attract our attention. Trade fairs such as Prowein have over 6 000 exhibitors, making it impossible to taste more than a fraction of the wines on offer over the three days. Regional trade shows are easier to for defining in trends and styles. Paid-for trips to the region can only show a finite number of wines and wineries.