Thursday, March 12, 2015

Provence Wines Are "In the Pink"

For me, nothing says "Spring" quite like rosé wine. It's light, refreshing, youthful, and full of fresh fruit flavors. Last week, when I walked into the rooftop terrace of L'Hermitage Hotel in Los Angeles and saw table after table of pink bottles in all shades, shapes and sizes, I just felt like Spring had truly sprung. (Truth be told, Spring never really goes away in LA, nor does my hankering for rosé!)

Part of the national "Provence in the City" tour of the Conseil Interprofessional Des Vins de Province (www.vindsdeprovence.com), the event highlighted 60 plus wines and about 25 winemakers from this sun-bathed region in the South of France.

One of the most interesting things about Province rosés is that they come in many shades of pink, from light, almost onion-skin, to rose petal to coral to cotton candy, cherry, ruby and raspberry (per the 'Rosé  Barometer' supplied by Chateau D'Esclans, see below). They are beautiful to look at.


Courtesy of Chateau D'Esclans

The color of the rosé depends on the grape or the grape blend used as well as the period of skin contact, which is a wine maker's choice. For instance, Whispering Angel from Chateau D'Esclans is made from a blend of Grenache (red), Rolle (white) and Tibouren (red) grapes and is quite pale, maybe a "light pink." The white Rolle, known as Vermentino in Italy, lightens up the wine. L'Esprit de Provence from Domaine du Grand Cros, made of Grenache and Syrah, both red grape varieties, is a much deeper pink, closer to cherry red.

Province is thought to be the oldest wine-growing area in France and is the world's largest rosé specialty region. In the last century, the area fell into over-production and developed a reputation for cheap table wines, but over the last 20 years or so, many of these poor-quality vines were pulled and a renewed effort to produce higher-quality, terroir-driven wines has taken place, with an emphasis on rosé. There is some some white wine production, with Rolle/Vermentino being a popular variety, as well as some earthy, or rustic, reds made from Carignan, Mourvedre, and other varieties.

Through my own observations selling wine at The Wine House (www.winehouse.com) rosé is gaining in popularity with consumers. And per a press release issued by Vins de Provence, exports of their rosés to the US have grown at double digit rates for 11 consecutive years. Citing statistics from French customs and CIVP, exports climbed 29% by volume from October 2013 to October 2014.This number is backed up by a Nielsen survey showing that rosé sales have experienced 10 straight years of double-digit growth, at 41% by volume in the same time period, compared with just 1.0% growth in the total table wine market.

I am heartened that more consumers are coming to the realization that rosé is often a great choice as both an aperitif and food pairing wine, and conversely, that winemakers are taking this once-denigrated style of wine more seriously and offering formidable choices.

Following are some of the wines I tasted and liked at the Wines of Provence event. Note that not all of these wines are currently distributed in all US markets. Either consult your local retailer or search www.wine-searcher.com.


Chateau de Brigue "Signature," 2014 vintage, is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Tibouren, and smelled and tasted of citrus fruit, pear and minerals, typical Provence rosé (retail around $17.00). The reason I loved it so much was its beautiful mouth feel, which the winemaker described as "voluminous," and he was right. Note that this winemaker said he will soon produce a Provence sparkling rosé. I am looking forward to that! (www.chateaudebrigue.com)


Chateau Roubine made three different rosé wines, but the Tete de Cuvee Inspire-Crus Classe made me say "I'd have this for breakfast" because of its aromatic pink grapefruit flavors. Made of Tibouren and Syrah, this wine retails for around $40.(www.chateaurobine.com)


Domaine du Clos D'Alari is a family owned vineyard/truffle farm/olive grove/B&B that captured my attention. In the Province hills northeast of the coastal St. Tropez, owner Natalie Vancoillie makes lovely wines, either first press (green label) or second press (pink label), priced at around $10. You can check out this property at www.leclosdalari.com.


Hecht & Bannier caught my eye first because of their beautiful packaging. Yes, their Cote de Provence Rose is delightfully expressive of Provence with its floral notes and minerality. But the thoroughly modern approach to presentations was as refreshing as were the wines. The labels are of a plastic material that can be peeled off easily, and does not bubble up when wet (good, since rosé should be chilled in ice water), and the stoppers are of clear plastic material that is reusable. Hecht & Bannier are "negociant" wine makers, meaning they buy grapes from multiple vineyards, blending them to bring out the best possible characteristics. They don't own the vineyards. This is a practice more often associated with Burgundy and Bordeaux than with Provence. Read more about them at www.hechtbannier.com.

This is just a small sampling of the wines from Provence, but as rosé season approaches, I am excited about the restocking that's happening at The Wine House and other retailers. Pink just seems to brighten everything up.

Until next time, drink the pink! 



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