If you have yet to partake in the “Rosé Lifestyle” this summer, don’t fret – there’s still time! These casually elegant, refreshingly dry, pink wines are de rigueur in regions, from the South of France to South Beach during the sultry Summer months for good reason. They are light, versatile, easy to drink, and make the transition from yacht to nightclub seamlessly. In addition to being fashionable, rosé wines represent one of the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. wine market.
Although many different wine making regions produce dry rosé wines, Provence is widely regarded as the “gold standard.” Provence is the site of France’s oldest vineyards and the only place in the world that specializes in making rosé. The quality of these wines has greatly improved in recent decades with newly instituted wine making parameters imposed by the quality-control system, or Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), involving geographical boundaries, allowable grape varieties, and maximum yields, to name a few.
Setting the bar for rosé wines is Château D’Esclans, which, ironically, comes with an impressive Bordeaux pedigree. The owner of the recently revitalized Château D’Esclans, Sacha Lichine, is son of the late Alexis Lichine, one of the 20th century’s most influential figures in French wine. In addition to make a wine that was “worthy” and consistent with his family’s heritage, Lichine enlisted the help of world-renowned winemaker and Bordeaux native, Patrick Léon, previous winemaker for Château Mouton-Rothschild and Opus One. Recently, I had the chance to sit down with National Fine Wine Director for Shaw-Ross International Wine Importers, Paul Chevalier at South Beach’s La Marea Restaurant to sample the four rosé wines of Château D’Esclans.
The Château D’Esclans “Whispering Angel” Côtes de Provence Rosé is the first level, representing the most affordable and accessible of the four. A blend of Grenache, Rolle, Cinsault and Mourvedre vinified in stainless steel to preserve the crisp, fresh flavors. Chevalier emphasized that all of the Château D’Esclans rosés are produced with “zero percent sugar” in the spirit of Provence. Again, these pink colored wines are not sweet! The 2009 “Whispering Angel” was a pale, crystalline pink in color with light aromas of berries followed by flavors of strawberry and spice with a clean, mineral finish. Retailing for around $19.99, this wine was light and refreshing and seemed ideal for pairing with summer fare ranging from shellfish to BBQ or frankly, nothing at all.
The Château D’Esclans “Esclans” Côtes de Provence Rosé is the second level and is a blend of Grenache and Rolle (otherwise known as Vermentino). The grapes are from 30-50 year old vines and are partially vinified in stainless as well as demi-muids (500-600 liter barrels) which impart an added level of complexity and structure to the wine. The 2008 vintage was light salmon in color with a lively bouquet of berries and spice. This wine had a creamier mouthfeel and more persistent finish and featured hints of dried cherry and white pepper. Retailing for approximately $35, this wine will pair nicely with a variety of cuisines yet is also perfect by itself.
The third level is the Château D’Esclans “Les Clans” Côtes de Provence Rosé made from the free-run juice of Grenache and Rolle grapes that hail from 50-70 year old vines. The juice is then vinified in 600-liter demi-muids for 6 months using Burgundian style bâtonnage. As Chevalier explained, there are only “seven barrels for the world,” making this wine, together with its $75 price tag, a bit out of reach for most. The 2008 “Les Clans” Côtes de Provence Rosé had an elegant creamy, mouthfeel that was reminiscent of a Burgundian Meursault with hints of strawberry butter, freshly baked popovers and toasty oak and a long, buttery mineral finish. The “Les Clans” paired wonderfully with Pan Roasted Diver Scallops and Foie Gras with Shiro Miso Bliss Maple Syrup Glaze and Sweet Corn Succotash prepared by La Marea’s Chef, Gonzalo Rivera Jr. The richness of the scallops and foie gras harmonized beautifully with the flavors and weight of the wine.
Fourth is the pièce de résistance, the Château D’Esclans “Garrus” Côtes de Provence Rosé, the crown jewel of the Château D’Esclans collection. With only “three barrels for the world” and a $100 price tag, even the most affluent rosé-lovers are vying for allocations to stock their mega yachts. This wine is produced from Grenache and Rolle hand picked from 80 year old vines. The free-run juice is then vinified in 600 liter demi-muids for 8 months using burgundian style bâttonage. The 2008 “Garrus” Côtes de Provence Rosé is rose petal pink in color with concentrated aromas of raspberry and spice followed by a creamy, rich expression of beautifully balanced fruit, minerality and oak. This deliciously elegant wine paired nicely with a Pan Seared Striped Bass with Creamy Cauliflower, Muscat Grape and Baby Brassica Salad.
With the dedication to quality, variety of price points and sheer number of offerings, the wines of Château D’Esclans represent an interesting paradigm shift in the production and consumption of this often dismissed style. These wines offer a fabulous opportunity to embrace the “Rosé Lifestyle” before summer is through, whether it’s sunning yourself by your backyard pool or aboard a mega-yacht in the Côte d’Azur!