The Rosé of Provence

Davies Wakefield

davies wakefield | wine uncorked | june 2018

Last year when I reviewed the best rosés of 2017, I thought that the craze had peaked. Well I was wrong. A recent trip to the various liquor and grocery stores showed that shelf space for Rosé has doubled since last May. When I checked out statistics, the Nielsen survey said that Americans drank 67 percent more rosé in 2017 than they did in 2016. A recent issue of “Wine Spectator" pointed out that Americans are now drinking 20 percent of the entire world's production of rosé. Looking at some of the latest entrants to the category doesn't give me a lot of confidence that the new players in the rosé business are bringing a product that I would enjoy. In fact, when I look at the color hues on the shelves today, instead of seeing a multitude of shades of red from the crimson hues of Tavel to the almost white pink of the rosados of Italy, I see predominantly the pale pink color of the Provencal rosés. While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the versions I tried didn't come close to the originals. There is a reason for this imitation; Provence knows what the heck they are doing. I thought it was time to go back to the roots of rosé production, which are firmly grounded in Provence.

Provence was the first Roman Empire province outside of Italy, hence the name. Actually, Provence consists of six distinct regions starting with theCarmargue,(the wild west of France) home to bullfighting, wild horses and the gardian(French cowboys); the Bouches-du-Rhoneof Arles and Marseilles, Var, with St. Tropez and Toulon; Valcuse,part of Luberon and Roussillon and the location of Avignon; the Alpes-de-Haute-Provenceand the Alpes-Maritime(Cannes, Nice and Monte Carlo). The quaint colloquialism “What's happening out in the provinces?" traces its origins to this unique piece of geography. When the Romans built the Pont du Gard aqueduct in Provence that when operating supplied the town of Nimes with 9 million gallons of water a day in 16 B.C., little did they know that the area would be celebrated and written about by the rich and famous of every generation for two thousand years and visited by millions. The seductive nature of Provence lured Pope Clement to Avignon in 1309. Artists and poets from Zola to Matisse, Picasso, Cézanne and Van Gogh were drawn to this inspiring area with its unique culture, food and wine which inspired their classical works of art. Chefs like Julia Child, Richard Olney, Alice Waters (Chez Panisse) and Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence) brought Provencal cuisine to us heathens in the United States. The effect of this exposure over the last 40 years has resulted in the farm to table movement of the present day.

The area around Provence is one of the earliest known sites of European habitation. Stone tools dated the earliest humans to 1 million B.C. The rising and falling of the seas over the Paleolithic period affected the population's ability to sustain itself until the Neolithic period and the arrival of more stable weather. In 6000 B.C., the Castelnovian people domesticated wild sheep and ceased their nomadic roving based on food availability. Inspired by imported pottery from the eastern Mediterranean they created the first pottery in what is now France. They were followed by the Chasseens and later in 2500 B.C. the Courronniens. Between the eighth and fifth centuries B.C., the Celtic people of Central Europe began moving into the valleys of Provence displacing the Courronniens with their superior iron weapons as opposed to Bronze Age weapons.

Traders from the Greek island of Rhodes arrived in the seventh century B.C. The traders probably brought the first grape vines to Provence and they named the river near Arles the Rhodanos, which is today known as the Rhone River. The first permanent Greek settlement was called Massalia and is known as Marseille today. Massalia (Marseille) became a major trading post selling wine, dried fish and salted pork. The Greeks also created the now famous ports of Monoicos (Monaco), Antipolis (Antibes) and Nikaia (Nice).

When the savage tribes of Liguria threatened Massalia in the second century B.C., the Romans were asked to intercede. This marked the beginning of the Pax Romana which lasted until the third century A.D. Romanengineers and architects built monuments, theatres, baths, villas, fora, arenas and aqueducts many of which still exist today. The wine trade really intensified under the Romans because of the needs back in the republic and this was the fulcrum that modern-day Provencal wines rest on.

I have chosen three of the best rosés of Provence that I think will make summer outdoor eating a real banquet.

The first wine is the 2017 Champs de Provence, 13 percent alcohol and $13.25 at Woodman's if you buy four bottles. This wine is from the villages of Trets, Peynier and Pourriéres just to the northeast of the town of Aix-en-Provence. The grapes are harvested by hand during the cool of night to maintain freshness. The pressed juice is cold stabilized for five to six days before fermentation in stainless steel tanks. The fermentation takes place over 15 days and the wines are aged on the lees for several weeks before blending. The blend is 50 percent Grenache, 40 percent Cinsault and 10 percent Syrah. This is a classic dry rosé with notes of red raspberries citrus and orange blossom with a medium body. A zippy mineral finish demands another bite of food. This is my best buy of this bunch. This would be great with Asian spiced barbecue chicken wings or Yakitori.

The second wine is the 2017 Whispering Angel Cotes de Provence Rosé, 12.5 percent alcohol and $22 at Ridgeview Liquor, which has a small but very selective choice of rosés. This particular brand is the first choice among the French and tourists on the Caribbean island of St. Barts. The vineyard is located at D'Esclans in the Alpes-Maritimejust east of Cannes. It is an unusual combination of Grenache, Cinsault, Rolle (Vermentino) Syrah and Tibouren. This harvest occurs from sunrise to noon (the farmers in this region are a little more laid back than in Aix). The grapes are optically sorted and lightly crushed at seven to eight degrees centigrade to avoid oxidation. Both the free run and pressed juices are vinified in stainless steel. “Batônnage"(stirring of the lees) occurs twice a week until bottling.

The Commanderie de la Bargemoneis the Aston-Martin DB11 of the rosé world; next to it, other rosés look like Soviet farm equipment. The 2017 version is $18 at Woodman's. At 13 percent alcohol it has enough body to stand up to grilled food or a pan bagnat(crusty bread, ripe tomato and virgin olive oil). Bargemone is a 163-acre estate in the town of St. Cannat just west of Aix-en-Provence. The estate dates back to the 13thcentury when it was founded by the Templar Knights. The Knights Templar were most well known as the shock troops of the Crusades during the Middle Ages (1100-1300) but were more involved in finance, acquiring large tracts of lands in Europe known as Commanderie. Their version is 30 percent Grenache, 28 percent Syrah, 23 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Cinsault, five percent Rolle, two percent Carignan and two percent Counoise. This is a crisp, bone-dry wine with classic aromas of strawberries and currants and a light floral character. It is well balanced and the taste lingers in your mouth. My old college roommate who also appreciates good wine told me “buy it by the case."

So, while the rest of the industry is rushing “versions" of Provencal rosé into the stores and has “jumped the shark" with crap like “frosé" (frozen rosé in the form of popsicles), unusual bottle shapes, goofy labels and brands started up by the now famous ex-spouses Brad and Angelina, look for the real stuff: Cores de Provence.

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