There’s something about a glass of rosé from Provence that is so pleasing to the eye, a seductive quality in it’s shimmering hues that makes me just want to dive right in. I remember when I was first introduced to Provençal rosé, I was immediately smitten. Professionally, we are trained to judge a wine by its colour but way before I got into the wine trade, I knew that there was something evocative and special about the rosés of Provence. Many British holiday-makers associate those pink tinged wines with long, lazy, hot summer days on the beaches of Southern France. Having grown up in California, I don’t, but they still have a siren call for me.
Before you ask, no, I wasn’t hitting the rosé bottle before I sat down to write this post. I did, however, attend a dinner recently at Bistro du Vin Soho sponsored by Provence Wines, the generic body that promotes all wines Provençal. Wine has been made in Provence since 600 BC when the Greeks brought it over after colonizing the coast and founding Marseille. The Greeks were making wine long before the Romans had ever set foot in France, although, it was the Romans who spread the cultivation of vines to the Rhone and beyond. The first wines made by the Greeks were in fact a pale pink colour because at the time maceration was unknown and so the wines produced had little contact with the skins – just enough to give it a rosy shade.
Wine making has progressed and we now have wines that come in various shades but the vignerons of Provence still carry on making their beautiful rosés. Provence is made up of 3 appellations, Côtes de Provence, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence and Coteaux Varois en Provence. The region itself produces 88% of all rosé produced in France with Côtes de Provence producing primarily rosé wine. There are more then a dozen varieties allowed in the production of rosé but the majority use a combination of grenache, cinsault and syrah. The French take great pride in their rosés and have even set up The Rosé Wine Research Centre (Centre de Recherche et d’experimentation sur le Vin Rosé). The Centre was established in 1999 to improve the quality of rosé from the vineyard to vinification to the bottle that hits your table, they are involved in all aspects of rosé wine. Although the Centre is based on French rosé, through their focused research, their findings are now being used by rosé producers around the world.
One of the big goals of the Centre is to help define rosé wine. They have even produced a glossary of aromas and flavours associated with Provençal rosé and a colour palatte to help consumers as well trade and press recognize what makes a rosé from Southern France. I found the colour palette fascinating, a great guide to the colours and also very sexily packaged in clear glass beakers.
We had a variety of rosés paired with dinner, including the most famous of Provençal rosés, Domaines Ott which comes in it’s own distinctively shaped bottle. What I found about all the wines was that they all shared a dry, fresh quality as well as having an elegant structure that made them interesting to drink both with and without food. Some of the wines were quite fruity but not sweet, which I appreciated very much.
The menu of Cornish crab, rib eye steak, cheese plate and sorbet were all finely matched to the wines. I particularly enjoyed the blue cheese with the Ch. de Vignelaure Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence 2011 – I would never imagine drinking a rosé with such strong cheese but it worked, accentuating the red fruits and softening the flavours of the cheese.
I usually don’t think of rosé as decadent but the Ch. d’Esclans Domaines Sascha Lichine Côtes de Provence 2011 is exactly that, being deliciously balanced with finesse and a certain, dare I say it, je ne c’est quoi – the word louche springs to mind when thinking about this wine, very decadent indeed.
I could rhapsodize about these wines all day but do yourself a favour and pick up a bottle Provençal rosé the next time you’re undecided between red and white, consider them an addition to your wine repertoire.