Thursday, May 14, 2015

50 Shades of Pink - a Primer on French Rosé

50 Shades of Pink - a Primer on French Rosé
by Scott Hill

With the arrival of spring comes longer, sunshine-filled days, the blooming of flowers and trees, refreshing breezes redolent of new growth; we eagerly put aside our bulky winter clothing in exchange for flip-flops, shorts and t-shirts. Spring is also the most exciting time in the wine business today - the beginning of Rosé season!

Over the past decade, sales of dry rosé have skyrocketed as Americans have put aside our sweet-tooth-inspired white zinfandels and discovered the delightfully refreshing, traditional styles long enjoyed around the world. In fact, dry rosé is the fastest growing wine category in the US today - while representing a small percentage of total wine consumed here, premium rosé (over $12 per bottle) sales grew by nearly forty percent in 2013 (the last year with data available), which followed a 33% jump in 2012. The exploding sales figures have led importers and distributors to carry more selections of more styles from more places than ever before, especially in the greater New York area, which enjoyed an astounding one in five of every bottle of rosé consumed in the US in 2013.

The reasons for this rapid growth are simple - dry rosé is possibly the most versatile wine in the world. Rosé matches perfectly with a wide variety of foods, ranging from-popular Mediterranean cuisine, to Asian, Indian, Tex-Mex, and of course the all-American love affair with backyard grilling. Rosé wines are delightful by themselves as well, especially in outdoor settings - at the beach, by the pool, on the deck or patio, with a picnic. Rosés are unpretentious, at least for now. For less than $25, the majority are an affordable thirst quencher. In the glass, they practically blaze with sanguine temptation and, most importantly, rosés are simply delicious!

With so many new arrivals to choose from, which rosés should you be enjoying this year? Let’s take a quick trip through the many wine regions of France, where rosé now outsells white wine, and find out!

The South
The heart of rosé production is undeniably Provence; the coastal region surrounding the city of Marseilles on France’s Mediterranean coast produces 10% of the world’s rosé, most of which is guzzled by tourists enjoying the beaches of the French Riviera. Here, rosé is pale in color, light- to medium-bodied, crisp, firm, and refreshing with fruit flavors such as strawberry, water-melon, and grapefruit. The wines are made from an assortment of grapes including Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, Rolle, Tibouren, and sometimes Cabernet Sauvignon. Look for the subregions Côtes de Provence, Les Baux-de-Provence, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, and Coteaux Varois en Provence, as well as the world famous Cassis, Palette and Bandol, which make highly prized rosés. Although the best are expensive, rosé from Provence can be found for as little is $10.
Provence is also home to the world’s only research institute dedicated to Rosé wines, the Centre de Recherche et d’Expériment-ation sur le Vin Rosé, which has created an official color scale for Provence wines including Red Currant, Peach, Grapefruit, Melon, Mango, and Tangerine. [For more great info on Provence rosé, visit their websites at and]

Moving northwest from Provence brings us to the southern Rhône, near the medieval city of Avignon. This area, famous for Chateauneuf-du-Pape vineyards planted in riverbed stones called galet, produces Côtes-du-Rhône and Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages (including Rasteau, Chusclan, Sablet, Cairanne, Laudun, Sablet, Visan, and Séguret) rosés ranging from the Provençal style to the deeper, mineral-driven pinks from Tavel. Using many of the same grapes as Provence, usually with a higher percentage of Syrah in the blend, these rosés tend to be more intensely colored and boldly flavored - think raspberries, currants, blood orange, - making them ideal for heartier summer fare, like charcuterie, strong cheeses, and grilled sausages and meats. The nearby sub-regions of Ventoux, Vaucluse, Gard and Luberon also make delicious rosés that are outstanding values.

Westward we go, entering the Languedoc-Rousillon, with our first stop in the Costieres de Nîmes appellation and the Coteaux du Languedoc curving along the Mediterranean coast from Nîmes, with its ancient Roman arena, through Montpellier, to Béziers. Throughout the region we find the world famous garrigue influencing the wines, with essences of the wild flowers and herbs typical on the picturesque hillsides in every glass. Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre are the dominant grapes here, resulting in rosés that are fruitier than those of Provence, yet not as deep as the Rhône pinks. The Coteaux du Languedoc includes the up-and-coming wines of Minervois and Pic Saint-Loup, darkly colored rosés often comparable to the Rhône’s Tavels, with Syrah and Mourvedre dominating the blends. Other grapes to watch for are Carignan and Grenache Gris, a pale cousin of the red Grenache grape. Turning southwest, we approach the Pyrenees, finding Corbieres before reaching Roussillon; both regions make delightful, affordable rosés. Many ‘country wines’ produced throughout this region will bear the Vin de Pays appellation, which helps explain why the area has such a positive reputation for outstanding value. Simply put the array of bargains to found boggles the mind (and the palate)!

Let’s skirt the Pyrenees along the Spanish border and head towards the Atlantic coast; a quick stop in Gascogne in the South-West of France, discovers more very pleasant pinks, straightforward and well priced, often made from a combination of Bordeaux and Rhone varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan. Following the Garonne river to the sea brings us to Bordeaux, home of the world’s greatest Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot based reds. It’s no surprise that rosé, here sometimes called clairette, is made with those grapes, too, producing medium bodied wines redolent of pink grapefruit, red currant, and strawberries. More challenging to find than other rosés, Bordeaux are worth the effort!

The North
Northward we go, to the Loire Valley,the garden of France, which extends from the Atlantic coastline at Nantes to Tours and then into the very heartland, producing some of the most popular rosé wines guzzled by tourists in Paris’ cafés. Long the playground of wealthy Paris aristocrats, the Loire is littered with stunning Age of Enlightenment châteaux, and the rolling hillsides are covered in vines producing dozens of styles of rôse! The most common, Rosés d’Anjou are fresh, fruity wines made from the local Grolleau, Cabernet Franc and Gamay grapes that often have a subtle hint of sweetness on the finish, making them a great option for those just beginning their rosé journey. Those from the villages of Bourgueil and Chinon are often 100% Cabernet Franc, delightfully fruit-driven wines of vibrant pink color and flavors of fresh herbs, raspberries, currants, even blackberry and jam. Moving inland to the upper Loire we enter Pinot Noir territory, and many Pinot Noir rôses, blended with Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier, or Gamay, designated as generic Touraine Val de
Loire or Coteaux d’Auvergne provide delightful quaffing for the budget conscious. The villages of Cheverny, Noble-Joué, and Saint-Pourçain, also make Pinot Noir based rosés that are delicious, while the more expensive 100% Pinot Noir rosés of Sancerre are some of the most desirable of each vintage. With it’s seductive wild strawberry and raspberry aromas and hints of chalky mineralogy from the limestone soils, Sancerre rosé is a not-to-be-missed taste experience! Farther east, there is at least one domaine still producing rosé in the village of Marsannay in Burgundy despite the top-dollar demand for Pinot Noir.

We can’t talk about rosé without discussing sparkling wines, so eastward we journey to Reims, in the heart of Champagne. Although not limited by seasonality as still rosés are, Rosé Champagne commands higher prices, with the best commanding hundreds of dollars per bottle. Made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay grown on chalky soils, a well made Brut Rosé Champagne exhibits lean, tart berries and minerality brought to life by effervescence. If you are looking for value (and who isn’t?) traditional method sparklers from other areas of France can deliver big bang for the buck - especially watch for Cremant d’Alsace, Cremant de Loire, and Cremant de Bourgogne.

Whew! Now that we’ve covered so much ground in France, I’m feeling thirsty… anyone else ready for a glass or three?

A Fresh Bouquet of Rosés

Jolie-Pitt Miraval 2014 Côtes de Provence - $23.99
Caves d’Esclans Whispering Angel 2014 Côtes de Provence - $21.99
Minuty M de Provence 2014 Côtes de Provence - $19.99
Monmousseau 2014 Rosé d’Anjou - $11.99
Gerard Bertrand 2014 Gris Blanc - $11.99
Domaine de Fenouillet 2014 Ventoux - $13.99
Baronnie de Coussergues 2014 Pays d’Oc – $7.99
La Manarine 2014 Côtes du Rhone - $15.99
Chateau du Lancyre 2014 Pic Saint-Loup - $18.99
Commanderie de la Bargemone 2014 Coteaux d’Aix en Provence - $15.99
Domaine Pallus 2014 Messanges du Chinon - $12.99
Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé NV Cremant d’Alsace - $17.99
Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé NV Champagne - $79.99

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