Why talk about rosé wines? They have a rather mediocre reputation, right? Something a serious wine connoisseur is supposed to eschew. Now, there is a legitimate reason for this negative association. Its called Mateus from Portugal, or the supermarket variety zinfandels of Almaden, Gallo and Beringer from the US. These rather sweet and bland beverages they are allowed to call wines. We used to buy Mateus as students in New York, when we wanted to impress - fond memories but my taste buds have moved on in life. French love their wines for everyday drinking and rosé is one of the favorites. They are reasonably priced, dry, slightly fruity with a refreshing acidity. Wonderful during the summer time. As our friend Marc, a vigneron in the Coteaux du Varois explains it: "You (Americans) have your sodas, we (French) have our rosés!". French love to picnic (derived from the French pique-nique, pick a little bit). Nothing better than to sit in the shade, a loaf of wonderful gros pain (or as they pronounce it here: " gro paing"), tomato, cheese, some tapenade and a cold bottle of rosé wine!
In the Provence you find some of the best rosé wines in the world. There is of of course the famous Tavel AOC, the rosé of the French Kings and Popes in Avignon. But do not dismiss the other producers further North on the right and left banks of the Rhone! Rosés of the Provence have a wonderful color ranging from pale pink to a vivid translucent purple. The bouquet is a light whiff of fresh strawberries and cherries. They are very dry but offer a refreshing acidity with a slight touch of tanin. The Tavel rosés tend to be more full-bodied and a bit richer and spicier with a higher alcohol content. The rosés further North are lighter, with more acidity and ideal to drink chilled on a hot summer day.
There are two legitimate methods to produce rosé. The first is to use red-skinned grapes (mostly Grenache), crush them and remove the red skins from the pressed juice after a short while. As the skins are not part of the entire fermentation process, the color of the wine is pink or purple rather than red and there is less tanin. Also there are less flavors coming from the skins. The result is a wine more similar to a white rather than a red wine. The second method, called "saignée" or bleeding the vats is a by product of red wine making. In order to give the reds more color and tanin some of the pink must is removed. The third method, mixing of red and white wine, is disapproved in almost all wine making regions.
The further South you go the more rosé is being produced. Roughly 70% of the Côtes de Provence production is rosé. To the East are the Coteaux du Varois and a bit further North the Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence and Les Baux de Provence, all produce large quantities of rosé. While you are on vacation there, wonderful, enjoy it! But I am not going to spend much time there, not yet. I will concentrate on the rosés from the Southern Rhône Valley. In this region the Grenache grape is the basis (around 75 % - 80%); Carignan, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Syrah and some other varieties such as Tibourin are added for flavor and tanin.
Before I start with my recommendations, keep in mind the following rules:
- Buy the youngest vintage available. Rosés are made to drink now, not to age. Exception are some of the Tavels, which can hold 2 - 3 years.
- Drink rosés well chilled, 12°C (54°F) for a Tavel and 8°C (46°F) for the lighter Côtes du Rhône rosés seems about right. Otherwise the fruity bouquet and refreshing aciditiy disappear quickly.
- While rosés are inexpensive, it pays to upgrade a bit.
- Should you visit the Provence, buy directly from the winery, you can taste it first and judge for yourself. In case you have not thought about visiting the Provence - here is a good reason why!
- Don't be shy to order a rosé for lunch or dinner; nobody in France will frown on you.
Let's start with the Tavel region on the Western banks of the Rhône, 20 min. by car from Avignon. This village obtained the only AOC appellation for rosé - around the time the AOC system was applied to wines, i.e. the late 1930s. It has a long tradition of producing quality rosés. The village's slogan is "Roi des Rosés, Rosé des Rois" King of the Rosés, Rosé of the Kings. Tavel is recognized in France as the top rosé label; the appellation crest is featured on most bottles (left photo). Have they rested on their laurels, as some wine writers maintain? I don't think so. Let's prove the point and start with three top producers in Tavel. As the year progresses I will visit some of the smaller vignerons as well.
Chateau d'Aqueria, Vincent de Bez from the Olivier family clan is the current kemosabe here. They own 44ha Tavel and 22ha Lirac. I tried the 2004 Chateau d'Aqueria Tavel, showing a vibrant salmon colour, with a pronounced fruit fragrance and some floral notes on the side. Full-bodied, fruity on the palate, yet dry with a refreshing acidity; my top choice, "absolument génial". While there I could not resist to buy some bottles of the 2005 Chateau d'Aqueria Lirac Blanc, more about this wonderful wine at another time. Directions: Chateau d'Aqueria is on Rt.D976, driving from Tavel to Roquemaure, about 1.5km after the Tavel D976 roundabout on the right side. Chateau d'Aqueria, 30126 Tavel, Tel: 04 66 50 04 56.
Domaine de la Mordorée is owned by the Delorme family. It shows that Christophe Delorme studied business administration, his marketing skills are superb. Under his management Domaine de la Mordorée has become one of the leading domaines in the Côtes du Rhône. They have 135 acres under cultivation, use organic viticulture methods and are best known for their superb Liracs and Châteauneuf des Papes. If you are skeptical about rosés try the 2005 Domaine de la Mordorée Tavel. Intense light red colour and a good nose of strawberries. Mouth: full bodied with a taste of red berries and vanilla, then the typical Tavel finish, austere, some acidity, very exciting. Quite a high alcohol content for a rosé: 14.5°. It will be a great wine year round for any type of Southern European food. Next day I had it with a Courgettes aux Herbes Quiche; it was a superb combination. Retail price at the winery: Euro 8.50. Directions: Coming from Avignon turn right at the roundabout at the village entrance. Open all day (March -October) 8-12 AM, 1:30-6 PM (Mo-Fri during off season). Domaine de la Mordorée, Chemin des Oliviers, 30126 Tavel, Tel: 04 66 50 00 75.
Domaine La Genestière, established in 1930, one of the oldtimers in Tavel, was acquired in 1994 by Jean-Claude and Raphael Garcin. They also own the Saint-Anthelme, Les Ramières and Longval estates producing Tavel, Lirac, Côtes du Rhône and Pays du Gard wines. They produce three rosés here: The 2004 Domaine La Genestière Cuvée Tradition Tavel, light salmon colour, nose of strawberries and rose petals, mouth evolves gradually from red berries with a slight touch of white pepper to a dry pleasant acidity. The 2004 Domaine La Genestière Cuvée Raphael Tavel, intense salmon colour, aroma of strawberries and raspberries, mouth of strawberry jam with a warm, slightly tannic and peppery final note. And finally one of those rare Lirac rosés, the 2004 Domaine La Genestière Cuvée Lirac Rosé, light purple color, rich bouquet of fruits and a slowly developing strawberry flavour. Unlike the Tavels the Lirac rosé is produced using the saignée method; it is less complex than the Tavels, rather crisp and fresh; a delightful summer wine for a light meal, like a Pizza Provençale. Retail prices at the cave are around Euro 8. Directions: In the village turn left after the Auberge de Tavel and follow the signs. Domaine La Genestière, Chemin de Cravailleux, 30126 Tavel, Tel: 04 66 50 07 03.
Domaine Lafond-Roc-Epine; the Lafonde's started in the 18th century as Tavel vignerons, well knwon for their superb Tavels and Liracs. Jean-Pierre and Pascal Lafonde expanded in 2001 into Châteauneuf du Pape. The 2004 Domaine Lafond-Roc-Epine Tavel has a vibrant salmon colour, very fruity bouquet and a full and rounded fruity palate with the typical Tavel acidity setting in at the end. Retail price at the winery: Euro 7.60. Directions: Drive through the village, stay on the main street, can't miss them. Domaine Lafond-Roc-Epine, Route des Vignobles, 30126 Tavel, Tel: 04 66 50 24 59.
After a light Provençal lunch in the Restaurant La Genestière next to Domaine La Genestière (the restaurant is run by the former owners of the domaine) I head North to visit my friends in Ste.Cécile les Vignes, who have scored big with their 2005 Côtes du Rhône rosé.
Caveau Chantecôtes in Ste.Cécile les Vignes between Bollène and Carpentras is the marketing arm created in 1972 by the Cave Cecilia, the local wine cooperative. Their 2005 Côtes du Rhone Rosé, is made of 90° Grenache and 10° Carignan using the saignée method. It has an intense salmon colour, a delicate bouquet of red berries and a dry, slightly fruity palate with a refreshing acidity. A summer wine without being the usual lightweight stuff. Refreshing! Retail price at the cave: Euro 5.80. Direction: In the village, take the main road to Carpentras/Cairanne, you can't miss their copper plated facade opposite the Credit Agricole branch. Caveau Chantecôtes, Cours Maurice Trintignant, 84290 Ste.Cécile les Vignes, Tel. 04 90 30 83 25.