In a few years, rosé has gained its pedigree as a full-fledged wine and broken free of its seasonality. Summer is still its high season, however, particularly under the magnificent sunny skies of Provence. Here are the region’s top ten offerings.
In less than 30 years, rosé consumption has almost trebled in France and pink wine’s popularity has spread beyond French borders, as shown by the constant increase in exports. Long viewed as simple fruity wines that needed to be served chilled to hide their possible defects, Provence rosé wines have undergone a sea change. The use of more efficient winemaking techniques, better control over refrigeration and particular attention paid to the choice of grape varieties, have paved the way for production of wines that now enjoy recognition. That’s all the better because rosés account for the lion’s share of regional output. Our assessments have singled out the 10 finest Provence rosés tasted this year.
Domaine des Diables: Made in Provence
This story is as beautiful as it is recent. In June 2005, Virginie Fabre and her partner Guillaume Philip entered the vinous spotlight. The two young graduates of an oenology and business school joined the estate created by Virginie's father in 1979, at the foot of the mountain celebrated by Cézanne in Puyloubier, where they invented the ‘Made In Provence’ concept. Then in 2007, they created their own estate and released unique, eye-catching packaging. Medals and accolades have been showered on them, most notably their Made in Provence and Hydropathe labels. “We treat our rosé like a great red or white wine”, explains Guillaume Philip. “We aim to achieve balanced alcohol, acidity and aromatic backbone in our pale coloured rosés”. The result is Hydropathe Elite Rosé and Petits Diables, which superbly encapsulate freshness, fruit and minerality. The wines are hugely successful and 60% of them are now bound for exports.
Domaines Ott: A family affair
Since 1896, rosé has been the Ott family's favourite wine, although the estate also boasts the ambition, talent and terroirs to produce whites and reds. “Rosé can and must be approached like the other colours”, stresses Jean-François Ott, one of the estate's owners. “Our ambition is to make the best rosé in the world and we farm each vineyard site in a very specific way. It takes us over 500 hours of labour per hectare and per year to produce the finest fruit and requires countless details (tillage, pruning, debudding, leaf thinning)”. The Ott family was never tempted to go down the chemical route. It shows deference to tradition whilst making the most of cutting-edge techniques that are respectful of the soils. The naturally pale Rosé Château de Selle displays distinctive finesse, delicacy, freshness and fruit without any bitterness on the finish. The refined and delicate Bandol Rosé Château Romassan pairs wonderfully with exotic cuisines.
Château de Berne: Born in Berne
Admittedly Château de Berne was not the birthplace of rosé, but it has wholeheartedly embraced it. The high-altitude limestone soils impart fruit and freshness. The sunshine, rainfall and wind create conditions that are extremely conducive to wine growing. The 143-hectare vineyard mainly faces south and technical innovations combined with expertise have resulted in wines of now irreproachable quality, with hallmark aromatics for the Côtes de Provence so popular with connoisseurs, as epitomised by the Château de Berne Rosé. “Provence is rightly perceived as the crème de la crème of rosés," says Delphine Dubois, communications and marketing manager. “Of course, that has an effect on price points. Export markets are very important for Château de Berne because customers are looking for a brand, and that’s what we offer”. The estate’s wine tourism dimension conveys a strong lifestyle image, which is an integral part of quality. All of this is personified in the selection of rosé wines, including the elegant and impeccably balanced Grande Récolte.
Sumeire family: When rosé becomes a legacy
Alongside her brother Olivier Sumeire, Sophie Sumeire Denante has inherited the expertise of her ancestors who have grown wine for eight generations on outstanding vineyard sites. Following vineyards that have been a feature of the local countryside since Antiquity, the Provencal road leads to Château Coussin in Trets and Château Maupague in Puyloubier. In the unique terroir of the Sainte-Victoire, clay-limestone soils coupled with a continental microclimate enhance the refined rosés, whose natural acidity and lovely layered character echo the nearby mountain. Great-grandfather Gabriel Sumeire came in search of the finest vineyard sites and acquired Château l'Afrique in Cuers, on the well-draining sand-clay soils of Pierrefeu in 1953. The estate’s racy, rounded rosés are marked by the nearby Mediterranean sea breezes and reveal aromas of citrus fruits like those planted in the estate's grounds. “These two typical characters”, points out Sophie Sumeire, “remind us every day that Provence is rosé territory, and that there is something for everyone”. Here, the vineyards are meticulously farmed using sustainable techniques. Expressing sense of place is a single-minded objective, as is balance in wines like César à Sumeire, Coussin and l'Afrique. These rounded, indulgent, gourmet-food-style rosés make the perfect companions for grilled fish, Asian cuisine, and in the summer, barbecues or seafood, meat and vegetables cooked on a hot plate.
Château du Galoupet: An outstanding location
Leaving the coastal road linking Hyères to Bormes-les-Mimosas, Château du Galoupet offers breathtaking views. The estate looks out onto superb scenery with salt flats in the foreground and islands on the horizon. Amongst the palm trees, olive trees and pines, the estate’s 165 hectares include 72 hectares of vines averaging around 25 years in age, ensuring character and assertiveness in the wines. A classified growth since 1955, it boasts an extremely wide-ranging array of soils, from clay-limestone around the château to schist on the hill. Accounting for 85% of production, rosés are by far the winery’s mainstay, complemented by reds (10%) and whites (5%). “The fruit is fermented by individual plots”, explains Gilles Bascle, technical and winemaking director. “The 36 plots each have their own tank so that precision blending safeguards the identity of the château’s Cru Classé label from year to year”. This light-coloured rosé with its silky palate gains its complexity from a series of aromas, whilst retaining faultless balance. Its structure makes it a suitable partner for elaborate dishes or a stand-alone wine for the aperitif.
Château Maïme: A great Origin
The Sibran Garcia family has kept its promise. About twenty years ago, it decided to create a family vineyard in the heart of the Côtes de Provence appellation. Combining audacity and the desire to aim for the best, the novice winegrowers moved to the foot of the Massif des Maures, where nearly two millennia ago Roman legionaries planted the first vines. The estate abounds in archaeological and religious remains, but above all it is home to an outstanding terroir. “We created the wine we were hoping to achieve”, explains winemaker and project manager Jean-Louis Sibran. “Year after year, we have nurtured each of our grape varieties on carefully selected plots in a way that allows their finest aromas to blossom”. Undoubtedly the most subtle interpretation of the terroir, the Origine label demonstrates its rich qualities by revealing a delicate balance of richness and complexity, and a long, rich finish. The result is a stunning tasting experience.
Château de l'Aumérade: The flagship wine
“Rosé has always been our flagship wine even if we produce very popular reds and whites”, says Henri Fabre Bartalli, director and owner of Fabre en Provence. “We were among the first to market Provence rosés in 1928. Our signature style epitomises our terroir and above all, our family”. The largest family vineyard in Var, the firm owns 550 hectares of vines in the Côtes de Provence area spread over several estates around Pierrefeu-du-Var, La Londe des Maures and Hyères. The two ‘Crus Classés’ châteaux, la Clapière and l'Aumerade, produce the ultimate wines for pleasure, as enjoyable to drink as they are difficult to make, due to the state-of-the-art techniques they require. The Fabre family has in fact always pioneered research and modern technology to give it complete control over the quintessential aromas of its wines. Its winery is fitted with modern and efficient equipment revolving around refrigeration and control over each grape variety and vineyard site. Among its lovely range of rosés, discerning connoisseurs will enjoy Seigneur de Piegros and the Marie-Christine label - whose bottle is inspired by cameo glass work by Emile Gallé – which will always be associated with famous lovers of exceptional and authentic wines.
Château Saint-Maur: Excellence in Provence
Located in Cogolin, 10 kilometres from Saint-Tropez, Château Saint-Maur sits in a memorable setting between the foothills of the impressive Massif des Maures and the Mediterranean Sea. Sheltered from the Mistral with good airflow, this 100-hectare estate including 70 planted to vines, faces entirely east-west. Opposite the historic chateau is a high-tech winery which blends in perfectly with the landscape due to the impressive perfection of its architecture. These cutting-edge facilities are a major asset for further upgrading the quality of the wines, which have become Provence benchmarks. The rosé L'Excellence is close to perfection, its meticulous blend of Rolle (5%), Syrah (25%), Grenache (40%) Mourvèdre (20%) combining sensual finesse with great elegance.
Les Vignerons de la Cadiérenne: One terroir, three wine styles
The largest winery in the western Var, the Cadiérenne co-operative was created in 1929 by 37 local winegrowers. Today, the winery has nearly 300 members who farm approximately 600 hectares of vines. It offers a wide range of high quality rosés. With its pale raspberry-pink colour, the Un Terroir, Trois Expressions Mont Caume Rosé label beguiles the senses with its notes of red fruit and pomelos, and its compelling palate with beautiful aromatic persistence. A truly pleasurable drinking experience, it pairs beautifully with summer dishes, but also white meats and some cooked fish dishes. And all for under 10 euros!
Château de Beaupré: A jewel in the crown
At Château de Beaupré, rosé is a jewel in its own right, on a par with the estate's top red wines. Phanette and her brother Maxime Double, the guiding forces behind the property’s quality approach to wine, select the grape varieties beforehand depending on the profile they seek to create in the wine. Grenache stands out as the leading grape variety for their rosés. “The harvest date is crucial”, stresses Phanette Double. “We start harvesting at 4 am, at the coldest time of the night, to ensure cool grapes and preserve fruit aromas”. The estate’s, refined, elegant rosés carry a strong gourmet food connotation. Served in the finest restaurants, the Château Collection is partly fermented in barrels to maximise complexity. The Château Rosé is always a safe bet and a good compromise between an aperitif and food-style rosé. As the market expands, the profile and quality of rosés have been raised. “They are the perfect gourmet food partners for light, modern, sauce-free cooking that is proving so popular with female customers”, points out Maxime Double. “Provence has become to rosé what Champagne is to sparkling wine. Its popularity can also help improve awareness and reach for our reds and whites”.
By Jean-Paul Burias
Photographs: Courtesy of the estates