If it were possible to bottle up the spirit of a place in a wine, my vote would go to the rosés of Provence. Warm, radiant, cheerful and decorously seductive, their appearance alone sparks the thought that a few sips will transport one to a world of sunshine and tranquility. Who wouldn’t want to have a glassful?
And so it was that on one stingingly cold, oppressively gray day at the beginning of March with an unforgiving wind blasting from all directions and piles of frozen snow still lining the streets, I opened the door into a tasting of wines from Provence and my mood immediately brightened.
Evidently I am not alone in having this sort of reaction. Sales of Provence wines increased at a rate of five times the rate of growth of total wine sales in the U.S. last year, continuing a trend begun at least six years ago. The wines at the tasting that day showed why.
The first wines I tried were from Chateau Sainte Marguerite. Peach and floral notes lifted from the glass of the Cuvée Grande Réserve 2010, and a refreshing balance of fruit, acidity and minerality combined in the palate. The Cuvée M 2010 had more body and additional citrusy flavors, and I was struck by the length of the finish, which I was not expecting in a rosé. Two things were immediately evident: these wines were made with great care, and their stylishly subtle and varied flavors combined with vibrant minerality would make them a match for a wide variety of foods.
At the Chateau de Brigue table I was about to request a glass of the Brigue Prestige Rosé but it was suggested I start with their white wine. This was light and crisp with tart-sweet grapefruit notes and made from the rolle grape. Rolle is perhaps better known to U.S. consumers by its other name, vermentino, appearing here in wines from Sardinia, Liguria and Tuscany. Harvesting early in the morning insures that the grapes arrive at the winery at a cool temperature which contributes to the freshness of the wine.
Provençal rosés can be made from a variety of red grapes including grenache, mourvèdre, cinsault, syrah and cabernet sauvignon. After crushing, maceration of the juice with the skins takes place for as short a time as a few hours up to as long as a couple of days, allowing the juice to take on color and flavor. Vinification then proceeds as if for a white wine.
The Brigue Prestige 2010 in addition to cinsault and grenache includes cabernet sauvignon to give more structure, the Brigue Signature 2010 has a higher percentage of syrah for more robust flavor.
I compared the Chateau Minuty Rosé et Or with their Cuvée Prestige while taking a break at the buffet table. The first wine, sprightly, fruity and thirst-quenching was a lively aperitif, the second with greater structure and length made a fine accompaniment to a perfectly dressed green salad as well as the perfectly ripe cheeses offered.
While enjoying the food I struck up a conversation with a couple who had spent a week at Chateau Roubine, which has guest facilities. They couldn’t have spoken more highly of their stay and the graciousness of the owner, Valerie Rousselle. I headed over to that table and found the wines as vivacious as their proprietor, enjoying a white, rose and red.
One of the lures of wine is the seemingly limitless opportunity for discovery. So I couldn’t have been more pleased to learn while savoring the Cuvée Classique Rosé from Chateau Roubine that one of the varieties it was made from was tibouren, a distinctly provencal variety and one I had never heard of.
The Domaine de Rimauresq red, at the next table I went to, didn’t contain any tibouren, but my initial notes, in a sense, say it all: great! and no oak! This was a generous, fruit-saturated, full-bodied wine with a warm, spicy nose, fine balance and good length to the finish. The varieties it is made from include mourvèdre, one of my favorite Mediterranean grapes, syrah and carignan. A photograph displayed on the table showed the vineyards in the shadow of the Maures mountain range in the late afternoon. This allows for an extended maturation of the grapes which are not harvested until early October.
The Rimauresq Cru Classé Rosé did contain some tibouren along with grenache and cinsault and had a nose of red fruits and substantial body.
Despite what you might conclude from their delicate color, these rosés are not shy. I had one at home recently with a take-out meal of spicy Korean beef, and the wine admirably stood up to the challenge. The piquant, kaleidoscopic suggestions of flavors (which came through despite the spice and heat of the beef) combined with bracing minerality to dance on the palate and made going back and forth from drink to food a delight.
Start exploring these wines now. Marseilles and Provence have been chosen the Cultural Capitol of Europe for 2013. You might find it the perfect time to make a trip and enjoy your favorites sur place.