This is the first of two write-ups from masterclasses at the recent London Wine Fair 2019. WinedUp was pleased to be able to attend a masterclass on Provencal Rose Wine. The thing I really like about Provence is that rose is their speciality. Too often, in France and elsewhere, it’s an afterthought, a “we’ll do it cos it sells” exercise in opportunism, and seldom exemplars of a winemaker’s best work.
There are two exceptions to this rule. One is champagne, where top roses rival and often exceed their directly equivalent white cuvees. The other is Provence. Rose is its specialist subject. They do make some whites and reds (and they can be fair-to-good), but rose is their calling card.
A few months before LWF, we were in the pub with some friends. When it was WinedUp’s round, I procured a bottle of Whispering Angel from Chateau d’Esclans, a top Provence rose and at the vanguard of the quality thrust. Returning to the table, I was met with ridicule: “you’re a proper wine guy, what are you doing with rose”. I was pleased to have provoked the reaction I desired, and even more delighted to disprove their prejudices upon pouring the stuff.
We’re relatively new converts to this quality surge in Provence. We were on holiday there a few years ago (not a WinedUp trip, I grant you, just a holiday) and whilst we drank a lot of local wine, we didn’t bother with producer visits as we didn’t deem the overall quality to be worthwhile. We were wrong to do so but we shall not repeat our error next time.
Anyway, back on topic. The masterclass was hosted by a representative of Vins de Provence whose name, sadly, escapes me. She was knowledgeable with a classic understated French charm. Her co-host, and tasting lead, was Peter McCombie MW, a well-known figure on the UK wine scene. We’ve bumped into Peter at a few tastings, including a Japanese one late last year. Peter is an ebullient chap and instantly recognisable for his prodigious height and even more prodigious hair. If you don’t see him coming, there’s a good chance you’ll hear him first, as he’s an outgoing character and all the better for it.
The masterclass began with a comprehensive and interesting presentation, delivered by both our hosts, and including a thorough dissection of the terroir of the region. There are three main appellations in the region – Cotes de Provence, Coteaux d’Aix en Provence and Coteaux Varois en Provence.
There’s quite a considerable variation in styles between sub-regions; this will be no surprise to anybody who has toured the region. Its south-eastern location means it is both alpine and maritime. Tour de France followers will know it for the legendary Mont Ventoux, the Giant of Provence, towering over much of the region. Even more dominant is the effects of the equally (in)famous Mistral wind. For a warm and sunny place, it can be surprising changeable (and quickly with it).
This all makes for some glorious scenery and majestic driving country. But in terroir terms, homogenous it is not. This is unsurprising, as I would guestimate that the total AOC area (as opposed to total hectares under vine) in Provence is greater than that of more celebrated French regions like Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace or the Northern Rhone. It’s around the same size as Bordeaux and the Southern Rhone and dwarfed only by Languedoc-Roussillon and the sprawl that is the Loire Valley.
I shall not attempt to precis a 30-minute presentation as I will do neither Peter nor the topic justice. Suffice it to say, sweeping generalisations are tough and diversity (as the name of the masterclass correctly alludes) is the name of the game. However, upon taking our seats, one similarity between all 8 glasses in front of us was obvious – colour.
The consistency was beautiful: a translucent pale pink, nearly identical in every glass. If one imagines the ideal colour for the contents of a glass of rose, these were it. Not hot pink, no viscous artificial-looking darker hues. Likewise, no watery, diluted, filtered and battered around, sorry-looking clear stuff either. They say you eat with your eyes first, but you drink with them first too, and this rose flight did not disappoint.
As the tasting began, similarities ended. Peter had done a sensational job of selecting the wines. The diversity was staggering yet the quality never dipped. Brief notes below, but I liked all 8 of them and would have been happy to buy any of them. As one might hope, they were overwhelmingly food-friendly, but all could equally be enjoyed on their own. The constant was the 2018 vintage, so no variation as a result of age, just terroir expression.
We would happily recommend any of the wines below and would encourage you to pluck a Provence rose off the shelf next time you see one. Any good merchant should have a decent selection available, especially in the summer, so ask them for a recommendation. Read on for my brief tasting notes.
Maitres Vignerons de Saint-Tropez, Chateau de Pampelonne
From a group of winemakers, encased in an elegant Bordeaux bottle. On the nose, white/stone fruits. A lick of sweetness on the finish but dry and grippy. Would be better with food.
Chateau Beaulieu, Cuvee Alexandre
Grapes grown on volcanic soil and a bulbous bottle for a vessel. Fresh yet with just a nudge of tannin as a remnant from its brief skin maceration. Bone dry but fruity.
Maison Saint Aix, AIX Rose
A distinctive blocky/bold AIX on the label (pronounced “ex”). Very different on the nose; more mineral than fruit. Really strong flavours on the palette – strawberries and melons, very pronounced fruit. Just a touch of garrigue herbs.
Mas de Cadenet
A familiar label from a long-established producer. Red, fruity nose. Very round and lush on the palette, velvety texture. Dark fruit flavour profile.
Chateau d’Ollieres, Classique
Subtle nose, quite flat – more flowers than fruit. Acidic backbone and surprising sharpness (both in a good way). Yellow fruit and citrus, tropical fruit finish.
Domaine du Grand Cros, L’Esprit de Provence
Another very elegant label. Stone fruit nose and a fresh, mineral taste. A lick of citrus. Very pleasing all-round.
Domaine des Diables, L’Hydropathe
Fantastic and unique bottle/label (shouldn’t matter but does!). Lived up to its packaging; big nose, red fruits prominent. Aromatic, fragrant, fleshy red fruit flavours. A bold wine.
Chateau de L’Aumerade, Marie-Christine Cru Classe
Another unusual-looking bottle, more old-fashioned but elegant. Smooth, creamy, white/yellow/stone nose. Dry, almost a hint of tannin. Red fruits blended with tropical fruits. Round and full mouthfeel.