Five great reasons to love rosé wines from Provence

It’s official – America has a big, huge, delicious crush on the rosé wines of Provence. According to Nielson polling, approximately half of all the pink wine purchased in the United States last year was from Provence. Not surprising – after all, this region is the ancient home of rosé and they set the standards for the style, but what is it about these wines from the sunny south of France that has beguiled the American wine drinker? Here are a few ideas:

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CREDIT PHOTO : F.MILLO/CIVP

It looks like Springtime: Although rosé can vary in color from faintly pink through to deeper raspberry, and every shade in between, the delicate appearance makes us think of the first warm days that herald Spring. Think cherry blossoms, roses and juicy strawberries!

It smells like Summer: Those sensual aromas of ripe, plum, red berries, mingled with a bit of cranberry, tangerine and perhaps a whisper of spice – rosé is truly the spirit of summer in a bottle. What better to cool off the heat of a sun filled afternoon than a chilled glass of rose?

A new vintage is on its way: Rosè is not a wine you put away for a special occasion. This is a wine you drink while it’s vibrant, young and fresh, so keep an eye on the shelves of your favorite wine shop and stock up as soon as they appear. Many distributors may only get a case or two from a few producers and they will disappear quickly as more and more buyers learn about the joys of these French rosè.

It’s a ‘Sipper’ – Most Provence rosès are on the lower end of the alcohol scale, with an average of 12% alcohol by volume. This means that you can enjoy more than one glass without feeling too tipsy! Now, this doesn’t mean you should consider it en par with non-alcoholic beverages; it is still booze, after all!

It’s a ‘foodie wine’ – Warmer weather means lighter fare – salads, charcuterie and cheese plates, pastas and picnics – that beg for a lighter, refreshingly crisp wine. Provence rose is happy to answer the call. These wines have a palate cleansing quality that enhances the flavors of a wide range of cuisines making them a perfect pairing.

Embrace Provence rosè -the harbinger of Spring. It seems American has got the message.

Originally published on Examiner.com

Putting the ‘rose’ into Rosé wine.

What is the secret of creating a gorgeous, rosy Rosé?

First, we need to begin with a short lesson in grape anatomy.

The anatomy of a grape

The anatomy of a grape

Inside each berry, is a mixture of juice, pulp and seeds. Except for a very few varieties, (known as teinturier) the juice is colorless.  What makes a ‘red’ wine ‘red’ is the juice’s contact with the skins.  And what makes a Rosé pink is limited contact with those skins.

Rose Champagne Bubbles

Rose Champagne Bubbles

Myth: Rosé wines are just red and white mixed together. In truth, the only region where this is done is in Champagne.  Here they are allowed to blend red and white, but nowhere else!

In essence, any red skinned grape may be used and in some regions, a small amount of white may be added.

As I mentioned in a previous post, “Fifty (Plus!) Shades of Pink – the Many Hues of Rosé Wine”, there are two standard means of producing a Rosé wine: Direct Press and Saignée.  Lets take a look in a bit more detail.

Direct Press

As soon as the grapes arrive at the winery, they will be placed into the press, either still in their natural clusters or with the individual berries removed from the stems. Once inside the press, the winemaker will keep a watchful eye on the juice, checking the color.

The most popular style of press is called a bladder,or pneumonic, press.  An inflatable bag or bladder, can be programmed to slowly expand inside the machine, gently pressing the grapes and releasing their juice. As the fluid comes into contact with the skins, the color, tannins, and flavors from the skins will leach into the liquid.  This process can take anywhere from three to four hours.

When the pressing is complete, the light pink juice will be pumped to a tank where it’s allowed to rest and any bits of skin or other matter can settle down to the bottom; a self filtering, if you will.

Fermentation will take place either spontaneously or with the addition of yeast and production will continue as for a regular white wine.

Rosés made in this method are traditional in Provence as well as  many other regions, and produce a finished wine that is extremely aromatic and delicate in color.

Saignée

Direct Press results in a Rosé wine. Period. Finite!

Saignée, on the other had, will yield two wines in one.

The grapes are destemmed and crushed then left to macerate just as if a red was being produced.

Maceration: when the grape skins release their magic

Maceration: when the grape skins release their magic

After anywhere from two to twenty hours, the winemaker will ‘bleed’, or remove, some of the juice and use that to make a Rosé that is often darker and less ‘perfumey’ than the Direct Press method.  The remainder of the must (mixture of crushed grape skins and juice) will become a red; most likely a really full-bodied and concentrated red.

Did you know?  Another name for this process is ‘Rosé de Nuit’ (Rosé of the Night), stemming from the fact that the juice and skins were often left overnight before the juice for rosé was removed.

These are the two traditional techniques, but like everything, there are always alternatives and variations.

Many ‘New World’ winemakers will crush the grapes and then let the must sit in the press until the perfect color is achieved, at which time they start the press and separate the juice from the skins. This is called “Cuvaison Rapide’ or rapid soak.

So, how does the winemaker decide which ‘modus operandi’ to use?

Some winemaking regions, such as those in France, Italy, Spain and other ‘Old World’ countries, have laws that dictate what type of production is to be used.

In other areas, factors like grape variety, ripeness and wine style are more likely to influence the decision.

And sometimes, both methods will be employed.  A winemaker may use one technique for some of the grape varieties in a blend and alternate process for others, resulting in a rose that reflects the best of both styles.

photo credit: F. Millo/CIVP

photo credit: F. Millo/CIVP

Did you know?  In Provence, there are two styles of Rosé.  ‘Vins de soif’ or thirst quenching wines are the style most often associated with ‘Apero’ or Apèritifs: light, refreshing and crisp with no oak and lots of bright fruit.  ‘Gastronomic‘ are more full-bodied Rosés, that may have seen some time in oak barrels.  These are more ‘food-friendly’ versions and great with your meal.

 

 

 

Les ‘chanteurs’ of Provence

What do you think of when you hear the word “Provence”? Well, besides Rosé?

The Cigale sings it's song. photo credit: Anna Aga

The Cigale sings it’s song. photo credit: Anna Aga

Many will conjure visions of endless fields of lavender, cheerful sunflowers, olive trees and rosé wine. Did I mention Rosé?

But the most iconic emblem of this magical region of Southern France is actually a noisy little insect they call ‘Cigale’. Wherever you travel in this part of the world, and throughout the Mediterranean, you can’t help but hear their distinctive, clicking, ‘song’

The rest of the world refers to these insects as Cicadas and there are over 2500 species documented around the world.

The cigale is considered a lucky symbol in Provencal culture and you find them everywhere – both real and in whimsical facsimile.

Here are a few interesting facts about this amazing ambassador:

  • The ancient Greeks were the first to write about the Cigale – and they ate them, too
  • They are related to the leafhopper family of insects, not crickets as many believe
  • The male cicada produces his loud song by contracting and expanding small muscles called tymbals. There is on each side of his abdomen and, since the abdomen is hollow, the clicking sound produced by this action is amplified.
  • How loud is a Cigale’s song? Really loud – around 120 decibles or the equivalent of a very good rock concert! They say the sound can travel the length of half a football field.
  • The Cigale entered the annals of folklore thanks to two Frenchmen.
  • In the mid 1600’s Jean de la Fontaine wrote a little story “La Cigale et la Fourmi” (The Cigale and the Ant) with the premise that the noisy, show-off cicada spent his summer singing and wasting time while the ever industrious ant collected and stored food for the winter to come.
  • Provence cultural historian Frédéric Mistral declared the little creature as the emblem of Provence in the 1800’s and coined the phrase “Lou souleu mi fa canta,” provençal for “The sun makes me sing”.

Everywhere you go in Provence you will hear their song, blowing through the fields of sunflowers and lavender – the perfect background music to your glass of Provence Rosé.

The Rise of Rosé – a mini history

What is it about Provence that gives it the privilege of being known as the homeland of Rosé?

CREDIT PHOTO : F.MILLO/CIVP

CREDIT PHOTO : F.MILLO/CIVP

Could the fact they’ve been making it for over 2000 years have a little something to do with it?

Let’s step back  – way, way back –  circa  600 BCE.  Around this time, a group of seafaring traders, known as the Pheoceans travelled from what is now Turkey seeking new trading routes and markets.  They landed in a beautiful Mediterranean bay and, finding the climate and the natives hospitable, founded the city of Massalia. Today you know this as one of France’s largest cities – Marseille.

Amphorae Photo credit: Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Amphorae  Photo credit: Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Now, like any good adventurers from the ancient world, the Phoceans brought wine with them on their travels and, once they began to settle this new region, they imported vines to supply their growing population. And so began the vineyards and wine industry of France.

The wine they produced, for both their local consumption and for trade, was, according to scientific research, a pale colored wine.  The reason for this can be traced to the fact that their means of production were pretty basic – harvest the grapes, crush them to release their juice and then let that juice ferment.  The idea of skin contact and deep colored wines was to really come to the fore later in history, and that’s another story!

 

“Pink wines were the drink of the rich the powerful and the aristocracy.  Rosé was made from free-run juice. Press juice, which was more densely pigmented, was fermented into red wine… the quaff of soldiers and workers.  And this (drink culture) was the case until the end of the 18th and the 19th centuries.  At the end of the 19th century, the rising bourgeoisie wanted to prove their wealth, so they built wine cellars and aged their cache of red wines as a sign of affluence.” James de Roany, Secretary General of the CIVP (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence)

 

As the age of Greek domination waned, the Roman Empire rose up and began its expansion through Europe.  By 121BCE, they had taken Massalia, changed the name to Massilia and began to colonize the region.  This became the first of the Roman provinces  (hence the name Provence from the Latin ‘Nostra Provincia or ‘our province). Thanks to the Greeks, the locally produced wines were already a lucrative commodity and the new residents capitalized on this by planting more vineyards and exporting more and more rosé throughout the empire.

The Roman influence declined in the 5th century AD. The region was invaded by the rulers of Barcelona, Burgundy and the Holy Roman Empire, amongst others, many of whom introduced new grape varieties and winemaking techniques.

Photo credit: The British Library / Foter / No known copyright restrictions

Photo credit: The British Library / Foter / No known copyright restrictions

 

Rosé wines remained the style of choice and were popularized even more when, in the 14th Century, Pope Clement the V  moved the Papal seat of power from Rome to a little town called Avignon in the southern Rhone Valley.  The weather was often warm and the Popes adored the crisp, fragrant and refreshing Rosés.  And what the Pope loved, everyone in his sphere of influence loved as well, making Rosé the wine of choice for the Royal houses of Europe and the aristocracy!

Provence became part of France in the latter part of the 14th century and the region became mostly agricultural.  Along side the grapes, you’d find wheat and olives.

In the late 19th century, phylloxera began its devastation of Europe’s vineyards, starting with those of Provence. Eventually, the growers replanted and in 1935 when the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) system was created, the Provencal region of Cassis was one of the first to be recognized.

Today, Provence is synonymous with Rosé and is  largest producer in the world.

Now that you know a bit more about its long and illustrious history, you can understand why Provence is  the first place one thinks of when you sip a cool glass of Rosé.

Next post, we’ll go a bit ‘geeky’ and learn the winemaking techniques that have evolved over these 2000 years to make those lovely shades of pink.

Provence: The Homeland of Rosé, Part One

Rosé is gaining in popularity by leaps and bounds every year.  In the United States, consumption has increased by double digits every year since 2004.  But how much does the average consumer really know about this delightfully refreshing ‘pink’ wine?

Although rose is produced in many regions around the wine world, there is one place that stands out: Provence, France.

To really understand rose and all it’s many nuances, you must understand viticultural Provence. This is where the rosé story really began and where it continues to evolve.  Not only is Provence the largest producer of ‘pink’ but it’s also the benchmark to which other regions aspire.

For most people Provence is lavender, sunshine, Brigitte Bardot, movie stars and yachts.  But it’s also green hillsides, ancient Greek and Roman ruins, small fishing villages, winding roads through deep river gorges and vineyards.  Lots of vineyards .

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Charming seaside village of Sanary-sur-Mer

The wine regions of Provence credit: Wine Folly

The wine regions of Provence credit: Wine Folly

 

So lets’ start by finding where this magical land resides.

When we talk about the wines of Provence we are looking at a geographical region that is  approximately 150 miles long, bordered on the south by the Mediterranean Sea, on the east bye the Cote d’Azur (almost to the Italian border), the Rhone  to the west and the Durance River on the North.  (This is said to be ‘where the olive trees end”).

The region is not huge in size, but the variety of the land is quite diverse.  Small, independent mountain ranges or ‘massifs’, rise from the sea and also appear further inland, sheltering vineyards from the cold northern wind known as the Mistral. Rivers flow from the foothills of the Alps carving deep scenic gorges into the terrain and some vineyards are planted on the limestone cliffs jutting from the azure blue sea.

 

Vineyards outside Correns

Massif and vineyards near Correns, France

Vineyards on the edge of the Sea credit: Wines of Provence

Vineyards on the edge of the Sea    credit: Wines of Provence

The Mistral

The often fierce wind known as the “Mistral’ is an important piece of  Provencal culture.

It begins life far to the north, in the Baltic and North Seas.  Drawn to the south by that region’s warmer air, the wind picks up speed on it’s journey.  As it reaches the Rhone Valley it’s influence begins to be noticed, but once it reaches the city of Avignon, the mountains and hills of Provence funnel it eastward so the wind’s effects are felt throughout the area.

Often cold, the Mistral can achieve sustained speeds of 110 mph and last for days, sometimes weeks, at a time.  As with many things, there is good and bad  The benefits – the air is cleaner, sunnier, and moisture is blown away from the grape clusters, warding off molds and mildew.  The bad – in the Spring it may damage developing grape clusters.  The wind is also capable of ripping clusters or arms off the vines and even uprooting the entire plant.

Because you can’t fight it, the inhabitants of Provence have learned to live with this wind.  Doors are located facing south so the back of the house against the wind, church belfries are designed to allow the wind to flow through, and vines are planted to go with the wind, not against.

The climate here is varied, as well.  Near the sea, the vineyards bask in what’s known as a Mediterranean Climate with warm sunny summers and mild winters.  Further inland, and for vineyards at higher altitudes, the temperatures are naturally a bit cooler, with even a chance of a dusting of snow during the winter.

The soils of Provence are different, depending on location.  In general terms, the vineyards to the west are planted on mostly limestone and clay, remnants of an ancient prehistoric sea that covered what we now know as France.  Further to the east, you might find volcanic soils or crystalline schist.

 

Magical limestone & clay soils of western Provence

Magical limestone & clay soils of western Provence

For ‘terroirists’ or those of us who believe that the soils in which the grapes are grown are part of the final influence on the wine they produce, limestone may lend a bright acidity and minerality.  Clay can provide good tannins and subtle, dark fruit aromas while the schist often gets credit for body and structure.

In upcoming posts, we’ll travel back in time to discover the history of wines in Provence, go ‘scientific’ and talk about winemaking, visit the vineyards and meet the many grape varieties that go in to Rosé, and have a look at the 13 growing regions of Provence and what makes each – and it’s Rosé wines – unique.

We’ll also immerse ourselves in some of the culture and food of the region – after all, Rosé is not just about the wine – it’s Joie de Vivre!

Fifty (Plus!) Shades of Pink – the Many Hues of Rosé Wines

Rosé comes in a wide array of shades. Why is this and does the color of the wine give any indication of its quality?

Rose shelf 2

A dizzying array of Rosé!

 

Rosé wines can range in color from delicate shades of ‘onion skin’ or ‘salmon’ through pinky/orange ‘mango’ all the way to rosy pink. In fact here is a chart produced by The Center for Rosé Research, located in Provence, that shows approximately 139 different hues!

 

Shade of Provene Rose

Rosé comes in a wide variety of shades.

 

There are a variety of factors that can affect the final shade of a rosé wine:

Different grape varieties will render a different shade to the wine. For example Grenache Noir will be a salmon shade, while a thicker skinned Syrah will be more pink.

Temperature of the fruit is also a factor. Warmer grapes will exude more pigment resulting in a darker shade of wine. For this reason, cooler night harvesting is now practiced by 60-70% of the wineries in Provence in order to produce a paler shade of wine. And that dedication to ‘cool’ continues in the cellar. By ensuring that the wine, through all phases of production, is kept at a lower temperature, the resulting wine will be full of big, beautiful fruit and floral aromas.

There are two basic ways to make rosé and the winemaker’s choice will influence the final shade of the wine.

The traditional and most frequent method of production of Provence Rose is knows as Direct Press where the fruit is pressed very soon after harvest with minimal skin contact. This method produces a wine of paler shade than other production methods such as ‘Saignee’. This term means ‘to bleed’ and in the process, the winemaker will crush the fruit as for the production of red wine, then ‘bleed off’ or remove some of the juice after a period of hours or days. This juice, which is lighter in color and tannin than a red wine, will be used for rose wine and the must left in tank will become a full-bodied red.

Here’s a short video, courtesy of the Wines of Provence, about the two methods:

Other influence such as the grapes exposure to oxygen, the altitude and climate of the vineyard, and indeed the soil on which the grapes are grown, will all influence the finished wine. As an example, some of the grapes from the Cote de Provence Frejus AOC in eastern Provence are grown on volcanic soil, which will lend a slight copper tinge to the wine.

The depth of color of the rosé, however, is not an indication of quality or intensity. A pale, salmon color rose may have intense, explosive fruity aromas and flavors, while a more intensely pigmented wine may have more subdued aromas.   Perhaps, not what you might guess from just looking at the bottle!

Roses are a pink ‘rainbow’ of color – each wonderful in it’s own, distinctive way.