Rosé is rocking the Languedoc

 

It’s no great secret that I adore rosé wines in all their many incarnations, so when I was asked if I’d like to participate in this year’s #Languedoc Day by reflecting on a few samples, it only took a moment for me to accept.

Rosé has become somewhat synonymous with the region of Provence and understandably so – they have been producing softly hued pink wines for well over 2000 years.  However their neighbor, the Languedoc, is making delicious and overt advances on their territory and the wine-loving public, are the beneficiaries.

Located in the south-western part of France, the Languedoc is the largest wine-producing region in the country. Bordered by the Mediterranean and stretching from the Rhône Valley in the north-east to the Roussillon region in the south, it’s wild, windy, mountainous terrain hosts a wide range of soil types and climates, equating to a patchwork of distinctive terroirs.

Most of the output is red, with a focus on Carignan, Grenache Noir, Syrah, and Mourvèdre but Rosé production is on the rise, both in numbers and in quality.

 

chateau_de_lascaux_-_garrigue_rose_-_site_web2016 Château Lascaux ‘Garrigue’ Rosé, AOC Languedoc  (SRP $17.00)

The region of Pic St, Loup is found north of the city of Montpellier, sheltered from the, often ferocious, Tramontane and Mistral winds by the Cévennes mountains.  The 45 acres of organic vineyards belonging to Château Lascaux, are located in the northerly reaches of the AOC, nestled between pine forests and swaths of wild ‘garrigue’ – the scrubby resinous herbs that flourish on the inhospitable limestone soils.

The Chateau’s name, Lascaux, is derived from a type of limestone found on the property which has been in the Cavalier family for thirteen generations.

Lascaux 2

photo courtesy Château Lascaux

A blend of 40% Cinsault and 30% each Syrah and Grenache, the wine has an appealing pale melon hue, but with the first sniff, it’s all red fruits – strawberry, red currant and mellow cherry.  Juicy melon, peach, and raspberry round out the palate with wafts of aromatic thyme and bay leaf. ‘Garrigue’ is a fitting name.

 

 

2016 Domaine de Fontsainte ‘Gris de Gris’ Rose, AOC Corbières (SRP $14.95)

Corbières is the largest appellation in the Languedoc and the fourth largest in France. Named after the rugged limestone hills that overlook the ancient terrain (rock specimens over 500 million years old have been found), this is a dynamic and diverse region.

Fontsaintemap_000

image courtesy of http://www.fontsainte.com

On the road from Narbonne to Carcassonne, near the town of Boutenac, you’ll find the vineyards of Domaine de Fontsainte.  This sunny area, now known as the ‘Golden Crescent’, was highly favored by the Romans and it’s not unusual for vineyard workers to come across ancient coins and other artifacts. The original Domaine evolved around a thermal spring which was, in the 12th century, named after a saint – hence the name Fontsainte or Saint’s Fount.  The vines, which are sustainably grown on soils of silica, clay, and limestone, are protected from the winds by a vast, 500 ha/1,235 acre pine forest that, according to the proprietor Bruno Laboucari, contribute to the special character of the wines:

“Early morning, in the summer, there is an aroma in the humid air, warming the vineyard, of pine resin and pollen, citrus in flower, rosemary, thyme, spicy garriuge heath and woodland undergrowth. That’s the indescribable flavor that makes our wines special.”

 

 

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Garrigue refers to the many wild, resinous herbs (thyme, rosemary, bay, fennel and more) that grow on limesone.

 

Another discerning factor is the dominant grape variety used in the ‘Gris de Gris’ – Grenache Gris, which makes up 50% of the blend A cousin to Grenache Noir and Grenache Blanc, the less familiar ‘Gris’ or ‘grey’ shares the same DNA. It produces wines with distinctive minerality and flavors of honey, almonds, and stone fruits

The blend is rounded out with 20% each Grenache Noir and Carignan plus 5% of both Cinsault and Mourvèdre.

gris-de-gris-2009

photo courtesy www,fontsainte.com

This rosé is produced using a technique known as ‘saignée’ in which the grapes are crushed and left to macerate for anywhere from 6 to 24 hours.  Once the desired color is achieved, they ‘bleed’ (the English definition of ‘saignée) or remove some of the juice to a separate tank where fermentation will take place.  One of the virtues of this method is that you can produce both a rosé and, from the juice and skins left in the original vat, a red wine as well.

Rosé appears in a multitude of shades and this 2016 vintage shows peachy melon hues with intriguing tinges of lavender mauve on the rim.  The aromas evoke summer memories of fleshy strawberries and ripe peach, with exotic notes of tangerine and pineapple.  Berries dominate the finish, especially red raspberry, with sensual touches of orange oil. This is a ‘tricksy’ little wine, offering up both refreshment and lushness, making it altogether seductive and delicious.

 

The Languedoc is a region to watch. Full of creativity and the desire to prove its worth, it continues to surprise and delight, tempting with undiscovered treasures at beguiling prices.

The writer was provided with wine samples for review but the descriptions and are her own.

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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.