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.

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.

 

 

Welcome to The Rosé Rules

I love Rosé wines and, happily, it seems I’m not alone. Rosé is the fastest growing wine category in North America, yet the style is still somewhat misunderstood. The idea behind this new blog is to provide a comprehensive, ‘go to’ site for everything related to Rosé; from its fascinating history to information on how the wines are made around the world, plus related themes of food and travel. I hope you’ll join me on this tasty journey. Cheers, Santé, Salud! Hilarie

Cover photo: F.Millo/CIVP