One of the great pleasures in life is sitting on the Côte d’Azur, staring at a shimmering sea, while eating fruits de mer and sipping a delicate rosé from a perfectly chilled bottle. In moments like these the experience of wine can reach fabulous heights. So why is drinking a bottle of the same wine at home on a cold, grey evening disappointing? Is it that the wine doesn’t travel? That may have been true once, but wine-making techniques have improved and, besides, why would rosés alone suffer this fate? Perhaps it’s because we are not drinking good enough rosé. But that doesn’t explain why it tasted so delicious au bord de la mer. This is what I call the Provençal rosé paradox.
The answer is to recognise how much context contributes to enjoyment: the sun, the sea, the salty mouthfuls of squid offset by flavours of peach and grenadine in the wine, and the condensation-frosted bottle in the ice bucket with its pale, coral colour. Then there is the pleasure of sharing it with another. The hedonic rush was not due to the wine alone, and it cannot serve later to re-create the experience as a whole. But nor should it. Rosé can be enjoyed for its own sake and not just as the accompaniment to sybaritic days.
The “mere accompaniment” view of rosé comes from its reputation as the poor relation of the wine world. Yet it is a difficult wine to make. It takes skill to leave the pressed grape juice in contact with the skins just long enough to bleed colour and impart flavour. Views differ on how long that contact should be, and so we see everything from the cherry pink and Campari-like red of Spanish Rosado and Italian Rosato, to the pale salmon pink or onion skin colour of Provençal rosés.
Good examples of the former include the 2010 Artadi Artazuri Rosé from Navarra made with juicy and lightly spiced strawberry flavoured grenacha, or the 2009 Marqués de Cáceres Rosado Rioja made from Tempranillo grapes that give the wine red berry fruit and structure. In Italy the 2009 Ceppaiano Rosato IGT from Tuscany is a deep red, succulent wine made from Sangiovese grapes that give it the flavour of summer pudding; while Sella and Mosca’s wild and herby Oleandro Rosé di Alghero from Sardinia has the blackcurrant notes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Colour is one thing, flavour is another, and if you want a wine with a depth you must turn to the wines of Bandol. Here you will find the aristocracy of French rosé in the subtle wines of Domaine Ott, where the pale pink colour belies the savoury flavours. What makes Bandol wines so different from their Provençal neighbours is the use of Mouvèdre: a grape that likes to have its head in the sun and its feet in the sea. It produces tannic reds that take their time to melt. But its addition to the usual Provençal blends of Syrah, Grenache, and Cinsault give the wines extra bite. Too many Provençal rosés have a sweet taste that quickly tire the palate. By contrast, Bandol wines have peach and apricot flavours backed by a steely minerality. These are wines for dinner not for aperitif. Alongside Domaine Ott’s Clos Mireille Rosé Coeur de Grain stands Domaine Tempier’s Bandol Rosé; both fine examples of perfumed elegant wines that combine intense fruit flavours with a hint of mineral austerity.
Currently on greatest form is Chateau Pibarnon, whose blend of Mouvèdre and Cinsault produces a mouth-filling wine which unites power and elegance. The aromas of fruit and flowers show the influence of the surrounding garrique. On the palate, flavours of peach, sour cherry and liquorice produce a long, complex finish. Try it. It may change your view of rosé forever.