PINK UPDATE…

It’s time again to touch on the world of pink wine.  A few new things have come in that deserve mention.   We aren’t necessarily aggressively looking for additional roses but won’t hesitate if we run across something that truly rings our bell.  After all, here in Southern California, pink wine season can last well into October and, as we have often said, rose has a place year around.

Antinori Guado Al Tasso Bolgheri Scalabrone Rosato 2017– This rose is from one of the most prestigious properties in Tuscany (Guado al Tasso) owned by arguably Tuscany’s ‘first family’ of wine, Antinori.  The pedigree alone gives it a certain status except, of course, Tuscany doesn’t really have a significant tradition for pink wine.  Our first go round with this offering was back in the 2014 vintage if memory serves, and the wine made a significant impression on us.  In fact, it was one of the best pinks we tasted in that vintage.

For whatever reason, the next couple didn’t light it up but the 2017 is back in the saddle again.  In a place known for Bordeaux varietals, the blend here is a predictable 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 30% Syrah.  This is on the more savory end of the rose spectrum, with a firm backbone to the berry and cherry fruit and a subtle infusion of wild herbs.  This one begs for food as you would expect for something from Italy, but it is pitched to play with a wide range of dishes and has enough muscle to stand up to grilled meats.  This is not a little quaffer for that sidewalk table at the beach.  This is a pink wine with more serious intentions.

While they have been making this wine since 1990, it hasn’t been a big player in this market until recently.  The grapes were picked and fermented separately, destemmed, and saw a brief low temperature skin contact of only a few hours.  Afterward the wine was assembled from the various selected lots, and it was bottled in January.  The name (Scalabrone) comes from a local Robin Hood-esque bandit that preyed on ships here in the early 19th Century.  Given the prestige of this real estate, the price is attractive as well ($14.98).

Claude Riffault Sancerre Rose 2017Some of you might recall that last year on these pages, we extolled the virtues of the Alphonse Mellot Sancerre Moussiere 2016, pretty much conceding it was among our top performers in the glass as far as pink wine was concerned.  Thus far that importer has not presented us with the 2017 model of that wine, but another striking Loire pink has really gotten our attention.  We don’t necessarily have an agenda with respect to this genre of pink, it’s just that for the second year in a row the region gave us one of the big winners.  There will be plenty of enthusiasm for this bright, expressive, fruit-driven rose by virtue of its unabashed style.

Like the Moussiere last year, expect it to be everything you might be looking for in a pink wine.  Made from 100% Pinot Noir, the nose gives bright red melon notes and there is plenty of expressive fruit on the palate, surprising weight given the varietal and more authoritative flavors to set it apart from the rank & file pink (which there certainly are a lot of out there).  Loads of style here.  From 10-60 year old vines grown in Kimmeridgeon limestone soils in a single 2.5 hectare site called La Noue, harvested by hand and then assembled from part saignee and part direct press juice, this shows the purity and clarity that redefines the genre.

Delicacy and insistence, there is plenty of strawberry, raspberry, and other red fruits on display here, with deceptive vigor, unexpected depth, and plenty of palate authority.  This is one of those pinks that performs at a higher level and, while it can be lustily consumed as a casual beverage, the wine has the kind of panache that will get your attention on a more intimate level.  One of the best we have tasted this year.

Le Cengle Cotes de Provence Rose Vieilles Vignes 2017Given our penchant for estate bottled pinks with a long and clear history in the region, this one is a little hard to explain.  We have seen a lot of folks proffering ‘Provencal’ roses where they went to some co-op in the region, bought some juice, put it in an attractive bottle, and proceed to try and ‘brand’ it.  Most of these are adequate, but lack the depth and flair of the best examples.

Because of our extensive network of sources, we rarely have interest in this sort of wine.  This one, which follows a more specific if rather similar path, has made the cut for a number of seasons in succession.  That is saying a lot.

The L’Cengle importer gives the impression that the winery makes this wine to his specifications.  We have no way of knowing but if you can produce something this true to appellation, tasty and well priced, let’s just say whatever the ‘story’ is, keep it coming.  We don’t even need all of our fingers to count the pinks that have been recurring players on our team over the last several years, but this one has.  It’s exactly what you want of a Provencal pink.

Delicate, pale salmon color, nose of currants and berries, plus maybe a little touch of lime and white stone fruits, a fresh, lifted, engaging palate of mixed red fruits with a lick of citrus on the back-end, this hits all the buttons exactly as it should.  A blend of 50% Grenache, 25%, Cinsault, and 25% Syrah, it’s crisp and crunchy, refreshing and super friendly with all manner of lighter foods.  We buy this one every year because it delivers, and does so at a remarkably attractive price.

 

IN THE PINK, PART TWO: ROSE TIME AGAIN

We spoke our piece last time about the current market for pink wine.  In short, it is stronger than ever, but there has been a proliferation of labels well beyond what should have been.  In other words, there is a lot more rosé to look at these days, which by definition would give us more things to choose from.  That is partially true.  There are more good rosés out there, but a much higher percentage of clunkers in the mix because there are a lot of mediocre efforts being made by people who are just trying to participate in the market and many examples being made from places that really haven’t made them before.

All of this just makes our job harder because there is much more pink wine to slog through to find the few gems.  But it’s summer, we love pink wine, and the 2017s are generally quite satisfying.  So here’s another update on a few more favorites from this year’s crop.

LE PARADOU CÔTES DE PROVENCE ROSÉ 2017– This wine’s performance should be no surprise given the people involved.  The Paradou project is a partnership between the brothers Alex and Fred Chaudière of Château Pesquié and importer Eric Solomon.  We have been selling Pesquié wines for years and appreciate the honest, terroir driven character that the wines exude.  It seems only natural that these folks could create something enjoyable for this label and the  Le Paradou Côtes de Provence Rosé 2017 is that wine.

The grapes for this wine come from the more remote center of Provence, a land of lavender fields, olive groves, and wild herbs growing on the hillsides.  This is far from the French Riviera and the Cinsault, Grenache and Vermentino (known as Rolle in this part of the world) grapes come from a vineyard at the foot of Sainte  Victoire, a peak featured in a number of works by Cezanne.  The term ‘Paradou’, while it might sound like some ancient French word for ‘paradise’, actually refers to the old watermills that once dotted the landscape

Each grape plays its part.  The Cinsault provides this wine’s delicate fruit flavors reminiscent of raspberries and strawberries, the Grenache its color and spice, and the Vermentino its freshness and acidity plus a hint of white stone fruit in a supporting role.  Put it all together and you have one engaging, tasty rosé.  Here they do all the right things as the grapes are sustainably farmed, harvested by hand in the early morning, and pressed whole cluster in a cool cellar to extract the lightest color possible.

The 2017 pinks in general show a bit rounder demeanor up front and a bit more weight, yet still deliver the classic rosé experience.  Besides that the wine is nicely packaged and well priced.  Again, this one checks all the boxes.  Jeb Dunnuck had some praise for this juicy pink, “Light pink in color, the 2017 Côtes de Provence Rosé from Le Paradou is a juicy, yet textured, lively rosé that does everything right. Offering lots of white cherry, strawberry, and floral notes, with an almost salty minerality, this beauty hits the palate with medium-bodied richness, nicely integrated acidity, and a clean, dry finish. This is what Provençal rosé is all about and it’s worth a case purchase….90 points.”

 CHATEAU DE SEGRIES TAVEL ROSE 2017–  Here’s one of those classic Tavels that still thinks it is red wine.  The color is a deep orange/pink and there is considerably more mid-palate weight than most of the rosés out there.  Yet at the same time it still has the required lift to function beautifully in its capacity as a rosé.

Segries has provided us with a number of tasty selections over the years in both the red and pink variety, and it is one of the sources that still provides ‘old school’ value.  It’s added muscle allows it to play with a bit more substantial fare like grilled pork, smoked chicken, sausages, or even meats and provide a more refreshing alternative when the weather is warm.

This is a mix of 50% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, 10% Clairette, and 10% Syrah from 60-year-old vines planted in soils composed of pure silica, sand, clay, pebbles and, of course, stones.  This is a saignée which means it was light pressings from grapes that were ultimately destined to be red wines.  Everything is done by hand, the grapes were destemmed, and the fermentation takes place at low temperatures to preserve the fruit component.

The nose has an almost red wine element to it as well as notes of ripe melon, red berry and blood orange.  All of that plays on the palate along with subtle notes of mineral and pepper.  Like we said, this is a more mouth-filling and weightier version of rose than the rank and file, but it still has the freshness to pull it off.  It is one of the more impressive and distinctive efforts from this year’s crop of pinks.  Thus far the wine got a 92 from Wine Enthusiast with comments, “Beautiful ripe cherry and red berry aromas with floral scents. Good concentration on the palate, flavorful and perfectly balanced. Good acidity and mineral backbone make it a great match with Provençal or Asian cuisine, grilled meat, fresh fruit salads.”  We expect there will be more.

CHATEAU PRADEAUX BANDOL ROSE 2017- Every year as we taste through countless pink wines we find a reasonable number of engaging examples and one or two that play on a level all their own.  Most long time Francophiles will tell you that Provence is a fine source for rose, but that Bandol has ‘home run’ potential.  When a Bandol rosé hits its highest level, it is the quintessential choice.  Domaine Tempier has set the standard for years and now sits in the $40 range more or less, expensive even for Bandol.  But this one was one of the standouts we have tasted this year, and arguably one of the most memorable ever for its sheer richness, style and layered complexity.

We have had a positive, if somewhat inconsistent relationship with Chateau Pradeaux dating back into the 1990s.  This is one of the few times we have had their rosé, but we dare say that it is the most complete, impressive, engaging examples of this category we can recall.  This is classic Bandol rosé in both the most traditional and best possible way.  The current family took the helm around the time of the French revolution, and the near-the-coast location clearly has a profound effect on the wine’s personality.

The blend here is 50% Cinsault and 50% Mourvedre, with the latter imparting the wine’s distinctive undercurrent of that unique musky minerality that seems to be proprietary to how that varietal performs in this terroir.  In more rustic versions it can be overwhelming, but here it is another instrument in a virtual symphony of flavors.  The effusive nose speaks of red berries, blood oranges and that earthy/mineral thing that is so indicative of the region.  In the mouth it shows layers of flavor including, strawberry, orange and spice.  The tension is nearly perfect and there’s enough outgoing fleshiness to easily make friends who aren’t necessarily even fans of Bandol.

The bottom line is that the Chateau Pradeaux Bandol Rose 2017 is an enlightened version of a traditional style and operates in this vintage a level or two above most everything else we have tasted this year.  Rosé doesn’t get much better at any price and, at $25, the intensity and complexity in this wine over delivers.  If you can find a more compelling pink drink, good on’ya.

DOMINIO DEL AGUILA PICARO CLARETE ROSE 2014- Now for something completely different.  First it is important to point out that this is the current release, not some ‘old rosé’ we found in the back room.  Some rosés are built to develop in the bottle.  The Alphonse Mellot we sold last year is still developing and the Tiburon-based wine from Clos Cibonne is kept in bottle a year before release, just to name a couple.  So we are already in rarified air with this element in general, and that is further compounded by the completely unique approach of Dominio del Aguila Picaro Clarete Rose 2014.

Firm, melon, citrus, and berry fruit laced with a kind of chalky minerality and surprising verve for a pink wine at this age, this lets it be known right away that it is not your rank and file pink.  A rather unusual blend of Tempranillo, Albillo (a  white grape unique to the Ribera del Duero), Garnacha, and Bobal (neither of which are usually associated with the Ribera), this unique mix of red and white grapes is sourced from 60-year-old vines sitting at nearly 3000 ft. elevation.  It spends 16 months in a combination of French and American oak, another indication it isn’t necessarily made to be quaffed in its youth.

Wine Advocate’s Louis Gutierrez was quite taken with this wine, and the estate in general.  His comments, “The 2014 Pícaro Clarete… is more in the style of a white wine than a red. There are white flowers, aromatic herbs, fine spices and a touch of petrol? The palate is extraordinary, incredibly fresh and complex, with good weight and very good acidity. This has to be the finest vintage to date. The 2012 is drinking superbly today and it’s still young, so I don’t see why this 2014 should not age the same or even better, as I see more freshness and balance here...93 points.”

IN THE PINK, PART ONE: ROSE TIME

It’s that time again, though admittedly when we started getting serious about rosés back with the 2001 vintage we never imagined it would play out like it has.  Back then, after a couple of decades of white Zinfandel domination, most wine buyers were reluctant to try pink wines because they thought of them as the mawkishly sweet, soda pop examples that grandma drank.  The folks that bought pink wine were typically looking for the white Zin experience and thus disappointed with a crisp dry rose.  Our only thought back then was to try to introduce more people to dry pinks because they served such a need during the warmer months because they were fresh, light, and versatile with food.

A decade and a half later we and others like us fear we may have done our job too well.  There is a thirst for rosé in the marketplace like there never has been.  People are willing to try all kinds of different pinks and many consider them a necessary part of their beverage program.  The industry has responded, as it so often does, by overdoing it to the point of silliness (see also White Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot, and high-octane, red  ‘mutt’ blends with artsy labels and big price tags).  There are anywhere from five to ten times as many rosé options as back when we started, a great many of them from places that never made pink wine before and arguably shouldn’t be making them now.

All of this rose madness has done a number of things.  We get a lot more selection from places like Provence, Bandol and the Rhone, places that have a long and positive history with the genre.  There are also a few intriguing new options that have been created simply because there was a potential market.  Sadly, there is way too much mediocre-to-poor pink out there and our task of working through them has almost become a slop.  Everybody has a pink wine (or two, or three) to sell.

With that, our game plan this year is to be even more selective in what we offer than in years past.  The 2017s, while perhaps a half-step behind the 2016s (which are still showing beautifully by the way) and the 2015s, are still quite complete and engaging.  Our preferred profile is still fresh, honest fruit and bright acidity.  We tend to avoid efforts with higher alcohols and lower acidity because they simply aren’t refreshing and that is what pink wine is all about.  Even as we work with fewer wines than before, it is still a fair amount of juice to talk about.  So with summer right around the corner, we’d best start talking…

RIMAURESQ ROSE PROVENCE CRU CLASSE 2017While the whole idea of Cru Classe de Provence has been around for a long time, with even the ‘official’ founding of the appellation happening back in 1955, there has been a real interest recently to put more vigor into the marketing of this special little spot for pink wine.  This is one of the ‘original’ fourteen members of this very specific delineated terroir and these guys appear to be upping their game a bit.

The microclimate of Rimauresq is a real singularity of the Côtes de Provence appellation.   The vineyard is  located at an altitude varying from 140 to 190 meters at the foot of Notre Dame des Anges. The shade of the hill and the beneficial effects of the Mistral play a role in this wines fresh personality.  The estate consists of a clay-schist and crystalline soil, with sandy and stony parts. It is common to benefit from the combination of several soils (degraded schist, pink sandstone, rolled pebbles) within the same plot and that is the case here. Rimauresq takes its name from the Moors River which crosses the Domain.

They make other ‘flavors’ but this is a house rosé built.  They make five different versions.  The Rimauresq Rose Provence is a mix of 43% Grenache, 24% Cinsault, 10% Mourvedre, 8% Syrah, 6% Carignan and 9% Rolle (aka Vermentino).  The aromatics speak of berries, apricot and citrus with a little garrigue and some mineral and floral aspects.  In the mouth it isd both fleshy and lifted with the red fruits as the central theme but subtle layers as befits this wine’s diverse makeup.

ELIZABETH SPENCER GRENACHE ROSE MENDOCINO SPECIAL CUVEE 2017- We aren’t going to say we weren’t a little surprised by this wine.  Usually California pinks have a tendency to be a little plodding.  To tell the truth we went back three times to make sure we weren’t just in a good mood or it was a biodynamic ‘fruit day’.  The wine delivered plenty of mouth-watering red berries flecked with stone fruit, apple, and floral notes, with just the right amount of snap at the end.  The story is that this wine came from Mendocino, where it is cooler and therefore more likely for the wine to retain its necessary acidity.

The grapes came from rocky soils in the benchlands up by Ukiah, and they were harvested specifically to make pink wine (as opposed to being a saignee of something else.  That accounts for the depth of flavor here, and some of the wine saw a bit of neutral oak for rounding out.  Bright, insistent yet still with a playful quaffabilty, this one definitely has a European demeanor, but the Mendocino fruit makes for an interesting change of pace.

Made from 100% Grenache, this one checks all the boxes in a way few domestic versions do in our minds…fresh, fruit driven, lifted, and well-priced.

MOURGUES DU GRES COSTIERES DE NIMES GALETS ROSE 2017- We go back a long way with this domaine, and their 2017 is arguably one of te best buys on pink wine values we have seen this year.  Located in the Costieres des Nimes at the southern end of the Rhone Valley.   This vineyard is covered with the round rocks that you see in Chateauneuf to the north (hence the reference to galets) which add a subtle mineral character to the rose.  The main show is red berry flanked by notes yellow atone fruit and a touch of both white pepper and garrigue.

The style here is definitely old school, with a rather broad fruit component but just the right touch of acidity to keep it fresh on the palate.  The mix here is a pretty standard one of 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, and 10% Mourvèdre, but they produce a lot of red win so the juice comes mainly from saignee.  The wine has a bit more size than some pinks which allows it to play with a wider array of grilled fare, and the price ($11.98) definitely makes it easier to swallow.

CHATEAU VANNIERES BANDOL ROSE 2017-  No discussion of rose is complete without Bandol, arguably ‘Provence reserve’ but with its own unique twist thanks to the healthy portion of Mourvedre in the blend.

Bandol is historic, the first vines being planted here by the Romans some 2500 years ago.   Also, Bandonl is arguably the elite category of French rose and prices have edged up accordingly on the heels of producers like Domaine Tempier.  Finding good Bandol Rose isn’t as big a challenge as finding good Bandol rose that is reasonably priced.  Vannieres fits that requirement nicely.

The current family that owns the property, the Boisseaux, are outliers from Beaune that bought this property in 1957.  Father Gaston has now passed the reins to son Eric who is a bit of an epicurean and is currently tinkering with concentration and elegance among other things.   This wine is an indication that the program is working well.  One could call this ‘classic’ Bandol Rose, a blend of 60% Mourvedre from saignee, along with 20% comes from the each of Grenache and Cinsault from direct pressing, all from vines ranging from 20 to 60 years of age.

The flavors range from white stone fruits to red melon to faintly citrus tones, with that inviting, intriguing musky note that the Mourvedre from this area delivers.  Mouthwatering, maybe even a little intellectual, it is a fine example of what Bandol rose is all about and very reasonable for this currently ‘too hot’ genre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MORE PINK

There’s still plenty of summer left, not even counting the summer we have here in SoCal that can sometimes hang around until early November.  Thus, by virtually any definition, we are still in the throes of rosé season.  A brief word on that.  Our rosé section is pretty much set unless something amazing comes along.  Yet even being very selective about what we have brought in, and buying the smallest percentage of offerings since we got serious about pink wine some fifteen years back, we still have our largest and most varied selection ever.

In part, it’s because we like the 2016s a lot.  But it is largely because we were presented more pink wine than ever!  That is both good and bad.  It’s ‘good’ because the more great options you have, the better selection you can offer.  But, as we have lamented in the past, there are way too many people making rosé, and a lot of it is pretty ordinary and overpriced.  Sorting through all of that is our job.  Here are a couple of things we haven’t talked about before.

The La Bastide Blanche Rose Bandol 2016 is definitely a candidate for pink of the season.  Beyond the fact that it is an extremely well-priced for a Bandol and has a pretty glowing review from Vinous Media (92 points and some nice words), it is a textbook example of what makes Bandol unique and special.  You’ve got the inviting deeper salmon hue, a lovely nose of citrus, strawberry, and melon all happening at once with some mineral, and the intriguing muskiness to the nose that speaks the influence of Mourvedre (this is around 70% Mourvedre with the balance Grenache, Cinsault, and a splash of Clairette, a white grape that adds a little lift).

On the palate, the Bastide shows ample weight and refreshing cut, but there’s a coolness and somewhat cerebral nature to the flavors that juxtapose the fruit and florality.  Thinking man’s pink? Sure, it can play that role as well as just being a great drink if you just want that.

We had lots of success with the junior version of Puech Haut Rosé Prestige until the market absorbed it.  A consistent, well reviewed and rather ‘cost effective’ pink, if one couldn’t sell that one to wine drinkers they should consider a career change.  But while we were cruising around a large trade event not long ago, we came upon the Eric Solomon table and had the opportunity to taste their upper cuvee, the Puech-Haut Coteaux du Languedoc Rose Tete de Belier 2016Hello!  This one, side by side with the delicious Prestige showed another couple of gears.  More lifted and layered, even a bit ethereal as pinks go, this is classy juice.

The Mourvedre takes charge here, too, though playing with just Genache the Belier goes a little higher toned and stone fruit driven and has a touch of wild herbs.  Jeb Dunnuck in his Wine Advocate piece called it, “…one of the finest Rosés out there and will drink nicely over the coming year.” We agree with the first part and wouldn’t hesitate to have a little for next summer as Mourvedre based pinks do seem to have a little longevity.  There are those that insist that they aren’t even revved up until 18 months old.

Finally, Chidane rosé?  That was our reaction when we saw this pink from one of the Loire’s great Chenin masters, but this sneaky little charmer won the day.  A definite ‘all-geek’ selection, the Francois Chidaine Touraine Rose 2016 is a quirky blend of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Grolleau (a relatively arcane local grape) that comes off like a Sancerre rose.  Delicate cherry, a little tea, a definite tactile impression, high-toned minerality, and a nice cut to the finish, it is sedate and quite tasty.  In difficult vintages this wine probably wouldn’t work, but it’s a cool change-of-pace in this instance.

All three of these were farmed biodynamically.  Á votre santé.