Wine drinkers’ thirst for rosé appears to be boundless, with pink wines from all major wine producing nations experiencing growth. In French supermarkets there are far more rosé wines than whites on the shelves, and rosé is even the category driving growth in Champagne.
The increase in rosé volume has also been accompanied by an increase in the number of premium rosés on the market. Some are made with a firm eye on quality, some are marketing-led trendy wines with celebrity producers getting in on the game. Provence rosé is the most fashionable style at present: pale in colour, lightly fruity and dry, with mineral and / or herbal notes. Producers from other areas are emulating this style; of course they can’t call it “Provence rosé” but they can mention it is similar in style.
I’m a rosé skeptic; I’m very hard to please when it comes to rosé and I am suspicious of wines with a hefty advertising budget behind them. There are two styles I have found myself enjoying in the past:
- simple, fruit forward (though still dry) rosés, especially Pinot Noir rosés
- serious styles which are made to age and come close to a light red, such as Bandol’s Domaine Tempier.
Among many that I’ve been luck to try recently, two in particular stood out for me. One is from Provence and the home of the very trendy Whispering Angel – Château d’Esclans – and the other is from further west in the Languedoc, south west of Monpellier. Below is a map showing their respective locations on the French coast.
Disclosure: both bottles were kindly given as samples, opinions remain my own
Domaine Morin-Langaran IGP Pays d’Oc Rosé Prestige 2018
Domaine Morin-Langaran is in Picpoul de Pinet country, right by the Étang de Thau between Béziers and Montpelier. In fact, the vineyard’s borders are entirely within the Picpoul de Pinet AOC limits, with 36 hectares of the total 58 being planted to white grapes and the remaining 22 black. The vineyard was created right back in 1330 by a religious order who eventually lost it during the wars of religion. After changing hands several times over the centuries, it was bought by the Morin family in 1966. They themselves had been making wine down the generations since 1830.
The vines for the Rosé Prestige are mainly Syrah plus a few Cinsault, all on limestone-clay soils. Harvesting takes place in the cool of night and the must is cold-settled after pressing. Bâtonnage is used to add creaminess and body to the wine without the need for excessive extraction in the press.
On pouring, the wine is a little darker than the ultra pale rosés which are so en vogue at the moment, but all the better for it. The nose shows strawberry and redcurrant plus some brioche notes from the bâtonnage. The palate is full of sweet red fruits, but finishes crisp and clean. This is an unpretentious wine which goes down well on its own or perhaps with lightly spiced food.
- ABV: 12.0%
- RRP: €14.95
- Stockists: Boutique Wines; Barnhill stores Killaney/Dalkey; Mortons, Ranalagh; Listons, Camden street; The Wine House Trim; Emilie’s, Glenbeigh Co. Kerry; Pat Fitzgerald’s (Centra), Dingle Co. Kerry; Grape and Bean, Portlaois; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil Street; Blackrock Cellars; Gleeson’s, Booterstown Ave
Château d’Esclans Rock Angel Côtes de Provence 2018
Sacha Lichine was born into Bordeaux royalty – his family owned the Margaux Châteaux Prieuré Lichine and Lascombes – but also became an entrepreneur in the USA where he studied at university. His big move into rosé was the purchase of Château d’Esclans in 2006, which he transformed with the help of the late Patrick Léon (a consultant winemaker and formerly the Technical Director of Mouton Rothschild).
By pricing its top wine “Garrus”at £60 in 2008, Château d’Esclans essentially created the super-premium rosé category – and prices have obviously risen since then. From the top down, the range is:
- Château d’Esclans Garrus
- Château d’Esclans Les Clans
- Château d’Esclans (ROI RRP €45)
- Caves d’Esclans Rock Angel (ROI RRP €40)
- Caves d’Esclans Whispering Angel (ROI RRP €25)
My presumption is that the Caves wines are from bought in fruit whereas the Château bottlings are from estate grapes.
Over the past decade Whispering Angel has become one of the trendiest rosés around, one that some people are very happy to flash in front of their friends: wine as a luxury or fashion statement. A change of gear kicked in from the late 2019 acquisition of a 55% stake in Château d’Esclans by Moët Hennessy – part of LVMH, one of the leading luxury groups in the world (and with some amazing wines in their portfolio).
But enough about the image, what about the wine? The 2018 Rock Angel is a blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Rolle (the local name for Vermentino). The vines are 20 to 25 years old and are planted on clay and limestone soils. Vinification and maturation take place in stainless steel (60%) and 600 litre French oak demi-muids, with bâtonnage of both formats then blending before bottling.
This is a very pale rosé, so the juice has had very little contact with the skins. The nose has soft red fruits, flowers and spicy vanilla from the oak. Red fruit comes to the fore on the palate, which is rich yet racy; fresh acidity is paired with mineral notes and even a kiss of tannin on the finish. This is a serious, grown-up wine that belongs more at the table than on its own.
- ABV: 13.5%
- RRP: €40
- Stockists: The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Morton’s; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Eldons, Clonmel; Dicey Reillys, Donegal; Baggot Street Wines
There’s obviously a huge price difference between these two rosés, and this is after the price reductions brought on by the LVMH purchase and change in distribution. I find both of them have more character than the junior Whispering Angel, which is around half way between the two prices. The Domaine Morin-Langaran is excellent value for money so I heartily recommend it. The Rock Angel isn’t quite as good value – premium wine rarely is – but it exceeded my expectations so I think it’s definitely worth splashing out on if you’re a rosé fan.