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2018 Rosé Field Report

The story throughout the south of France for the 2018 growing season was similar: an inordinate amount of rainfall from February through June engendered a rash of mildew that had growers scrambling, treating between five and ten times as much as usual in many instances. The weather pulled an immediate about-face in July, turning remarkably hot and remarkably dry—conditions which persisted until harvest. This whiplash effect stressed both vines and vignerons, to be sure, but happily the quality of the rosés from Provence is generally outstanding in 2018. The higher amount of rainfall led to rosés not burdened by unwelcome heaviness due to hyper-low yields, but the dryness of the latter part of the growing season prevented a sense of dilution in the final wines. In general, the 2018 rosés from the south of France display impeccable balance, superb drinkability, and a streak of classicism that sets them above the 2017s.

In the north, the story was different, as growers in the Loire Valley had to contend with searingly warm temperatures and a period of drought that seemed never to end. (In our late-August pass through the region, several of our vignerons were simply waiting for rain, hoping ultimately to squeeze more than a pittance of juice from their water-starved grapes at harvest.) With fruit this ripe and concentrated, the challenge, of course, was to keep a sense of balance and freshness in the rosés—which, fortunately, our growers pulled off handily, though the wines are indeed a bit more full-on than they sometimes are in general. Additionally, we are very excited to introduce a brand-new rosé to the portfolio with the 2018 vintage: the magnificent Chinon Rosé from our new partner, Château de Petit Thouars.

Provence

Commanderie de Peyrassol [Côtes de Provence]
Hermine Clermont, Peyrassol’s spirited young winemaker now in her third year here, expressed great enthusiasm for the quality of her 2018s—a hard-fought victory after an exceptionally labor-intensive growing season (ten treatments compared to their usual two or three!)—and we agree wholeheartedly. These are ultra-classic Provence rosés without unwelcome heaviness or structure, though not lacking at all for concentration. The high rainfall during the season increased yields, which served to keep the rosés brisk and easygoing, but ideal and dry late-season conditions made for a clean, well-timed harvest which commenced on August 24th. Varieties and parcels at Peyrassol are all vinified individually, which allows Hermine great flexibility and control over the blending of the various cuvées. Indeed, one of the most remarkable things about the range of rosés at Peyrassol is how well-measured, notable, and justified the “steps up the ladder” are in the lineup. The wines do not get more boisterous or rich as one climbs; rather, they become more filigree, detailed, and fine, each progressive rung a further zoom-in on a sort of Platonic ideal of Provence rosé.

2018 “La Croix des Templiers” IGP Méditerranée Rosé [NEW!]
In the trying 2017 vintage, Peyrassol counteracted severe reductions in crop size by securing contracts with a handful of nearby fruit sources—sources for which they oversaw vineyard management, harvest, and vinification. In the more bountiful 2018 season, these contracts, from sources both closer to the domaine and further north toward Mont Sainte-Victoire, allowed them to produce a brand-new wine. “La Croix des Templiers” is a fresh, easygoing blend of roughly equal parts Grenache and Cinsault (plus 2% Viognier) from a blend of outside fruit sources (roughly 75%) and estate-owned parcels. Classic pale-salmon in color with a silvery streak, it deftly balances bright acidity, clean and succulent fruit, and a subtle saline component which befits its Mediterranean origins.

2018 “Réserve des Templiers” Côtes de Provence Rosé [NEW!]
Also new as of the 2018 vintage, “Réserve des Templiers” comes primarily from outside fruit sources (though they are sources close to the estate, within the Côtes de Provence Rosé appellation), with a small amount of estate fruit (around 10%). Cinsault constitutes the majority of the blend here, with smaller amounts of Grenache and Syrah, and very small splashes of Mourvèdre, Rolle, and Cabernet Sauvignon rounding it out. A subtler but more complex nose than “La Croix” above introduces a palate of greater complexity, length, and energy, but built around the same classic notes of tangy red fruits and fleur de sel.

2018 “Cuvée de la Commanderie” Côtes de Provence Rosé
The classic workhorse rosé of the estate, “Commanderie” really shines in 2018. Those tempted to go the less-expensive route with “La Croix” will miss out on a wine that is markedly finer and more complex, as this is the best example of “Commanderie” in recent memory. Built around roughly equal parts Cinsault and Grenache, with splashes of Syrah and Rolle, this is a positively chiseled rosé with a far more pronounced salt component and a sense of driving energy on the palate. The fruit is tight and focused, and the finish is long and persistent—a tremendous effort from Hermine and her team.

2018 “Chateau Peyrassol” Côtes de Provence Rosé
The much-loved “Chateau” is also a standout in the 2018 vintage—a clear sibling of “Commanderie” but with more intense minerality and an even longer, more driving finish. The acidity here is a bit stricter and purer, with tangy fruits taking more of a background role as the saline element dominates the palate. Produced entirely from estate fruit, “Chateau” contains a higher proportion of Cinsault than “Commanderie,” with a splash of Rolle completing the blend.

2018 “Le Clos Peyrassol” Côtes de Provence Rosé
“Le Clos” encompasses Peyrassol’s best and oldest parcels, with a bit different of a blend than the rest of the lineup: Tibouren, Cinsault, Grenache, and a healthy dollop of Rolle (20%, the appellation maximum). If each step up the ladder is a progressive zoom-in, here is where the taster’s nose touches the painting. The 2018 “Le Clos” offers precise, limpid aromas rendered with digital clarity, and the palate is drier, more focused, and markedly more energetic than its brethren (none of which lack for zest). This is not only terrifically impressive at the moment, but it will doubtless improve over the next few years.

Château Pradeaux [Bandol]
Etienne Portalis continues to refine his approach to making rosé at his family’s singular estate, and his 2018s are phenomenal in their complexity and vinosity. However, it was not an easy road to get there. In addition to the mildew pressure that plagued the entire south of France, a June 23rd hailstorm reduced Pradeaux’s crop by an additional 10%, and rapidly spiking temperatures at harvest put Etienne and his team under the gun. The rosés were harvested between 14 and 15% potential alcohol, yet they do not bear heat as there is a density of material which buffers it well. For the first time in many years, a new 50-hectoliter foudre was introduced into the cellar here after an ancient one had to be retired, and Etienne “primed” it by conducting fermentation for a portion of the Bandol Rosé (around one-third) inside of it. The ultimate effect is not one of oak flavor but of an expansion of textural range. Furthermore, he allowed this fermentation to proceed spontaneously, and given his satisfaction with the result he will cease inoculating all rosés beginning with the 2019 harvest. In another new development, Etienne included press wine (around 20%) in the rosés for the first time, and he is pleased—as are we—with the extra dimensionality such a treatment seemed to provide. In a region so coveted for rosé that one could easily rest on their laurels and crank out commercially viable product by rote, it’s refreshing to see someone like Etienne continuing to hone his craft in such a thoughtful manner.

2018 Côtes de Provence Rosé
Comprising 75% Mourvèdre, 15% Cinsault, and 10% Grenache, with an average vine age of 40 years, the 2018 Côtes de Provence Rosé is even closer in character to its Bandol counterpart than it normally is. Serious and strapping, it offers a penetrating chalky minerality, robust red fruits, and a whisper of tannin that contributes to a particularly long and clinging impression on the palate.

2018 Bandol Rosé
Pradeaux’s iconic Bandol Rosé really shines in 2018, with even greater complexity and length than usual. As mentioned above, a third of the wine was fermented in a single 50-hectoliter foudre (but moved immediately to tank following the fermentation), which contributes a subtle granular cling on the palate and opens up the wine a bit aromatically. While never a simple sipping wine, the 2018 is particularly vinous, offering real density and richness, yet retaining a freshness of spirit at the same time. The final blend comprises 80% Mourvèdre and 20% Cinsault.

2018 Bandol Rosé “Vesprée”
Now in its third year, “Vesprée” represents a small portion of Pradeaux’s Bandol Rosé production vinified and aged in a combination of foudre and cement egg, and with an additional six months of ageing before bottling. While the 2018 won’t be assembled until closer to this year’s harvest, our tastings from the individual vessels showed a wine full of energy, slightly leaner and more focused than the basic Bandol above, but with similar concentration and grip.

Domaine du Bagnol [Cassis]
The Genovesi family’s rigorous viticultural work (certified organic since 2014) continues to pay off, as the wines here gain additional vibrancy and definition with each passing vintage. While they certainly were not spared the mildew-related challenges that plagued everyone down south, the 20% reduction in crop was still less severe than the 50% loss caused by the previous year’s frost and hydric stress double-whammy. The 2018 Cassis Rosé (40% Grenache, 35% Mourvèdre, 25% Cinsault) is downright crystalline, with impeccably chiseled fruit and blatant salinity contributing to a sense of refreshing focus. More nimble and sprightly than the richer-toned 2017, this vintage captures the breezy beauty of Cassis itself, and it is hard to imagine a better rosé coming from this zone. As always, this was produced solely via direct-pressing, and aged in temperature-controlled stainless steel on its lees.

Château Simone [Palette]
The lone 2017 in our offering, the Rougier family’s Palette Rosé makes a legitimate claim as perhaps the greatest rosé in all of France. There is certainly nothing else quite like it. Built on the backs of Grenache and Mourvèdre, with smaller amounts of Cinsault, Syrah, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Castet, Manosquin, Théoulier, Tibouren, Picpoul Noir, and Muscat de Hambourg, Château Simone Rosé is produced from a blend of direct-press and saignée (roughly half of each). Whereas most rosé is fermented with artificial yeasts for dependability, and rushed into bottle far before spring’s first shoots, Simone’s spends a full year in large old foudres resting on its lees and gaining remarkable depth. The end result is rich but fresh, with impeccably rendered fruit, Provençal herbs, a powerful sense of limestone, and a meditative texture that is nearly outside of category. Furthermore, it cellars beautifully, and will unfurl new depths for well over a decade. The 2017 is a particularly impressive and concentrated version of this wine; sadly, due to intense hydric stress, far less than usual was produced.

Bastide du Claux [Côtes du Luberon]
It is an unlikely story: the heir to an enviable swath of holdings in Chassagne-Montrachet ends up unlocking the potential of an appellation in northern Provençe known more for bulk wine than nuanced expressions of terroir. Yet that is precisely what we’re seeing with Sylvain Morey as he continues to improve and evolve at Bastide du Claux. He is currently undergoing organic certification, which he will obtain in 2021 (though he has been practicing as such since 2015). He experienced mildew pressure in 2018, certainly, but the Luberon’s constant winds meant that he didn’t need to treat quite as many more times than usual as most of our growers in the south. Fermented without additional yeasts and aged on its lees in cement, Sylvain’s 2018 Côtes du Luberon Rosé is strikingly pale, presenting notes of crunchy cherries and subtle baking spices, along with an undertone of quinine. From a blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, and 20% Syrah, it was produced partly via direct-press (for all the Syrah and part of the Grenache), and partly from an eight-hour maceration (on the Cinsault and a smaller part of the Grenache). This is a straightforward but deftly balanced and deliciously satisfying rosé, and one which thankfully lacks any semblance of confected-ness.

Rhone Valley

Château Valcombe [Ventoux]
Unwaveringly organic in his vineyard practices, Luc Guenard of Château Valcombe was thwacked particularly brutally by 2018’s rash of mildew, producing only 4000 bottles of rosé for the vintage and suffering a 90% crop loss overall. While his rosé is typically dominated by Grenache, the 2018 version is primarily Cinsault, with a splash of Syrah and a negligent amount of Grenache—the hardest-hit variety by far. Even with its unorthodox encépagement, however, the 2018 Ventoux Rosé Epicure displays nice clarity of flavor and lift, with notes of juicy strawberries and pert acidity buoyed by a classic southern Rhône sense of richness. It manages to be substantial in its carriage without coming across as heavy, and one senses Luc’s commitment to spontaneous fermentation in the wine’s core of vinosity. If only there were more to go around!

Domaine Fenouillet [Beaumes-de-Venise]
The ever-reliable Soard brothers lost 20% to mildew in 2018, but they pulled off a rosé of remarkable balance and freshness. The 2018 Ventoux Rosé—composed of 60% Grenache, 15% each Cinsault and Mourvèdre, and 10% Syrah—is precise and fruit-driven on the nose, with notes of creamy strawberries and fruit leather, and an appealing orange-pith-like bitterness on the palate to complement the juiciness. As seems always to be the case chez Fenouillet, the balance here is striking, and it wants not at all for acidity despite its southerly climate. As is the case with many of these southern French 2018 rosés, this is a bit more nimble and easygoing than its 2017 counterpart, and is all the more enjoyable for it.

Domaine Gour de Chaulé [Gigondas]
Happy news at our stalwart Gigondas domaine: Stephanie’s son Paul is now on board full-time at the family winery, having realized after a series of various international internships that his real passion lay back home in vineyards. While mildew pressure gave them a relatively miserly rosé harvest of 35 hectoliters per hectare in 2018, they pulled in good, clean fruit under optimal conditions beginning on September 9th. Their Gigondas Rosé—100% direct-press as of this vintage—comprises 40% each Cinsault and Grenache, with 20% Mourvèdre rounding out the blend. The nose presents a forward, pure, and crystalline impression of tiny, healthy berries and a bouquet garni of Provençal herbs. Though clocking in at 14% alcohol, this is a bright and easygoing rosé, with a mouthfeel that’s fleetfooted and cleansing rather than ponderous. It’s hard to imagine a more graceful and complex rosé from the Southern Rhône, and a big ingredient to this wine’s success was Stephanie and Paul’s decision to harvest at “rosé ripeness” to preserve acidity. (Harvest of the red wines began a full 15 days after that of the rosé.)

Domaine La Manarine [Côtes-du-Rhône – Plan de Dieu]
Gilles Gasq has had quite a run lately, having begun producing a dynamite Châteauneuf-du-Pape (which has garnered him some welcome attention) in addition to his always-reliable offerings from the Côtes-du-Rhône and the Plan de Dieu. His 2018 Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé, comprising 50% Grenache, 40% Mourvèdre, and 10% Syrah, was produced solely via direct-press and aged in stainless steel on the lees for several months before bottling. At 13.5% alcohol, it is ripe but controlled, with a full-bodied, slightly viscous character that speaks clearly of its core of Grenache. Fruit is in the candied-cherry and juicy-melon camp, with enough tangy acidity to balance the richness deftly.

Languedoc

Mas Jullien [Terrasses du Larzac]
Oliver Jullien was certainly not spared the difficulties presented by 2018’s rampant mildew, and the double-whammy of mildew and hydric stress here resulted in a miniscule crop, even by the standards of the recent yield-challenged seasons in the Terrasses du Larzac. Made from roughly equal parts Carignan, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault, the 2018 Coteaux du Languedoc Rosé is slightly paler in color than usual, but still delivers remarkable vinosity and striking presence. Produced partly from saignée and partly from direct-press juice, it fermented naturally, without added yeasts, and is easily among the most complex and lively rosés we’re importing this year. Fruits are honest and not at all confected: red apples, quince, and slightly crunchy peaches. A beguiling note of verbena adds intrigue and brightness to this rich yet energetic rosé—another ace in the hole from one of the region’s true masters.

Mas Cal Demoura [Terrasses du Larzac]
2018 presented the third extraordinarily difficult growing season in a row for Vincent and Isabelle Goumard, as it was the worst year in their village of Jonquières for mildew since 1917, and the tireless couple harvested a mere 16 hectoliters per hectare overall. It was tough enough for growers who don’t work organically, but Mas Cal Demoura—currently undergoing certification for biodynamics—had to treat with copper three times more frequently than usual, even for these minuscule yields. Vincent remarked that he seeks a balance between a “red-wine-style” and a “white-wine-style” of rosé, and his 2018 pulls off that feat with aplomb. Made from one-third each Cinsault (saignée), Syrah, and Grenache (the latter two direct-press), it was fermented spontaneously for the first time in the domaine’s history, and it is among the most impressive rosés in our stable this vintage. Both gentle and vinous, it attacks the palate with confidence and real cling, and with a sense of cold-water-to-the-face energy that simply cannot be faked—it is the result of impeccably healthy fruit, handled minimally. Put simply, this is real wine that simply happens to be pink, and our hats are off to Vincent and Isabelle for pulling off something of this character in such strenuous circumstances.

Faillenc Sainte Marie [Corbières]
In contrast to most of our growers in southern France, Jean-Baptiste Gibert reported a very solid harvest in 2018, attributing his success to perfectly timed treatments. A rainy spring led to a healthy amount of juice in the grapes, and Jean-Baptiste ended up with yields of 50 hectoliters per hectare, compared to his average of around 30 in the intensely dry terroir of Corbières. The 2018 Rosé “Vin de Glacières”—made entirely from saignée Syrah—fermented spontaneously and ended up with a mere 2 grams per liter of residual sugar (lower than normal). Whatever slight dilutive effect a water-rich vintage brought proved welcome in this rosé, which shows no lack of concentration but comes across as lighter and drier than usual. Still, this is a personal, idiosyncratic wine that makes no attempt to conform to some pale-salmon Provençal ideal, and is comfortable—deliciously and exuberantly so—in its own wild, sun-soaked skin.

Bordeaux

Château La Rame [Sainte-Croix-du-Mont]
In her third vintage at the helm of her family’s estate, Angelique Armand handled the mildew challenges and overall difficulties of the 2018 growing season deftly, producing a rosé of remarkable balance and acidity. Produced solely via direct press, the ’18 Bordeaux Rosé is roughly two-thirds Cabernet Sauvignon and one-third Merlot, fermented with indigenous yeasts (using the pied de cuve method) and aged in stainless steel at a controlled temperature. Ultra-pale in the glass and crystalline in character, it displays a bit more finesse and vinosity than vintages past, and shows very attractive varietal character and a touch of gravelly minerality on its brisk frame.

Loire Valley

Château Soucherie [Anjou]
With Château Soucherie’s new cellar master Vianney de Tastes, we sampled both a pure-Grolleau tank of 2018 rosé and the tank that will be Rosenthal Wine Merchant’s cuvée: a blend of 60% Grolleau and 40% Gamay. The blended tank was far superior in its vinosity and complexity, and we look forward to a phenomenal rosé from our long-standing partner in Anjou this vintage. With vigorous acidity, laser focus, and an impression of tangy fruits which prompts salivation, this is a stellar example of how the Loire’s naturally cool climate can yield rosés of potentially even greater poise than their southern counterparts. The 2018 Rosé de Loire was pressed directly, with a brief several hours of maceration to extract color and phenolics, and will have spent five months on its lees in stainless steel.

Château de l’Eperonnière [Anjou]
Composed of 80% Cabernet Franc and 20% Grolleau, Mathieu Tijou’s 2018 Rosé de Loire was produced entirely via direct-press and aged in stainless steel. Wearing the warmth of the growing season well, it offers a more supple, rounder profile than the 2017, but retains appealing purity and freshness. The fruit is juicy and slightly candied, with strawberry and cherry-pit notes enrobing a subtle hint of varietal greenness. In broader good news, Mathieu will be beginning the process of obtaining organic certification as of the 2019 vintage (he has worked mainly organically for some years now).

Domaine de la Petite Mairie [Bourgueil]
Ever-reliable James Petit hit the nail on the head with his 2018 Bourgueil Rosé, producing the best example of this wine in recent memory. Made entirely from Cabernet Franc, it takes its bright, focused purity from the 50% direct-press element of its makeup, and its ample and varietally spot-on fruit from the 50% saignée. With a sensation of tiny berries on the nose, this wine offers quince and red apples on the palate, with terrific acidity and a lingering note of red licorice on the finish. It pours a lovely copper-orange in the glass, and represents an enormous value in Loire rosé.

Philippe Gilbert [Menetou-Salon]
Nobody in this eastern Loire appellation is operating anywhere close to the level of Philippe, whose steadfast commitment to biodynamics has resulted in increasingly vibrant, scintillating wines over the past several years. Always a standout in our rosé portfolio, the 2018 Menetou-Salon Rosé—100% direct-press Pinot Noir fermented spontaneously—is downright gorgeous, with a sense of vinosity that is nearly outside category. As Philippe quipped during our visit, it indeed leans a bit more “red-wine” in character than usual given the extremely ripe nature of the vintage, but it carries its over 14% natural alcohol with unbelievable grace—a testament both to Philippe’s gentle hand in the cellar and to his knack for harvesting at the precisely perfect moment. The thing that really thrills in this wine is its energy, a bracing kinetic drive that feels like biting into cool, fresh, ripe fruit right off the vine.

Lucien Crochet [Sancerre]
A jocund Gilles Crochet remarked during our late-January visit that nobody in Sancerre had ever seen the likes of a vintage like 2018—and, to underline the point, he pointed out that the average degree of alcohol of the wines resting in his cellar was 15%. Indeed, the 2018 Sancerre Rosé—clocking in just shy of 14%–is deeper in color than usual, as well as more vinous and commanding on the palate. Pure Pinot Noir produced solely from direct-press juice and aged on its lees in stainless steel, this ’18 manages to carry its weight very well, with ultra-bracing acidity and a sense of lift on the nearly viscous palate. While this wine often drinks much like Crochet’s epic whites—steely and mineral, with enormous cut—one feels the Pinot Noir a bit more in this vintage, but it is ultimately a very interesting and delicious rosé.