A QUARTET FROM THE SOUTHERN RHONE ….
In the ever-thirsty global rose marketplace, it is Provence that is held up as the gold (or, shall we say, pale salmon) standard—for color, for texture, for flavor profile, and for ease of use. There are many consumers who look askance at any rose that isn’t ultra-pale and many growers from places far and wide who try and force their wines into a Provencal mold. Don’t get us wrong: well-made Provence rose is a beautiful thing, a delicate, delicious wine that clearly evokes its sunny seaside terroir. But, to shoehorn wine from vastly different areas into such a rigid style is to neglect rose’s ability to express a diversity of terroirs—to treat it as nothing more than a beverage. As they always do, however, our stalwart quartet of rose-producing vignerons in the Southern Rhone—another region with a long history of making pink wines—produced 2017s that speak clearly of their origins in this more inland, continental climate.
Growers in the Southern Rhone faced many of the same challenges during the 2017 growing season as their Provencal neighbors: bad flowering, frost, and intense hydric stress. All of our producers reported losses in the ballpark of 30%--notable, certainly, but not as catastrophic as those suffered throughout Provence. Interestingly, whereas the roses we saw in Provence displayed a very vintage-marked hyper-concentration and impressive structure, (see our previous report), these Rhone roses were both more diverse in character and more in line with versions from previous vintages—though they clearly do have a certain intensity that speaks to the season’s conditions. Perhaps, as Luc Guenard of Chateau Valcombe pointed out, drought is simply an unpleasant fact here, and one that marks all vintages to a certain degree.
DOMAINE DU GOUR DE CHAULE (GIGONDAS)
Always the most complex and intense of our roses from this region, Stephanie Fumoso’s 2017 Gigondas Rosé is an arresting wine. Although Gigondas was an exception this year, in that it received a bit of rainfall during the summer, severe flowering problems resulted in substantially low yields of 25 hectoliters per hectare (compared to 35 in a normal vintage). Composed of 40% each Grenache and Cinsault, plus 20% Mourvedre, it was made via a combination of direct-press early-picked fruit (90%) and saignée (10%). Stephanie pointed out that this 10% free-run juice—harvested at red-wine ripeness—is key to the wine’s expression of terroir, and it points to a willingness among growers here to make rose with a bit more vinosity than is commonly seen in Provence. This 2017 displays a beautiful flamingo-pink in the glass, and its nose of white pepper, red apple, and gently smoky flint is expressive and focused. It wears its modest 13.2% alcohol effortlessly, with a firm and solid palate of impressive breadth—one gets the impression of fruit being spread onto the tongue, perhaps a contribution of the more succulent saigéee juice. [Notably, Gour de Chaulé will receive organic certification with the 2019 vintage (though they have been working as such for quite some time).
CHATEAU VALCOMBE (VENTOUX)
While Luc Guenard mentioned that hydric stress was not much of an issue for him in 2017, his vineyards were hit hard by a May 17th frost, resulting in a 35% reduction of crop. The vineyards he normally uses for rose were particularly devastated, so he included some fruit from prime sites usually destined for the Ventoux Rouge “Epicure” this vintage—a solution that elevated the rose beyond even its usual high level. Comprising 50% Grenache, with 25% each Cinsault and Syrah, the 2017 Ventoux Rose is made entirely from direct-press wine picked at rose ripeness. As is typically the case, this vintage completely lacks any confected character, expressing its dusty, rugged environment of origin clearly and honestly. Copper-pink with a silvery cast, it offers a juicy, attractive, red-fruited nose, and the palate is crunchy and tension-filled—a profoundly dry wine that suffers none of the excesses of Grenache’s susceptibility to jamminess.
DOMAINE LA MANARINE (COTES DU RHONE “LE PLAN DE DIEU”)
The ever-cheerful Gilles Gasq shrugged off his 30% crop loss in 2017, enthusing to us that the vintage turned out to be excellent and classic despite the season’s intense drought. A man completely lacking in pretense or ego, Gilles quietly produces, vintage after vintage, wines of almost shocking quality given their exceedingly modest prices. His careful vineyard work (certified organic) and uncomplicated cellar approach result in wines of real character, and his rose is unfailingly among our most straightforwardly pleasure-oriented. With a deeper peach-pink color than the Valcombe above, the 2017 Cotes-du-Rhone Rose is still attractively light and airy in appearance. Produced entirely via direct press, it’s made from Grenache (50%), Mourvedre (40%), and Syrah (10%), and its nose of watermelon, candied cherry, and subtle spice is particularly effusive. Supple and full-bodied in the mouth, it combines juicy fruit and vibrant acidity in fine fashion.
DOMAINE DE FENOUILLET (BEAUMES DE VENISE)
The lovely Soard family suffered a triple-blow during the 2017 growing season: poor flowering, frost, and hydric stress, which resulted in losses upwards of 30%. Their terrific-value rose—the scant quantities of which can never satisfy our market—was sharply affected, resulting in an even more frustratingly limited situation than normal. On the upside, the 2017 Ventoux Rose is particularly outstanding, the aftermath of the maladies resulting in a higher percentage of the complexity-delivering Mourvedre than usual—in this case, one-third of the wine (with Grenache, plus a touch of Syrah, completing the balance). Its exceptionally pale color this vintage is deceiving, as it delivers plenty of body and richness, with a lingering sensation of dryness and intensity that harkens to the Provencal roses we tasted earlier in the week—perhaps a result of the increased presence of Mourvedre. In any case, it is especially impressive given its almost unbelievably low price.