Where does the rosé market go next? It’s undoubtedly a growth category, but one rosé is often very similar to another. And will the consumer ever pay more than £6 for a bottle? Well, this estate in Provence is challenging the general perception of rosé wine and trying to make the category a fine wine icon. But can they justify prices that would make the Bordelais blush (pun intended…)?
Well, read on to find out if Château d’Esclans is really producing the world’s finest rosés.
Sacha Lichine, previously of Château Pieurre-Lichine in Margaux sold up his share of the estate in 1999 and subsequently bought Château d’Esclans in La Motte in 2006 with the express aim of making a premium Provençal rosé.
How so, I hear you ask? Well, for one, he thought that d’ Esclans offered exceptional terrior and then there’s oak. Not something you’d ordinarily find in rosé. And the resorts of the nearby Côte d’Azur which could provide a ready source of cash for an icon wine. Perfect then and certainly worth a try.
When I was invited here, I thought I had to give it a try, the concept was so interesting. Therefore Mrs WMW and I set off to visit and we were welcomed by the estate’s American marketing manager Thomas Schreckinger.
The 267 ha estate (of which about 80 is planted) is primarily chalky clay soil with south east exposure. The estate is planted with 7 different grapes, but the top cuvees are predominantly Grenache with some Rolle (Vermentino). Some of the vines are up to 80 years old, which has got to be a good sign for premium wine production.
The thing that struck me while touring the estate was the amount of investment that has clearly been expended there. All very high-tech and focussed on providing the best quality juice possible. Lots of equipment to select the best fruit (at least 3 sorting tables) , countless bits of machinery to reduce oxidation and lots and lots of shiny stainless steel.
All the right things in place then to make good quality wine. This is undoubtedly a serious and ambitious operation.
So, what of the wine?
Well, we tasted the estate’s four rosés ranging in price from £15 to £90(!). Yes, that’s £90. Yes, that’s a rosé. So here we go…
Whispering Angel 2009
A blend of 73% Grenache, 9% Cinsault, 8.5% Syrah, 5.5% Mourvedre and 4% Rolle
Made in stainless steel with some battonage
The wine has a very attractive pale pink colour and a fresh and lively raspberry and strawberry nose. The palate is fresh, with lifted summer fruits and a well balanced acidity. There is a slight bit of tannin on the finish, which would make this a pretty good partner for food. A good and well made rosé.
UK RRP £14.99
Made from 30 to 80 year old vines.
A blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Rolle.
20% of the wine is vinified in 600l demi-muids.
Maintaining the attractive pale pink hue, this wine is immediately richer on the nose with a slight confected, boiled sweet character – possibly from the oak. On the palate, this wine is weightier than the Whispering Angel with blacker and richer fruit, but interestingly the perception of lower tannin. This is a pretty serious rosé with some weight and complexity. Very Good.
UK RRP £21.99
Les Clans 2008
Made from 50 to 80 year old vines.
A blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Rolle.
100% of the wine is vinified in 600l demi-muis, both new and one year old, before being aged for 10 months with twice weekly battonage
This is a slightly paler wine than the previous two, having a very pale pink robe. However, the nose is rich, opulent and complex, with almost new world levels of oak shouting out. Very unusual. The palate offers rich and complex flavours of raspberry, banana , mango and vanilla, with the appeal of a good Mersault. The oak is prominent on the finish, displaying almost Australian levels of vanilla, butter and spice. Very good to excellent
UK RRP £57.99
Made from 80 year old vines.
A blend of 70% Grenache and 15% Rolle.
100% of the wine is vinified in 600l demi-muis, both new and one year old before being aged for 10 months with twice weekly battonage.
We’re back to the gentle and attractive pale pink wine and the thing that immediately struck me was the nose was so very different to the Les Clans. Yes the oak was there, but very much more integrated into the wine allowing the very rich and complex red fruit aromas to shine through. There was a lot going on. The palate follows through with bright but rich strawberry fruit, yeasty complexity and a lovely well balanced acidity. The finish goes on forever, demonstrating layers of fruit, yeast and spice. This is a connoisseur’s wine, without the immediately obvious appeal of the Les Clans, but with a gentle, subtle and complex personality not found in that wine. Excellent.
UK RRP £89.99
We found this a most interesting and engaging tasting. The wines, especially the final two surprised and delighted in equal measure. I can safely say that the Garrus is the finest rosé that I’ve ever tasted
This estate is hugely ambitious and making highly distinctive and excellent wines. But, it’s at the vanguard of making a new market in prestige rosé wines. And my greatest question is whether the UK market is ready. Sure, in the Michelin starred restaurants and Sunseekers in Saint Tropez, 100 quid for a rosé is mere small change. However, in rainy Yorkshire, where the average bottle price for rosé is about 5 quid, it’s not looking too promising.
What about the more modest wines then? Well, the Whispering Angel is a well made and attractive wine. However, at the £15 price point, I don’t think it’s distinctive enough to set itself from the crowd of cheaper, and probably poorer wines. The Esclans does offer the advantage of oak and it’s very distinctive, but the £20+ price tag is going to be a hard sell.
Which leaves us with the Les Clans. This was the most commercially attractive wines aimed squarely at the international palate. It could and should be a huge success, but the consumer will need to get over the fact it’s a rosé at that price and I could get a very good Premier Cru white Burgundy for that sort of price, so why wouldn’t i?
Which takes us back to my original point. This is market making and I sincerely hope that the UK market can be made as this estate is producing some of the most ambitious and excellent wines I’ve tasted coming out of Provence.