Longer lees contact, spontaneous ferments and barrel maturation are just some of the techniques now employed by producers in this massive region in the South of France to enhance their wine’s versatility with food and the range of drinking occasions.
The aromas, flavours and range of pink tones have also expanded with new grape varieties such as Caladoc joining the staples of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault in response to climate change.
Heirloom varieties such as Sauvignon Gris are also making a comeback from the brink of extinction here.
Covering 120,000ha of vineyards running parallel with a 200km stretch of the Mediterranean coastline, from the Pyrenees to the Camargue, the designation produces a staggering 273 million bottles of rosé wines annually. Both single varietals and blends, they grow in vineyard sites that flirt with the seaside, whilst others are ensconced amidst the rolling hills inland. This variety of locations – differing elevations, aspects, weather patterns and soils – translates to one of the broadest ranges of rosé wines in the world.
Here, with the help of rosé expert Elizabeth Gabay MW, we look at the trends among the latest releases of Pays d’Oc rosés.
Upcoming varietiesAs the climate gets warmer, adding later-ripening varieties with the ability to bolster acidity has become a particularly valid choice for winegrowers. Caladoc is one such variety and, like Grenache, it thrives in drought and preserves freshness and acidity. It can make quite hard wines if used on its own but contributes a lively freshness when used in a blend.
The Arrogant Frog Ribet Pink by Paul Mas has 20% Caladoc to boost the acidity and add some vibrant fruit character.
The rest of the blend comprises 50% Grenache Noir and 30% Syrah. The Syrah has given it a pretty pink colour as well as attractive blue floral notes on the nose. On the palate, ripe raspberry fruit with hints of spice, typical of more expressive Grenache, and crunchy wild berry fruit from the Caladoc come together to give a fresh, juicy, elegant wine.
The wine comes from sustainable vineyards and the varieties go through separate fermentations at the relatively higher average temperature of 18°C.
Ageing is on fine lees with regular stirring for 40 days in new coated cement vats.
Heirloom varietiesMany historic varieties have disappeared over the years, and Sauvignon Gris is no exception. As a pink-tinged variant of Sauvignon Blanc, it was, unsurprisingly, very present in Bordeaux before phylloxera, often found in the sweet wines of Sauternes. But by 1958 there were only 10ha left in France, as producers moved to more productive, disease-resistant varieties. Today this has risen to 660ha, with Les Vignobles Foncalieu being a big supporter of this little-known variety.
Le Griset from Les Vignobles de Foncalieu is made from Sauvignon Gris grown on two plots – Ensérune with a Mediterranean climate and Puichéric with more Atlantic oceanic influences. All the vineyards are organic.
Wine director Nathalie Estribeau has worked with this variety to extract a delicate shell pink colour with a few hours’ skin contact and plenty of freshness. The nose takes you straight to the green fresh fruit notes of Sauvignon Blanc. On the palate, the fruit has a creamy roundness with a delicate hint of floral elderflower and gooseberry fruit with a fresh grapefruit pith edge and a phenolic finish.
Grenache Gris is another historic variety, although never endangered. Like other gris grapes, it can be made as a gentle shell-like pink wine on its own, and can contribute charmingly rich fruit, often with a weighty texture giving added complexity.
Villa Blanche Grenache Rosé from Calmel & Joseph is made with 60% Grenache Noir, 40% Grenache Gris harvested at night on different dates – the first harvest aiming at freshness and the second harvest, 15 days later, to obtain greater concentration of fruit and richness. After six hours’ maceration at 5°C, the fermentation is at 15°C with time on lees “to complicate the structure”. The combination of the two varieties has created a light creamy pink wine with ripe peaches, cream and fresh nuts, a hint of violets and crisp acidity.
Solal from Blanville is a blend of two light varieties, 50% Cinsault which can provide a creamy laciness to a rosé and the richer, textured 50% Grenache Gris planted on cool limestone and clay soils. Here the creamy, white peach fruit has a delicate, lacy, slightly floral fragrance giving an elegant first impression before opening up the intense, structured and creamy Grenache Gris fruit. A tight minerality and crunchy, citrus acidity lead to a long zingy finish.
Grenache is the base for so many rosés across southern France, and in Pays d’Oc IGP it tops the varietal rankings for pink wines. Presented 100%, it offers a great introduction to the variety. Délicieuses from Domaine des Yeuses has the classic creamy white peach aromas leading to ripe peach fruit with notes of candied pineapple and redcurrant fruit. In the mouth it offers intense creamy, citrus freshness, vibrant acidity and salinity on the finish.
After destemming, the grapes are cold-soaked for 10 hours.
Rosé from Laroche - Mas la Chevalière adds 60% Syrah into the blend with 30% Grenache, 10% Cinsault. The pale pink belies the intensity of flavours in this wine. Crunchy redcurrants, apple compote, exotic fruit and creamy richness are juxtaposed with hints of sharp grapefruit, citrus acidity and some long blood orange salinity on the finish.
The night harvest is followed by direct and rapid pressing in an inert atmosphere. The juices are settled for 24 hours at 7-8°C. Fermentation is at 18°C “in order to preserve all the aromatic varietal potential” of the grapes.
Bringing in the outsidersIGP Pays d’Oc has championed international varieties for 35 years and they now have an established presence next to local varieties.
The Pinot Noir Rosé from Domaine Ricardelle de Lautrec is such an elegant rosé, as is often true of Pinot Noir. Not a fruit-forward wine, but with some ripe passion fruit and tropical fruit lending exotic charm, lovely clean freshness with incredibly intense, citrus acidity. The wine comes in lightweight bottles and the vineyard is farmed organically whilst converting to biodynamics.