Provencal travelers invariably return home and describe sunshine, lavender everywhere, fields of bright yellow broom shrubs, and bottomless pitchers of pink wine. Idyllic accounts never hint at how the weather in the South of France can test the mettle of the most resilient wine grower.
No one understands that better than Raimond de Villeneuve of Chateau de Roquefort (his domaine just happens to have the same name as the famous cheese, which is not made in Provence). On July 1, 2012, a violent hailstorm brought sheets of ice crashing down on his family’s 62 acres of vines. In just seven minutes, he lost not only that year’s harvest, but his vines’ ability to produce at capacity for the next year. In a display of solidarity, friends from neighboring estates stepped forward, donating grapes or must from their own vineyards.
In total, 35 producers from Provence to the Rhone contributed fruit so Villeneuve could make nearly 11,000 cases of rosé and some reds — close to his annual production in a normal year. He considered naming the vintage “Coup de Pouce.” Loose translation: “With a little help from my friends.” Ultimately, he called these wines simply “Grêle” (“hail”). His delightful rosé makes us ponder the Provencal pinks on shop shelves.
Once associated with less-than-distinguished sweet wines, rosés, wine enthusiasts will tell you, are not all sweet. Many say that their favorite styles, like those here, are dry. But the perception still lingers that these wines are merely good for gulping on a hot day.
Varying quality contributes to this notion, as does the delicate hue of these bottles. Don’t let the color fool you. Well-made pinks offer more flavor than a glance might suggest. Quaffs from Côtes de Provence — the largest Provencal appellation encompassing 50,000 vine acres along the Mediterranean coast from Marseille to just west of Cannes — are a prime example. In this region of intense sun, well-ripened grapes like grenache and cinsault are gently pressed. In the classic method of rosé production, skins and juice soak together for a short period of time before the juice is run off into another tank to ferment like a white wine. Skin contact with the juice — albeit brief — provides tannin, flavor compounds, and color (these are called phenolics) to give the wine texture and interest. They’re delightful with seafood and the summer vegetables.
One warm June evening, we chilled down the “Grêle” Rosé 2012 and served it alongside a Provencal-inspired halibut, roasted in a bath of olive oil, white wine, herbs, and plenty of garlic. With it went crusty bread, a wedge of camembert, and a salad that included baby garlic scapes from the farmers’ market. The fresh, refined tartness of the wine, with berry fruit and stony mineral notes, paired splendidly.
We wonder if wine growers in other regions respond to adverse weather events in the same way that the French did with Chateau de Roquefort, and if the display of Provencal solidarity offers a new model of storm insurance.
All hail helpful compatriots.
Sacha Lichine “Le Poussin” Rosé 2012 Ripe wild strawberry, garden soil aromas, and an initial whiff of stemmy green. Feather light, wicks away quickly like moisture on a dry afternoon. Around $12. At Sudbury Wine & Spirits, Sudbury, 978-443-1300; Pemberton Farms, Cambridge, 617-491-2244.
Loca Linda “Jolie Folle” Rosé 2012 The name translates as “crazy beautiful” and offers notes of sweet peach, white floral, and a tinge of saline. Do as the label on the bottle says: “Pair with lovers, family, and friends.” Around $16. At Social Wines, South Boston, 617-268-2974; New England Beverage Fine Wine & Spirits, North Reading, 978-664-6554.
Chateau de Roquefort “Grêle” Rosé 2012 Aromas are at first shy, then bloom with berry, rose floral, and white-fleshed peach. Lovely minerality, refreshing acidity, and just enough bitterness so it’s stellar with food. Around $17. At Social Wines; Henry’s Wine Cellar, North Beverly, 978-524-0300.
Commanderie de la Bargemone Coteaux d’Aix en Provence Rosé 2012 With just the palest coppery hue, offers orchard fruit, freshly dug soil aromas, citrus, and a hit of saline. Excellent with soft white cheeses. Around $17.
Bauer Wine & Spirits, Boston, 617-262-0363; The Urban Grape South End, Boston, 857-250-2509.
Caves D’Esclans Sacha Lichine “Whispering Angel” Rosé 2012 Delicate peachy aromas belie the significant hum of alcohol on the palate, accompanied by notes of tart strawberry and citrus zest. Take this petit 375 ml bottle on your next picnic for two. Around $14. At Butcher Boy, North Andover, 978-688-1511; Jobi Liquors, Boston, 617-227-9235.