19 May 2012

The best rosé in the world? (Provence, France – Day One)

Some places on the planet have been blessed with immortality as tourism hotspots, and are so popular you wonder what all the fuss is about. These are the kinds of places that hard-core travellers avoid, for some obvious and not so obvious reasons. The obvious reasons are they tend to be tourist traps, where you are commonly charged exorbitant prices for mediocre quality and service. These places are also filled with tourists, who can be loud and obnoxious, and cause you to wait in lines to see some of the highlight attractions. There must be however, a reason why these places became so popular, whether it be culture, history, beauty or all of the above. One place I have been to where it is almost not worth the effort is Venice, a place where no-one really lives and works apart from feeding the insatiable tourism industry. Many of these places are so charming and beautiful that you are willing to forego the prices hikes and crowds, such as Rome, New York and Rio de Janeiro. The Cote d’Azur or the Provencal cost has been one of the most popular places for tourism in France for centuries, and is certainly well deserving of this honour. The coast itself is simply stunning, sometimes with mountains sitting merely metres away from the shore. When I first visited France in July 2010, I remember driving up the motorway back to Lyon after visiting Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and seeing the bumper-to-bumper traffic heading south. Now I understand what all these people were willing to undertake, as even a few days here has a rejuvenatory effect on you. Luckily the region also makes some stunning wines, and is the home of an entire style of wine; rosé. To put it into perspective how important this wine style is to Provence, they produce more rosé than Australia produces wine.

What will these little gems become?

Quite possibly the most famous producer of rosé in Provence, if not the world, is Domaine Ott, with one of the most iconic wine bottles and a suitable price-tag to match. The origins of the winery go back to the late 19th century, when Alsatian agronomist Marcel Ott took a trip south and simply fell in love with the Provencal coast. He saw amazing potential in this underdeveloped wine region, and began investigating what varieties to work with and what styles to make. As there weren’t really any quality producers at this time, there were no reference points for him, and so it was largely trial and error. He was able to apply some of his experience cultivating grape vines in Alsace, but the Provence terroir is quite different. In time he was joined in time by his children, and together they established three estates over a 60 year period. The first was the Chateau de Selle, followed by the Chateau Mireille. The final estate was established in 1956 in the Bandol appellation of Provence, before the appellation was even formalised. With rosé as the focus, a single wine is made from each estate, which expresses its own unique personality and terroir. Initially the winery gained great acclaim for their white wine, which for many years was slightly sparkling due to the malolactic fermentation occurring in the bottle. Two of the estates also produce red wines, most importantly the Bandol estate. Back in the early 20th Century the Ott family knew that they had produced exceptional wines, and thus Rene Ott designed an exceptional vessel in 1930 to put the wine in, that is now recognised all over the world as the Domaine Ott bottle.

Design work for the Domaine Ott bottle
In 2004 the family joined with the Louis Roederer group, and took advantage of their experience in packaging and distribution. The wines however, haven’t changed and continue to be at the top of their game. The rosé wines are all made the same way, with a gentle press and 20 minutes skin contact before fining and fermentation in stainless steel tanks. The release of their rosé wines is quite late, over eight months after the harvest, but they still retain their freshness. The wines can age, but they don’t really need to as they are at their prime in the first couple of years. The white wine is a blend of semillon and rolle, also known as vermentino. These varieties were both introduced into the region, but the semillon is the only one introduced by Marcel, when he brought cuttings across from Bordeaux. Each estate has its own winemaking and bottling facility, to ensure that the utmost attention is made to capturing the spirit of the varieties and sites. I was invited to the Clos Mirelle estate by Christophe Renard, the Sales Manager, who took me through the winery and vineyards of this estate, along with a tasting of all the key wines.

Unique tank shape for sedimentation
The Chateau de Selle Rosé 2011 had a gorgeous pale colour with the slightest bronze hue, a juicy vibrant mineralic fruit nose of red berries, slightly creamy and savoury, and on the palate had a bold yet elegant structure and great purity and freshness. The Chateau Romassan (Bandol) Rosé 2011 had a darker colour with the same bronze hue, on the nose was slightly wilder and more impetuous, showing fruits of dark cherries and candied pomegranates, and expressed more tannin texture and depth on the palate. The Clos Mireille Rosé 2011 was significantly more subdued in all aspects compared to the other two, which can possibly be explained by the fact that this wine is only a recent addition to the range, the estate being more traditionally used for the white wine. What it does have in spades is the crispness and freshness of a youthful rosé wine, with balance and integrity, but not showing true personality yet. The Blanc de Blancs 2010 is a blend of 70% semillon and 30% rolle, and aromatically had a fascinating combination of pineapple, green peach, spice and saltiness, very expressive indeed. On the palate the wine had a creamy and nutty texture, almost like coconut skin, and had some complex oxidative notes from the maturation in large mature oak casks. The Chateau Romassan Bandol Rouge 2009 is 51% mouvedre, and aromatically showed blackberries, lotus, spice ad some rustic fungal notes, and on the palate had vibrant but brooding fruit and tannins, still managing to keep things fresh and yet complex.

The full Domaine Ott range
Click here to see more photos from Day One in Provence, France. On the next post I visit a few more estates in Provence.

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