Rosé Wineries of Southern France

By Ryan Snyder on August 1, 2007

Category: Winery of the Month

Tuesday, August 14th marks the Winegeeks' 3rd annual International Rosé Day, a holiday created in order to celebrate the great pink wine of summer, the Rosé. This year we decided to feature 6 rosé producers from southern France who have put out some great juice in recent years. Why the South of France, you may ask? Many wine regions produce their fair share of pink juice, but down near the Mediterranean up to 80% of the wine coming out of some AOCs are rosés, making it the official home of rosé. Critics will say that this is because the winemaking techniques in the region weren't exactly up to snuff back in the day, and it was much easier and more profitable to make a palate-pleasing rosé than an often barnyard-inspiring red. But as with all regions, wines are made to match the locally grown food.

Oh yeah, the food in southern France is to-die-for. From black olive tapenade on crostini to ratatouille, a vegetable stew that is made from the summer's freshest veggies, and even bouillabaisse made with freshly caught fruit of the sea, with any combination of fish, mollusks, tomatoes, garlic, artichoke, lemon, herbs and a kiss of olive oil. When you eat some of the lightest, healthiest foods you can imagine in the sweltering summer heat, red wine simply doesn't work. It doesn't pair well with these foods, and it sure doesn't cool you down after basking in the mid-summer sun. Enter rosé. It is light and refreshing, it pairs great with garlic-smothered dishes, and has a low alcohol and lively acidity to bring the nuances of each dish to life! It's no wonder there's a plethora being made there.

And depending on the location, it may be made from many a grape. In the Provence and Bandol, it's Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsaut. In Tavel and the southern Rhône, the blend can be a mix of any of the 13 accepted varieties, namely Grenache, Cinsault, Clairette, Mourvèdre and Syrah. In Languedoc and Rousillon, it's any combination of Carignan, Grenache, Cinsaut, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. They're made predominantly with red-skinned grapes, but macerating the grapes with their skins and removing the skins within 24 hours will prevent the skin pigmentations from deepening the color and flavor of their wines. The wine sits in neutral oak or stainless steel until the following summer, when it is fully aged and ready to hit supermarket shelves around the world.

So, on Tuesday the 14th, whether celebrating International Rosé Day with a group of friends or your sweety, be sure to try a fabulous rosé from one of these esteemed wineries:

Château Elie Sumeiere, Côtes de Provence AOC

The Sumeiere family has been living in Provence since the 16th century, and they produce a delicate rosé from the Château of one of their ancestors, an 18th century lawyer from Aix-en-Provence, Jean-Baptiste Coussin. Château Coussin is located at the foot of the Sainte Victoire mountain in the Côtes de Provence appellation in southern France. Here, red clay and limestone are the primary soils that the Grenache and Cinsaut have dug their roots into for over 30 years. The Sumeiere vineyards are all organically farmed and hand-picked, and with this kind of dedication to their vineyards it's no wonder they produce great wines year in and year out.

The 2006 Sainte Victoire Côtes de Provence Rosé is a delicate quaff that shows notes of fresh strawberry and cranberry juice up front with a zesty, peppery finish. It's an excellent candidate for your dinner on International Rosé Day, especially if Niçoise salad were to grace your dinner table.

Domaine Massamier La Mignarde, Coteaux de Peyriac VDP

When you find a label on the back of a wine bottle that says, "Pair with hots dogs or chicken fingers," that's when you know you've found a wine that will provide a breath of unpretentious fresh air. The 2006 Cuvée de Oliviers Coteaux de Peyriac VDP Rosé is made from Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah. It features a rich noseful of strawberries, and on the palate the flavors mellow a bit and feature a combination of stawberry, raspberry and tart apple. Hot dogs will definitely work with this wine, as will roasted chicken or turkey burgers.

It's made by Chateau Massamier La Mignarde, which is located on a 70 hectare estate at the foot of Black Mountain in the Minervois area of the Languedoc. Owner Jacques Vènes moved to the area generations ago and settled on this site, which the Roman legend Maximus named after himself (Maximiana), now known as Massamier. After decades of family feuding, Frantz Venes recently returned to his family home and began renovating the estate and purchasing new equipment to turn it into a fantastic winemaking facility. Massamier is spread out over 150 acres, 50 of which contain Carignan, 30 each of Syrah and Grenache, and 20 each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault. But here's the kicker: the cellar can hold 8,800 gallons, the largest in the entire Languedoc region.

Domaine de Montmarin, Côtes de Thongue VDP

Philippe de Bertier is the man behind the operations of Château du Montmarin. He's about as down-to-earth as it gets, and prefers hunting over winemaking (wild board frequent his vineyards often) and regularly scoffs at Paris and her snobbery. He's completely organic in the vineyards, using only natural fertilizers, manure and good old-fashioned plowing for weed control. Montmarin contains 230 hectares of grounds, with 120 hectares planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Roussane, Viognier, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. If my calculations are correct, that's a lot of work for a short-handed staff using only organic farming methods.

And all of that hard work makes itself readily apparent in Montmarin's wines, which somehow remain remarkably affordable. The Les Olivieres Côtes de Thongue VDP Rosé is made from Syrah and Grenache, and features an amazingly balanced acidity, with bright red cherries on the palate and a spicy nose. Find any fresh fish from your local farmer's market, throw it on the barbie and you've got yourself a fantastic food and wine pairing.

Domaine de la Mordorée, Tavel AOC

Named after the woodcock that flies over the Domaine during spring and fall migrations, Domaine de la Mordorée owns 60 hectares of vineyards around the Rhône Valley. Whether you're looking for a white Lirac, a red Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or a rosé from the Côtes de Rhône, they've got you covered. They've made wine since 1986, and in order to be good stewards of the land, they adhere to the motto: "the rules that steer our concepts and actions today, we hope shall show the way tomorrow." They strive constantly to make wines that embody the place from which they were derived, and let me tell you -- they're good at it.

Take the 2006 Tavel Rosé, for example. Grenache, Syrah, Cinsaut and Clairette have teamed up to create a fragrance that will have you drooling with a single whiff. It's a gorgeous ruby red, smells like strawberries with a hint of Kool-Aid (it will take you right back to childhood!), and displays a mix of strawberry, cranberry and orange on the palate. It's balanced, yet super expressive, and made my fellow tasters raise their eyebrows in delight.

Domaines Ott, Côtes de Provence AOC

Way back in 1896, Marcell Ott was an agricultural engineer in Alsace when he decided to head south in pursuit of starting a great winemaking estate. He landed first in Cavaliare, and after a bumpy decade and a half he ended up in the Var region. Today's generation remains true to Marcell's original designs a century ago, where they now crush the large rocks found in the fields and plow the remains under to ensure that the terroir remains intact, they use no chemical fertilizers, handpick the grapes and use as light of a press on the grapes as possible. Champagne Louis Roederer recognized their attention to detail and quality, and recently partnered up with Ott to produce wines together. That's great news for us, because it means Ott will be around for at least another century!

Looking at the label, it's hard to tell that the 2006 Les Domaniers Rosé is even affiliated with Ott, as if it was the pink-headed stepchild. But, regardless of their lack of attention to the product label, the product itself has definitely gotten our attention, as year-in and year-out they produce one of the most remarkable rosés to grace our North American shelves. Simply put, this is a wine made with precision. It shows balance and elegance every step of the way, from it's peach hue in the glass, to it's soft and zesty nose, to the strawberry, peach and pink grapefruit on the palate. If you seek this rosé out for International Rosé Day 2007, you'll definitely be heading back to the store for another bottle next year, if not next week.

Domaine du Gros'Noré, Bandol AOC

Winemaker Alain Pascal named his winery after his father, Honore, who earned the nickname Gros'Noré thanks to his calm and imposing stature. Pascal is a relative newbie to the world of wine, with his first vintage coming in 1997, but he's making waves across around the world with his mind-bending wines. His Bandol estate features 16 hectares of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Cinsaut, Ugni Blanc and Clairette, with an average vine age of about 30 years in the ideal Cadiere d'Azur area of Bandol. Pascal always destems his grapes before pressing and he never uses new barriques for wine aging, preferring instead the already used barrels that will grant a truer expression of the grapes and terroir, instead of masking the flavors in oak.

In the words of our own E.S. Brown, "I could sit around and drink their rosé all day long." The 2006 Bandol Rosé is made from 40% Mourvèdre, 40% Cinsault and 20% Grenache. This salmon-colored wine features explosive aromas of white peach, spicy herbs and orange zest. Meanwhile, it meanders along the palate showing sweet raspberries, cream and nuances of chalk and tangerine, with one hell of a finish.