There’s a genre of music from the late 70s/ early 80s dubbed yacht rock: smooth, heavily-produced music made by virtuoso musicians with too much money. Think bands such as Steely Dan, Hall & Oates and the Doobie Brothers. And to drink on your yacht with such music? There can be only one candidate: Provencal rosé, the more expensive the better.
You can’t miss these wines in your local store. They come in a bewildering array of bottles from the amphora-shaped, to bowling pins, squared-off shoulders, and even entirely square bottles. Then there’s the distinctive colour, Provencal rosés have to be as pale as possible. It’s all a far cry from when I worked in a wine shop in the late 90s when rosé was zinfandel blush, bright red Spanish rosado or sickly sweet Rosé d’Anjou. Nobody would have dreamed of spending more than £6 on a bottle.
In contrast yacht rosés (I’m trying to coin a new genre) can sell for up £100 for the Chateau d’Esclans Garrus. It sounds outrageous but this is a drop in the ocean for their target market. Sacha Lichine from the Bordeaux family that own Esclans was quoted recently as saying: “I knew we had arrived when I got a call from a top yacht-builder wanting the dimensions of our three-litre double-magnums. . . . . He wanted to make sure he built a fridge on a yacht that was big enough.”
Esclans are best known for their more prosaic Whispering Angel brand (around £20 a bottle). Other names to look out for include Minuty, Domaine Ott, Chateau Gassier, MiP (made in Provence) and Miraval. The owners of Miraval, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, are to rosé what Jay Z is to champagne. Indeed yacht rosé shares some similarities with champagne; they both sell on image as much as content. The crucial difference is if you spent £80 on a bottle of champagne, Pol Roger vintage for example, you’re going to get a lot of flavour compared with a £30 bottle. Expensive champagne tastes expensive, rosé’s pleasures are more ethereal. British wine writer Andrew Jefford who lives in the south of France tried to explain it to me:
“The art of crafting great rosé is the art of understatement. It’s all a question of nuances, subtleties, suggestions, hints and whispers. The more forceful a rosé is, the less good it is. A blockbuster red can be great; a blockbuster rosé would be a comprehensive failure. The reason being that sippability, drinkability is even more important for rosé than for most wines.”
These delicate wines are made by lightly pressing red grapes, mainly cinsault and grenache, so that just a little colour seeps into the wine. Sometimes this is done so subtly that the wine is almost indistinguishable from a white wine. The rosé paradox is that the most expensive are often the least intense. With a little reflection and enough money in your pocket you might notice flavours of strawberries, peaches, herbs and sometimes a faint nuttiness.
The production process requires technology, inert gas to keep the grapes free from oxygen, and ideally they should be harvested at night for maximum freshness, but these are not expensive wines to make. And unlike champagne which needs to be matured, rosé can be sold the summer after vintage. Rosé is catnip to accountants.
The 2016s are just about to arrive in shops but the better quality rosés are usually at their best in the autumn, just as the sun is beginning to disappear. Those ethereal flavours take a little time to come out. The very best rosés from the fishing port of Bandol can age for ten years or more. Bandol apart though, rosé is essentially background music. You’d never have a conversation about a rosé like you might a Santa Barbara Syrah or a good Burgundy. But whether you own a yacht or even a pair of white trousers, when you’ve just been paid, the sun’s out and I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) comes on the stereo, nothing tastes better.
Here are five that are worth drinking:
William Chase 2016 rosé – £14.90 Tanners
Made by an English producer in Provence. It looks and tastes the part from the stylish bottle to the subtle but persistent fruit and, best of all, it’s not that expensive.
Chateau d’Esclans Les Clans 2015 – £30 From Vineyards Direct
My favourite of Esclans wines. It’s floral with delicate red fruit and a creamy texture from some very discrete oak ageing. If you even notice that price, you can’t afford it.
Le Secret de Chateau Leoube 2015 – £25 Wine Direct
Made by one of the cult names in rosé, this is textbook stuff: gentle orange and peachy fruit with a distant scent of wild herbs as if you’re smelling Provence from your boat.
Domaine Tempier Bandol rosé 2015 – £25 Lea & Sandeman have the 16 vintage
A rosé worth talking about. The 2015 was one of the finest I’ve drunk with spectacular depth of flavour, gorgeous fruit and balance, and a long finish.
Rouviere Bandol rosé 2015 – £19.99 Yapp Bros have the 16 vintage
Some of the magic of the Tempier but at an everyday price. Quite full-bodied with rosemary notes and a little almond-like nuttiness on the finish. It offers power with finesse.
A version of this article appeared in Food & Wine magazine.