Provence Rosé is the very foundation of Rosé
“We grow Rosé, we live Rosé, we think Rosé.” Chateau Gassier. I think to myself, they should add “We are Rosè.”
To taste French Rosé at home is one thing. To taste it in Provence is a mind altering experience. I am on a press trip. A tear of a press trip. 13 towns, 9 days and a blur of fantastic everything. Food, wine, scenery, and people. This is my first adventure into Provence and it is everything I’ve always dreamed of. The smells, the beauty, the buildings, the region itself all indelibly stamped in my memory. That’s what happens when you go to places you dream of. It’s like tasting the best wine you’ve ever had. You take it in. You bask in the glory of it. Your senses drink it in. You swirl it. You memorize even the smallest of detail down to the most minute nuance. You embrace it. You savor every last drop. It’s a richness of experience unparalleled.
We are making gastronomic Provence Rosé
Speaking of the smells of Provence. This destination is different. There is a beguiling aroma produced by the Mistral wind. It carries delicious elements of place. It’s a breezy northern wind that encapsulates all the flavors that are Provence. This wine is known to set the population on its ear. The Mistral brings the cold air from the Alps down through the gap in the Rhone Valley. It can gain speeds of up to 95 miles an hour. Unique to Provence, the Mistral transports smells derived from the land. Known as garrigue, the scent that is exclusive and unique to the south of France.
I roll down the window, taking in the scent. The smell is heady. It’s a blend of all things the Mistral captures and releases. The juniper, rosemary, cistus, thyme, and lavender make up this unique ambiance. It beckons you, it captures your heart. It demands you take note. It encircles your senses, like a lover. That all knowing, intimate touch that moves you. This is Provence.
Garrigue infuses the land and lends it’s flavorful mysteries to the vineyards. It’s a delicious and part of the culture of farming here. Leaving the most intense aspects of it in the Southern Rhone Valley.
Interview with Winemaker Guillaume Cordonis on Making World Class Rosé & Cru
It is here I am visiting Chateau Gassier. Standing in front of the Chateau, we are taking in the views. Their vineyards surround. There are mountains both before and behind us. The Mistral blows. Skies a perfectly clear blue, the sun warms my face. Our guide is the winemaker of Chateau Gassier, Guillaume Cordonis. Cordonis is a well-seasoned winemaker. He’s been at it for 15 years, 10 of those at Chateau Gassier. He started his career in Chile and continued to New Zealand, and New York’s Finger Lake Region. Did a stint in California at Roederer Estate, returning home to France in Languedoc–Roussillon.
The Chateau is just 15 km from Aix En Provence, the epicenter of Provence. Located in one of the four crus of Provence, Côtes du Provence Sainte-Victoire. In the back of the Chateau is the spectacular Mountain Sainte-Victoire, a favorite of artists because of it dramatic appearance including Paul Cézanne. Renowned as one of the most pristine appellations in France it is also a natural reserve. Chateau Gassier has 40 hectares of vineyard and the unique position of carrying four terroirs and three appellations. It’s one of the most privileged locations for Rosé in the world. Making the best Provence Rosé is the focal point of Chateau Gassier. Their Provence Rosé, certified organic in Europe. The days are warm and the nights are cold. It’s a perfect climate for the vines.
The Gassier family has been in the area since 1421. There is a rich history of the family and they’ve been making wine for five generations.
About Provence Rosé
Rosé is serious business in France. 27% of all the Rosè globally comes from France. But not all Rosé is the same. Winemaker Guillaume Cordonis explains, “We are not just easy drinking wine Rosé. It is complex, a lot of structure and it’s filled with minerality. We are making a gastronomic wine. Provence Rosé is different. Wineries in Provence agree we are different. It comes from the climate, the soil, the terroir, and the knowledge of the people combined.”
The winemaking rules are strict in Provence. Governed by the AOC (Appellation D’Origine Contrôlée) a hallmark of France’s best wines. The guidelines include the type of grapes permitted, & the yields that can be grown. It also covers the type of pruning and density of vines. In the winemaking process, the AOC will dictate blend proportions, acidity, and even alcohol levels. The labeling requirements are also very strict. Only certain plots of land qualify. Within the AOC you can’t make a white and red wine and blend it together like you can in Champagne, France. Making a great Rosé is far more complicated than making a great red or a great white. With red, you can make it taste ‘big’ by over ripening it. For a white, you are looking for a good balance between acidity and alcohol. With Rosé the process is more delicate. The region is governed by AOC. Strict rules are enforced and followed to qualify as an AOC Rosé. First, the Rosé fashioned from 100% Red grapes. After harvest, the grapes must be either bled (saignée) or pressed. The juice (lees) from each varietal is kept separate until the required time by the AOC has passed with a close watch on temperature and fermentation.
Cordinis explains his perspective on the terroir, “Everything starts in the vineyard. The impact of the soil. and the terroir. The terroir is a key factor in the making of the outstanding wines of Chateau Gassier. We cannot discount the terroir. In the winemaking of Rosé, you have to protect against oxidation. You avoid disturbing the wines through movement. It’s best to keep them still. Be careful and take care of everything.”
The terroir comes from windblown clay and riverbed. Much of the influence in the soil comes from the mountain. The base is granite, there are limestone, clay, and riverbed. Part of this land used to be under the sea and a huge river existed. When the mountain was formed it pushed sediment from the sea into the valley. Now there is only a small river. The area is very well known as a place for dinosaurs. They used to come to this region to put their eggs. The climate is Mediterranean. The Mediterranean climate is a blessing in Provence. Not only is the organic aspect important but directly related to the thriving wildlife and nature they are protecting.
At Chateau Gassier the focus is on two terroirs, Côtes de Provence (Cuvée Loubiero) and Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire (Cuvée Le Pas du Moine and 946).
Tasting notes for the wines I tasted at Chateau Gassier:
2016 Esprit Gassier: This is a light and lively sip everyday type of Rosé. Great with food or alone on a hot summer day near the beach. Red berries, floral notes, and peach. The grapefruit nuance adds zest. The blend is Grenache, 30% Cinsault, 25% Syrah, 10% Rolle.
2016 Les Pa de Moine
Les Pa du Moine means pass of the monk. This is a footpath leading to an ancient priory the monks used to travel on.The color is stunning. Aromas of white flowers and exotic fruits. The taste is that of grapefruit and tropical fruit. The blend is 35% Syrah, 33% Grenache, 16% Cinsault, 12% Rolle, 5% Ugni Blanc.
2015 946 Cotes de Provence Sainte-Victoire
If you thirst for a unique & exceptional Rosé, 2015 946 Cotes de Provence Sainte-Victoire hits the mark. Named after the cross at the top of the mountain, the name reflects the 946-meter elevation. The monks traveled up the path to the cross located at the top of the mountain. The 946 is only made in years when the conditions are the best and in limited quantities. Varietals in 946 are Grenache, Syrah, Rolle (Vermentino). I loved the tropical fruits, white flowers, and the lingering finish. There is also whisper of salinity.