As the weather turns cooler, my wine thoughts usually turn to darker shades of red. But that is not necessarily the case in Provence, where the locals of the southern French region tend to do something that would appear unusual to American consumers: They drink roses all year-round. As a matter of fact, Provencal residents drink the pretty-in-pink wines throughout the year with a variety of foods.
I was recently informed of this fact during a rose wine dinner sponsored by Vins de Provence (Wines of Provence), a trade association representing more than 600 wine producers from the Provence region. Their mission is to educate American consumers about the wines of the region's principal appellations. Together, these appellations and their subappellations make up 96 percent of the regional production of wine, with rose leading the way at a whopping 87 percent. This translates to roughly 152 million bottles of wine.
The reason is versatility. Roses are typically made from popular Rhone varietals, including carignan, grenache, mouvedre and syrah, and are often described as having the body of a red wine with the crispness of a white wine. This is a result of a winemaking process in which the skins are kept in brief contact with the juice after the grapes are crushed so the wines take on a pinkish hue. Their unique characteristics allow dry rose wines to pair well with a wide range of cuisines. The representatives elected to host the dinner at the renowned Indian restaurant Rasika to successfully demonstrate the unique versatility of rose. Retail prices are approximate.
The Cotes de Provence appellation produces about 75 percent of the region's wines and is home to the 2010 Chateau Leoube, Le Secret de Leoube ($30), a rose made from grenache, cinsault and cabernet sauvignon. The creamy palate is a bit unusual for a rose, but the flavors of raspberry, apricot nectar and wild strawberry are surprisingly both unctuous and refreshing at the same time. QPR 8
Estandon is the oldest brand in the Cotes de Provence, and its 2011 Le Cercle des Vignerons de Provence ($12) is a testament to the brand's longevity. This affordable rose is a traditional blend of grenache, cinsault and syrah and features a very fragrant bouquet of red cherry and violets. The charming flavors of red raspberry, strawberry and citrusy lemon pile on the front of the palate while notes of persimmon make a lasting impression on the crisp finish. QPR 8.5
The Provence region is where I first fell in love with rose wines, and 2010 Dom D'Eole Rose ($17) from the Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence appellation is one of the reasons why. It is wonderfully crisp and dry yet delivers tons of bright, fresh fruit flavors, including red apple, wild strawberry and cranberry. The finish is remarkably well-balanced and delightfully refreshing. QPR 9
Also hailing from the Cotes de Provence appellation is the 2010 Cave d'Esclans, Whispering Angel ($20), made from a blend of grenache, rolle, syrah, cinsault and tibouren grapes. It possesses beautiful scents of raspberry and cherry on the nose with fresh, clean strawberry and cherry flavors in the mouth, and just a touch of spicy ginger on the crisp, clean finish. QPR 9
The little-known tibouren varietal is one of the reasons rose wines are so balanced. It's a bit like using salt in a recipe; just the right amount makes the wine so much better. Case in point is the 2011 Domaine de Rimauresq, Cru Classe Rose ($20). This lovely wine could be the poster child of Provence. The flavors of strawberry, raspberry and red plum are bright and forward in the mouth. There is just a touch of cranberry on the crisp finish that makes this the perfect accompaniment to a wide range of foods or delightful on its own. QPR 9.5
Note: QPR is a rating system that compares the quality a wine delivers relative to the price. A QPR of 10 is considered an excellent value.