National Rosé Day may have passed (it was this past Saturday, June 10th, in case you missed it—and if you did, shame on you!), but my Summer of Rosé continues! Last fall, I spent a week in Provence, hosted by the CIVP (Le Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence), which I started to recount last week.
We left beautiful Château Thuerry (and the entertaining owner Jean-Louis Croquet) and headed for the medieval village of Les Arcs. I have spent a bit of time in Provence before this trip and I had visited many of the renowned towns in the region: St. Rémy de Provence, Uzès, Vaison la Romaine, Bedoin, Bonnieux, Cavaillon, and Les Baux de Provence (plus the larger towns of Aix-en-Provence, Nîmes, and Arles), but I had never even heard of Les Arcs.
Apparently, I am not alone in that assertion as the town was devoid of tourists (we did not see another soul), touristy shops, attractions, and venues, which was just fine with me. Normally, I do not mind the hoards as I figure there is a reason that the touristy spots are so popular. But this was different, eerily so. Yes, we were there on a Monday afternoon, but that falls short of describing the utter desolate feeling I had strolling through the incredibly charming town.
As we wandered the centuries-old streets, I tried to imagine the current and ancient denizens as they proceeded through their daily chores, both mundane and profound. The town seemed abandoned or at least in hibernation as it was perfectly preserved—we could have easily been there one, two, five hundred years prior, which is an element that is entirely lacking in “modern” society.
After walking the town for about an hour, we loaded back into the van and headed up the road about 20 kilometers to Chateau de Rouët, nestled against the red-rock foothills of the Massif de l’Esterel. The winery, which produces 600k bottles annually, also rents out three different houses including the Grande Maison, where Woody Allen’s 2014 film Magic in the Moonlight was filmed.
We were greeted by Martin Savatier, who, along with his brother Matthieu, represent the sixth generation of the family run estate, founded in 1840. Originally, the estate focused on its vast pine forests, which served as the primary source of income until 1927 when a fire, driven by the winds of the Mistral, destroyed thousands of acres. Martin’s great-grandfather, Lucien, then cleared many acres as a firebreak, to protect the forest from any future catastrophe, and planted the first vines at the estate.
Perhaps typical for the region, Rouët’s production is decidedly pink: 70% rosé, 25% red, and 5% white. Marin intimated that he could produce more red but rosé is currently so popular, that it would be foolish to divert any more fruit to produce more red. All the wine produced is AOP (Appellation d’origine protégée) Côte de Provence and a small portion from Côte de Provence Fréjus. Château Rouët is imported by Skurnik Wines.
Climate change seemed to be on the mind of each of the producers we met in Provence and Martin was no different. He stated that only 30 years ago they started vendenges (harvest) a whole month later than they do today. Those wines were not better balanced, but they were different—much more acidic as many wineries struggled to get the fruit ripe. Today, the focus is more on phenolic maturity—ensuring that the flavors develop sufficiently and picking before the acidity drops too far.
As the region continues to warm, Martin stressed that the future of Provençal wine is with irrigation. Currently, it is forbidden to irrigate, but Martin feels that watering the vines will soon become a necessity and many in the region are working on changing the laws.
We tasted through about a dozen wines—all fantastic. Here are some of my favorites:
2015 Château du Rouët Estérelle Blanc: 100% Rolle (Vermentino). Retail: 7€30. Yellow fruit, mostly pineapple. All steel fermented and aged. Round and delicious. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2015 Château du Rouët La Belle Poule Blanc: 100% Rolle. Retail 10€. From the best selection of grapes and spends some time in new oak. Named after the ship that brought Napoléon’s remains back to France in 1840. Wow. Incredibly tasty. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2015 Château du Rouët Estérelle Rosé: Retail 7€30. 40% Grenache, 30% Tibourenc (Tibouren), 20% Cinsault, 10% Carignan. Nice, fruity. Well done. Very Good. 88-90 Points.
2015 Château du Rouët 1840 Rosé: Retail 9€. 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Tibourenc. Wonderfully built with great fruit. Really nice. Called “Réserve Tradition” for $15 in US. Worth seeking out. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2015 Château du Rouët Belle Poule Rose: Retail 10€60. 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah. Rounder and richer with deeper fruit and a great texture. Very nice. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2015 Château du Rouët Fréjus Hermès Rosé: Retail 20€. 40% Grenache, 40% Tibourenc, 20% Syrah. The free-run juice after maceration. Only 5,000 bottles produced. Intense fruit flavors, impeccable balance, one of the best rosés I have had. Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2013 Château du Rouët La Belle Poule Rouge: Retail 10€80. 55% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Really nice fruit and acid driven. No tannins to speak of and while this really needs food, it is delightful. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2012 Château du Rouët Fréjus Hermès Rouge: Retail 20€. 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre. Forest floor, dark berry fruit, spicy and peppery, much richer and introspective than la Belle Poule. Whoa. Outstanding. 92-92 Points.
After the tasting, it was off to dinner, with more rosé, great food, and a few chuckles, but all the while I had those Fréjus wines in the back of my mind, teasing and tempting.