Updated: Aug 13, 2021
by The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
If you live in Provence, you have to be amused at the fuss over rosé. It’s as if the world just discovered this refreshing drink when for decades it has been as much a staple at a café table as a loaf of French bread.
It wasn’t a part of the landscape in the United States until the mid-1990s when it suddenly dawned on consumers that sweet blush wine was not the same as dry rosé. Today, this special quaff has finally joined chardonnay and sauvignon blanc as a wine of choice – and not just during summer months.
Sales of rosé jumped 118 percent between 2015 and 2020, according to market analyst ISWR. Its growing popularity also spawned a growth in rosé producers eager to join the profit parade.
One of the more common methods here and abroad to make rosé is called saignee. A certain portion of fermenting red wine is bled off fermentation tanks early in the process while the rest of the grapes are made into red wine. Many rosé specialists in Provence prefer a direct or “pure” process during which the grapes have no destiny other than rosé. In Provence, rosé is king.
You can’t think of Provence rosé without first thinking of Domaine Ott, which has been growing grapes specifically for rosé since it was founded by Marcel Ott in 1896. Today, it is under the direction of fourth-generation cousins Jean-Francois and Christian Ott.
Nothing that comes out of Domaine Ott is generic or simple such as some rosés we have seen from producers who are marshalling a phalanx of grape varieties to satisfy the growing demand. Jean-Francois said they put in 600 hours on every hectare to produce consistent quality with attention to detail. And, it shows.
It isn’t hard for Jean-Francois to justify the higher cost for his wine.
His Etoile, introduced in 2019, sells for more than $150 a bottle but his other rosés range from $26 to $65. Etoile gives Domaine Ott gravitas – a message that top quality comes with a price.
“To tell you the truth, it’s a way to talk to people about why you pay that kind of money for red wine but why is it so complicated to pay that for rosé wine?” he said in a recent interview. “It’s exactly the same as the best red and white wine in the world. It’s a way for me to knock on the door and say we are working so hard to make the best rosé we can.”
He did get us thinking: people pay exorbitant sums for quality cabernet sauvignon. Why not rosé? Is rosé by definition a cheap wine? Certainly that’s not the case when you taste the best from Provence.
Although Domaine Ott makes some white and red wine, rosé dominates 80 percent of its production.
The grapes are grown on three estates: Chateau de Salle, Clos Mireille and Chateau Romassan. Because of their unique terroir, Ott produces a vineyard-designated rosé from each. In 2016, it added By.Ott, a second label that blends the estate vineyards with purchased grapes. By.Ott represents a significant portion of the portfolio.
Domaine Ott’s history has been focused on growing grapes for the expressed purpose of making rosé. Jean-Francois is adamant that you can’t use the same grapes for rosé and red wine.
“If you try to make rosé with grapes that are used for red wine, you get different flavors,” he said. “If I made red wine from my grapes, you would not like it.”
He said everything is different in how he grows rosé grapes. For one, he harvests early to get less sugar and hence less alcohol. A rosé that sported a 14 or 15 percent alcohol level – common to red wines – would be dreadfully overwrought.
“If I taste a grape and if I feel the grape tastes good, it’s too late,” he said. “You need acidity that at the end tells you it’s ready – but not ready to be eaten.”
The rosés from the Cotes de Provence are more refined with elegance and complexity not often found in this category. If you’ve enjoyed a $15 rosado from Spain or a rosé from the West Coast, you will find a lot more complexity and finesse from Provence. Not all of these wines are more expensive either.
Jean-Francois said Domaine Ott recommends that consumers hold the bottles for a couple of years before consumption – a stark difference from the pop-and-pour advice from most producers.
We didn’t wait to pour the 2020 Domaine Ott Chateau de Selle ($58), but it still showed depth and elegance. We also learned from experience that letting this rosé come to room temperature reveals the subtle nuances that make it so special. Introduced to the market in 1919, Chateau de Selle is a blend of grenache, cinsault, syrah and mourvedre.
The 2020 Domaine Ott By.Ott ($26) is a broad expression of ripe stone fruit and tropical fruit aromas, citrus and spice flavors with fresh acidity.
Ott said that climate change is affecting his vineyards like it is everywhere else in France. He predicted that he won’t be growing syrah in the next 20 to 30 years. Mourvedre, a grape variety that struggled to ripen 20 years ago, is likely to fill the gap.
Band of Vintners Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($40). There’s nothing like a great wine with a great story behind it. This is a collaboration of seven Napa Valley tastemakers who gathered monthly to taste wine and then decided to put their experience behind a label. They include winemakers, sommeliers and national salesmen. The result? A lush and approachable blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc for a decent price. You can find this for even less money in some stores.
Domaine de Bila-Haut L’esquerda Cotes du Roussillon Villages L’Esquerde 2018 ($30). We love this Michel Chapoutier blend of syrah, grenache and carignan from southern France. Full body with a floral bouquet and lots of rich blackberry flavors.
Clos Fantine Faugeres “Cuvee Tradition” Rouge 2017 ($25). Carignan, grenache, syrah, mouvedre and cinsault combine to create a wine with a lot of garrique personality. Earthy with blackberry, cherry and plum notes and a bit of smokiness.