An Evening of Rosé

“Never trust a man who drinks rosé wine,” my mother-in-law was fond of saying.  “He can’t make up his mind.”

Last night, at Boulangerie Cognac, on Broadway at 55th St., hundreds of indecisive drinkers crowded the two front rooms of the restaurant to sample 26 rosés from Provence.  The wine was uniformly decent, dry and fresh, which is all one can expect, and some stood out from the pack.

First, let it be said, rosé is not a mixture of red and white wine.  The European Union toyed with this idea last year, but the French, who have made a huge investment in developing the rosé market, put an end to that.  In the US, you don’t know what’s in that pink bottle, but when the wine comes from any of the six main Provençal appellations, you can be assured it is made properly, from the clear juice of red grapes’ coming into contact with the red skins just long enough to take on a pink hue before fermentation.

The most common grapes are Southern Rhone favorites Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Carignan, Northern Rhone Syrah, and that all around workhorse, Cabernet Sauvignon.  I also came across an ancient Greek varietal, Tibouren, and a white, Rolle, which the Italians call Vermentino.  So much for hard and fast rules.

Domaine de Fontlade poured two wines, one 50/50 Grenache and Cinsault (Saint Qvinis, $12), the other 50/50 Grenache and Syrah (Aurelia Prima, $18).  It was not difficult to pick out the spicy notes and added body of the Syrah, making the latter capable of standing up to food, while the former remained a pleasant aperitif.

Chateau de Saint Martin was also pouring two wines.  The first (Grand Reserve, $18) was all peaches in the nose.  Ordinarily, one picks up the scent of strawberries and other red fruit in a rosé, but Grand Reserve was white fruit all the way.  The second (Eternelle Favorite, $19) offered a snootful of flowers that I couldn’t quite identify.  Rose?  Peony?  Litchi?

And what of all these nicknames?  They are used to differentiate various blends, or to identify one vineyard from another one down the road owned by the same estate.  I noticed that many of the names were printed on small separate labels attached above or below the main label, probably to save on printing costs.

Most of the wines retail for under $20, although one, Chateau  D’Esclans, Les Clans, owned by Sacha Alexis Lichine, son of the famous oenophile, had a suggested retail price of $69.  With that kind of bottle budget, I can think of better wines to buy than Cotes de Provence.

Toward the end of the evening, I stumbled on an old favorite, Domaine Houchart, which, at $13, is everything a rosé should be, deep pink, strawberry nose, moderate acidity and body.  Houchart is owned by the Quiot family, who have done so much for Southern Rhone wine in the last, oh, 300 years.  The always reliable Houchart, along with the newly discovered (for me) aromatic Saint Martin, were the stars of the event.

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