It may surprise you to learn that rosé wine is a relative newcomer to the US wine scene. After a decade of having Gallo, Sutter Home and Lindeman’s thrust in our faces every time we do our weekly supermarket shop, it’s hard to believe that until the early 2000s rosé only accounted for 2% of the wine sold in the US. Today that figure is over 12% (and continuing to rise, albeit at a slower pace) and the vast majority of sales are concentrated at the lower, sweeter, mass-produced end of the scale. But there is another side to the rosé coin that you won’t see in your local homogenous hyper-market – super-premium rosé. Yes, that’s right, not just premium but super premium.
Creating a super-premium market
“Hold on…”, I hear you cry, “how premium can a rosé wine get?!”. How about 90 bucks worth of premium? Just like other segments of the wine world, rosé producers have decided to court the mega-rich (and perhaps the mega-stupid). Chateau d’Esclans was purchased by the Lichine family a few years ago and they set about elevating the reputation of their newly acquired Cru Classé estate. Very quickly their wines began to attract attention – they were heavily marketed to the chi-chi Côte d’Azur crowd and one product in particular, Whispering Angel, quickly became very fashionable. Then, in 2007, they launched the 2006 vintage of a wine called ‘Garrus’ and the world’s most expensive rosé was born. Before long it had garnered plenty of eulogies from the wine press and was even served to the Queen. The St Tropez crowd followed suit, as did the Russians and anyone else with more money than sense. As with many luxury products, the handsome fee (for this is the aforementioned $110 rosé) was a small price to pay for the sense of pride one feels every time an envious glance is thrown at one’s ice bucket.
Where does the money go?
Of course, when you charge the earth for something, you normally need to come up with an elaborate marketing plan to justify it.
In terms of production, you can rest assured that Garrus is made entirely from juice obtained via the ‘Pressurage Direct’ method. That is to say, free run juice that is naturally squeezed from the grapes by the pressure of them being loaded on top of each other. This juice is the smoothest, the freshest, the silkiest of all and there is very little of it produced so it will naturally cost the earth. Don’t say it too loudly, but many producers use this technique for their best wines, including Provence legend Chateau Minuty (just down the road from Esclans) for their ‘Rosé et Or’ cuvee, a sumptuous wine that sells for $35.
And then there is the oak. Garrus is aged in wooden barrels rather than steel tanks, and this naturally adds a lot of money to the production costs! Keep it to yourself, but world-class rosés from the likes of Pibarnon, Ott, Tempier and others are all made in this way, and they will set you back £30 (about 46 USD) or so.
But is it worth it?
Maybe I am being churlish. After all, if it tastes better than any other rosé then it is the best, right? And to hell with the cost – if it is the best, then it should be more expensive that the others. But that’s just it – I’m not so sure it is the best. To my taste it is too oaky and alcoholic, lacking the freshness and delicacy that makes Provencal rosé such a rewarding drink. The problem with super-premium is that winemakers need to make it super-charged and that just doesn’t work for my palate.
That said, there are plenty of people out there that do like it – and Domaines Ott recently announced that they will be releasing a super-premium cuvee to compete with Garrus. Maybe it’s me – maybe I’ve more sense than money, but then on a wine buyer’s salary that wouldn’t be difficult……
Mark Andrew has worked in the industry with wine merchants for the past 5 years and has a particular interest in French wine. When he’s not online or at a tasting he enjoys football and wandering the vineyards of his beloved Burgundy.