The vagaries of the climate are what makes a vintage unique and 2021 certainly brought a host of unpredictable weather events that left their mark on last year’s Pays d’Oc rosés. The frosts of April were just one of the challenges that vignerons faced here but they have risen to the challenge to produce an incredible range of creative rosés that are more delicate and pink than usual. Elizabeth Gabay MW reports on Pays d’Oc Rosé 2021.
“The vintage has clearly shown the power of the flexibility and creativity that comes with the designation’s extensive vineyard footprint and varietal selection,” writes Gabay about Pays d’Oc Rosé 2021.
April 2021 is a month that virtually no French winegrower will forget, especially those in the South of France, unaccustomed to what the weather would throw at them over a few excruciating days. One of the worst frosts on record coincided with budburst, predictably dealing a severe blow to the early-ripening grape varieties such as Grenache and Syrah, the varietal staples of Pays d’Oc rosés.
Summer fortunately brought some respite, with its hot, dry weather restoring a measure of balance, but winemakers across the South of France agree that last year was a challenging vintage. The outcome, however, was an array of delicate, charming pink wines, breaking with a tradition of big, bold rosés.
One of the fortes of the IGP Pays d’Oc designation is that it not only spans 120,000 hectares of vineyards along a 200-kilometre stretch of Mediterranean coastline, it also allows producers to dip into a mind-boggling range of 27 grape varieties to produce rosé. This dials up the diversity and versatility of the wines by factoring in the effects of vintage variation, on top of the stamp left by soil types and winemaking techniques.
In 2021, this flexibility truly came into its own, allowing producers to really get their creative juices flowing. They were able to counter the worst effects of the adverse weather conditions and produce a huge number of successful wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. As France’s leading producer of rosé wines, Pays d’Oc came up with an astounding array of pink wines in 2021, ripe for exploration and discovery.
Grenache – the reliable choice
Amidst the designation’s jaw-dropping line-up of 2021 rosés, Grenache stands as a beacon. The IGP’s leading grape variety, it offers charming fruit and fresh acidity, the perfect combination for those al fresco occasions that are already with us.
Le Versant Edition Limitée Rosé from Les Vignobles Foncalieu is now in its third vintage. Every year, its livery is designed by a different artist – Victoria Roussel in 2021 – but it is not just a pretty face. This single varietal Grenache delivers ripe, full-bodied raspberry and blackberry fruit and creamy yet vibrantly fresh acidity. Alternatively, Délicieuse by Domaine des Yeuses has round, creamy, ripe peach fruit, with hints of candied pineapple and crunchy redcurrant fruit. It is vibrant with a fresh salinity on the finish.
Grenache and Cinsault – the usual partners
Many producers often choose to combine Grenache with Cinsault, which can lend a lick of white fruit and delicate charm to the blend. A case in point is the prettily packaged Miss Alma from Alma Cersius. Displaying a pale shell-pink colour, it continues with soft, red fruit. Juicy redcurrants, white peach and hints of apricot are followed by clean minerality on the finish. The non-vintage Lyv by winemaker Iain Munson MW of Maison Jeanjean gives the classic blend a twist by adding a touch of Syrah. Presented in a stylish bottle shaped like an uncut diamond, the pale salmon-pink wine reflects the light. Showing redcurrant fruit with sour wild berry acidity, this wine has a clean purity of wild berries, a hint of fresh leafy acidity and a lively zesty acidity.
Terres de l’Engarran Rosé by Domaine de l’Engarran has delicate ripe peach aromas and round, ripe orchard fruit of apples, pears, peaches and a hint of pineapple complemented by a long mineral freshness and an exotic finalé. Grand Prestige from Villa Noria is a blend of largely Cinsault, with some Grenache Gris and Grenache Noir. It has an attractive combination of darker fruit and blossom notes on the nose opening out to incredibly juicy and charming creamy ripe red fruit. The ripe juicy fruit is backed by almost austere, long, citrus acidity with a touch of seaside salinity.
Syrah and variations on a theme
When Syrah is added to Grenache, the result is slightly darker fruits, mineral notes and sometimes an added touch of blue flowers. The combination creates beautifully balanced red and black fruits. One example is L’Ostal Rosé byDomaine de l’Ostal, which displays crisp white peaches, juicy ripe redcurrants and lovely intense raspberry fruit, crisp acidity and a gently pippy phenolic finish. Domaine de Cibadiès Syrah Grenache owned by Domaines Bonfils shows saline red berry aromas which continue on the palate with fresh crunchy, juicy fruit, mineral freshness and good weight. It is elegant and mineral with nicely ripe fruit and a mouth-watering, fresh mouthful.
Aphrodite from Domaine de Causse shows the same elegance, blending red cherries and white peaches with a hint of blossom and blue flowers. It has a mineral structure and long vibrant acidity, lending a delicate touch to the Grenache fruitiness. Le Rosé de Balthazar from Pierrick Harang Wine offers up lovely floral notes with elegant blackberry fruit, juicy redcurrants and crunchy, crisp acidity.
Marius Rosé by Maison Chapoutier combines Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah behind its user-friendly braille label. It delivers delicate red and black cherries and blueberries, a fine mineral structure, zesty acidity and vibrant pink lemonade vibes.
Going solo with Syrah
Syrah on its own can be exuberant and joyous with violets and strawberries. This is exactly what Bouche Bée fromLe Rosé de Bessan delivers, with its long, clean and fresh flavours just crying out for summer. The nose displays intense strawberry sorbet fruit with peaches, orange zest and cream followed by a touch more strawberry fruit on the palate. It is definitely fruit-driven with mouth-filling structure and long fresh acidity. Les Vignerons de Florensac’s biodynamic Syrah Rosé Soleil has floral white peach with a touch of violets, creamy richness and vibrantly zesty grapefruit pith acidity – and possibly a touch of salinity from the nearby Etang de Thau lagoon and the Mediterranean.
Pinot Noir – cool refinement
IGP Pays d’Oc’s variety of locations – with differing elevations, aspects, weather patterns and soils – makes it a creative space for growers to explore grape varieties that may seem counterintuitive in these southern climes. Pinot noir is one such grape – grown in the cooler sites across Languedoc, it reveals lovely finesse and balance.
Domaine Ancely’s Rosé La Colère Belle has fresh leafy and peach aromas with hints of cherry blossom. Deceptively gentle floral elegance builds up to ripe white peach fruit and crisp, crunchy acidity. Domaine Ricardelle de Lautrec’s organic Pinot Noir Rosé is an elegant wine with intense mouth-watering acidity, fresh with tropical fruit exotic charm. Not a fruit-forward wine but showing lovely clean freshness with intense, zesty citrus acidity and ripe sweetness with exotic passion fruit on the finish.
The food-friendly options
By introducing some darker, more structured varieties, IGP Pays d’Oc producers bolster the range of full-bodied rosés that lend themselves perfectly to food.
Jade by Les Vignerons de Saint Dézéry is an ambitious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault complemented by the more recent Chenanson which brings fresh acidity and fresh fruit into the blend. Grown in the eastern part of the region, just west of Tavel, it has the fuller body more typical of its Rhône counterparts. A slightly darker pink tone with crushed raspberry fruit aromas leads into intense juicy black and redcurrants and cherries, chalky, fresh acidity and a firm mineral structure.
Garriguette from Domaine Girard comes from the far west, past Carcassonne, an area blessed with the dual influence of Atlantic and Mediterranean climates. This single varietal Cabernet Franc from vineyards at 350m above sea level on clay and limestone soils has all the freshness and ripeness typical of the location. Long cold maceration lasting eight to 10 hours instils the wine with its dark pink hue and opulent strawberry and raspberry fruit melded with long, fresh leafy acidity. Behind the ripe fruit there is a firm dry structure making this a serious rosé with gastronomic potential.
Eclat de soleil is a new, 100% Malbec rosé from Les Vignobles Foncalieu. Showing subtle herbal aromas, the wine opens up to elegantly ripe peach and red berry fruit, with zesty, energetic acidity. With mineral elegance and rich intensity, this wine is deceptively restrained at first, but it pays not to serve it too cold and even to decant it to allow it to open up and reveal its full complexity. L’Instant Rosé from La Grande Courtade (Famille Fabre) is an intriguing blend of Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Full-bodied with ripe raspberry and cherry fruit backed by fine minerality and sour wild berry acidity, it delivers length and elegance.
Although from a weather perspective Pays d’Oc winegrowers will not be wanting a repeat performance of 2021, the vintage has clearly shown the power of the flexibility and creativity that comes with the designation’s extensive vineyard footprint and varietal selection.