France’s Pays d’Oc has long been the go-to region for those in search of ripe, comforting reds at keen prices. But in the last 20 years the gauge has shifted: total wine production has increased, but IGP Pays d’Oc rosé has gradually eaten away at red’s share, now representing 30% of total wines produced here – with giant leaps in both quality and innovation.
Dominic Rippon selects a baker’s dozen of his favourite IGP Pays d’Oc rosés from a tasting of the excellent 2022 vintage.
It is no longer a secret that the Pays d’Oc makes delicious dry rosé. All of the ingredients are there: plentiful sunshine, a broad palette of grape varieties and 120,000 hectares of vines, stretching from the western fringe of Provence all the way to the Pyrenees – with a correspondingly vast array of different terroirs.
Since the creation of IGP Pays d’Oc in 1987, rosé has exploded in volume, with an increase of 342% in the 20 years to 2021. Riding the wave of popularity that gathered in Provence, Pays d’Oc winemakers quickly mastered the art of making delicate, fresh rosés, recently surpassing its neighbour to the east to become France’s leading producer of rosé.
Despite IGP Pays d’Oc’s preferred vocation for making varietal wines, many of its best rosés are traditional Mediterranean Grenache-Syrah-Cinsault blends, and there’s a good reason for that: the formula works. Grenache gives body, flesh and juicy fruit flavours to the wine, Syrah adds structure and spice, while the thin-skinned Cinsault is prized for its pale juice and subtle, fruity aromas.
But this being Pays d’Oc, varietal is still king and the possibilities are seemingly endless. Grenache Noir is by far the most important grape, responsible for more than a quarter of all IGP Pays d’Oc rosé, followed by the inevitable Cinsault and Syrah, but beyond that winemakers have a blank canvas and a full palette of 27 different grapes to choose from. In this tasting alone, Grenache Noir, Syrah and Cinsault were well represented, joined by varietal Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Grenache Gris, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Caladoc (a 1950s crossing of Grenache Noir with Malbec) rosés.
Many of these rosés follow the fashionable southern French formula of pale and delicate (if it ain’t broke…), but I detect a groundswell of ambitious IGP Pays d’Oc producers who are increasingly daring to be different, experimenting with the kinds of fuller-blooded, food-friendly rosés that they enjoy drinking themselves – and that sommeliers (in France, at least) are increasingly demanding.
As the rosé category matures, IGP Pays d’Oc is well-placed to lead new trends in pink production, with its many varietals and a range of styles diverse enough to appeal to those looking for something a little different without breaking the bank.
A baker’s dozen of IGP Pays d’Oc rosés from the 2022 vintage
Alma Cersius, “Miss Alma” 2022, 12.5%
The Alma Cercius cooperative cellar includes 1200 hectares of pebble-strewn clay-limestone soils near Béziers, making a stellar range of IGP Pays d’Oc wines. Early-harvested Cinsault and Grenache grapes are pressed directly, giving a bright rose-coloured wine. Two months ageing on fine lees gives the wine intense aromas of flowers and crunchy red berry fruits, melon and pear. Delicate, ripe flavours, stone fruits with a nice citrus bite and good weight on the finish. A perfect foil for barbecued marinaded chicken. RRP €6 at cellar door. Looking for UK distribution
Domaine Canet, “Syrah Rosé” 2022, 12.5%
This salmon pink rosé comes from the vineyards of Château Canet, in the west of the Minervois zone, not far from Carcassonne. A mix of Mediterranean and Atlantic influences brings the warmth needed for ripeness and cool winds for freshness. Young Syrah vines give a wine with intense strawberry and raspberry aromas, with a little lime and a touch of spice. Full, candied flavours and a little fatness counterbalance a pleasant hint of astringency on a decent finish. Serve with squid or razor clams à la plancha. RRP €7 at cellar door. Looking for UK distribution
Calmel & Joseph, “Villa Blanche Grenache Rosé” 2022, 12.5%
An alluring blend of 40% Grenache Gris and 60% Grenache Noir from the Calmel & Joseph boutique négociant house in the Corbières hills near Carcassonne. Meticulously harvested grapes were picked in two stages: one in early August, to retain maximum freshness, and another a few weeks later, to add riper flavours. Off-gris in colour, aromas are refreshingly mineral at first, opening into white flowers, apple and papaya. Peach and pineapple on the palate; delicately juicy with impressive amplitude on the finish. A great aperitif or accompaniment for Mediterranean hors d’oeuvres. RRP €9 at cellar door. Imported by Daniel Lambert Ltd: RRP £9.50
Domaines Paul Mas, “Le Rosé Bio par Paul Mas” 2022, 12.5%, Organic wine
A new organic blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault from the Paul Mas winemaking stable. With a pale salmon hue, it boasts scents of passion fruit and redcurrants; great freshness and purity. The wine glides across the palate, with stone fruit and red berries. A cool, dry rosé, for seafood salads. RRP €8,50 at cellar door. Imported by Vintage Roots: RRP £13
Domaine des Lauriers, “ Paredaux” 2022, 12.8%
From an estate near the Étang de Thau, well-known for its excellent Picpoul de Pinets, this IGPPays d’Oc rosé is a delicate blend of 60% Cinsault with 40% Syrah. Bright salmon pink, it offers scents of ripe strawberry and currant, more restrained on the nose than it is on the palate, where it explodes into intense berry flavours, with a fat middle and good length – and a faint astringent bite for added interest. Try with pizzas topped with shellfish. RRP €6 at cellar door. Imported by Nethergatewines.com: RRP £8
Domaine Les Yeuses, “Ô d’Yeuses” 2022, 13.5%
This pale peach-tinted rosé is made from the free-run juice of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault grapes. It is the range-topping rosé from Domaine Les Yeuses: a 70-hectare estate with vineyards that descend through garrigue almost down to the Mediterranean, near Mėze. Its aromas are a wonderful blend of sweet and savoury; peach mixed with ripe lemon and sponge cake. Rich but direct on the palate, with mealy, spicy hints. An extremely versatile food partner, which will pair as easily with Tex Mex as it will with Mediterranean fish soups. RRP €11 at cellar door. Looking for UK distribution
Domaine Les Yeuses, “Délicieuse” (Grenache Noir) 2022, 13%
Dazzlingly shades of bright onion-skin with flashes of orange introduce this varietal Grenache rosé, which spends 10 hours on its skins before pressing. It reveals delicate earthiness on the nose, a little spice, which combines with redcurrants and nectarine. More reticent on the palate than its big brother “Ô d’Yeuses”, it retains the distinctive combination of minerality and roundness that is a hallmark of the estate’s wines. A good foil for tagliatelles à la carbonara. RRP €9 at cellar door. Looking for UK distribution
Domaine Girard, “Garriguette” (Cabernet Franc) 2022, 14%
And now for something completely different… Domaine Girard, located at the westernmost tip of Languedoc within the Malepère growing area, is well respected locally for its Pays d’Oc takes on Burgundian varietals. The creation of this idiosyncratic rosé, made entirely from Cab Franc (at no less than 14% abv), is proof of the estate’s self-confidence and its spirit of adventure. Grapes are from a parcel of vines that benefits not only from cooling Atlantic winds, but also from an altitude of up to 450 metres. Juice is run off after a brief cold maceration, giving a pale rose colour with amber glints. Initially shy, the nose is subtle and leafy, with an assortment of berry fruits and fresh almonds. Powerful and reassuringly angular on the palate, this is a true food rosé – made for cold meats, light stews and strong cheeses. RRP €7 at cellar door. Imported by Yapp Brothers: RRP £10
Vignerons Créateurs, “Domaine Taliani” 2022, 13%, Organic wine
A fantastic value organic Grenache-Syrah blend. With a bright onion skin hue, the familiar ester-derived aromas of pear drops and candied strawberries are first to leap from the glass – but there’s complexity in it too, making it hard to ignore the wine’s charm. Smooth and delicate on the palate, with a juicy middle and real finesse. No angles, with flavours that linger for longer than its price point seems to warrant. A wonderful summer apéro! RRP €4.85 at cellar door. Looking for UK distribution
Domaine de Valensac, “Entre Nous” (Grenache Noir) 2022, 13.5%
Grenache Noir grapes come from gravelly clay-limestone soils, a stone’s throw from the Med near the port of Marseillan. Night harvesting is followed by a brief 1-hour skin maceration and gentle pressing. After fermentation, the wine is aged on its lees for a few months before bottling. Beautifully intense salmon pink, with aromas of ripe lemons, kiwi, red fruits and a touch of spice. A swig reveals sweet fruits on the attack, a perfect balance between body and acidity, with a long, dry finish. This is a serious, food-friendly rosé: a match for even the most lavish seafood platters (crab, langoustines…). RRP €10 at cellar door. Looking for UK distribution
Les Vignobles Foncalieu, “Eclat du Soleil” (Malbec) 2022, 13%
The whirlwind success of the Malbec grape began in Argentina, causing an explosion in international popularity, especially in the UK market. IGP Pays d’Oc winemakers are now catching up with this trend, doing exciting things with a variety that is, after all, one of their own. Not to be caught sleeping, the dynamic Foncalieu cooperative has released this varietal rosé in a tall Picpoul-esque bottle, seemingly to ride two fashion waves at once. And the wine is as carefully made as its presentation is well-conceived. Pale onion skin with golden reflections, it exudes fresh strawberries with a hint of something darker – blackcurrant leaf perhaps. Quite floral when swirled a little, with a touch of the exotic. Full and well-focussed on the palate, with plenty of berry fruits and a firm thread of acidity. Try with escargots à la Catalane. RRP €9 at cellar door. Imported by Bibendum: RRP £9.5
Domaine de la Jasse, “Cœur de Cuvée” 2022, 13%
An interesting blend of Grenache, Caladoc, Syrah and Nielluccio (Sangiovese), this rosé has a deep apricot tint, with a nose that exudes what the French call “bonbons anglais” (boiled sweets): candied lemons and strawberries. Raspberries appear on the palate, and a zingy train of acidity carries their flavours through to an energetic finish, gathering exotic fruits along the way. Subtle, yet full of character, an ideal partner for all kinds of tapas. RRP €10.90 at cellar door. Imported by Wheeler Wine online: RRP £12.95
Domaine le Nouveau Monde, “Fandango” (Grenache) 2022, 13% , Organic wine
The vineyards at this 20-hectare organic estate in Vendres Plage stretch all the way to the Mediterranean, with vines grown on sandy soils, benefiting from cool sea breezes. Pale peach in colour, the wine’s aromas show exquisite depth: ripe lemons, apple and tangerine, sweet melon, even a little smoke. In the mouth, it’s wonderfully dry with real weight; apple and orange peel flavours and a nice bitter bite on the finish. Drink with light curries or garlic prawns. RRP €8.50 at cellar door. Looking for UK distribution
Lead image @felixkochbook
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