Ever since Romain Ott has been the winemaker at Château Léoube, a property that is adjacent to his family’s estate, he has been pushing the envelope of the premium rosé category. At an exclusive lunch in the just-reopened Langan’s Brasserie Ott talks to Victor Smart about the new wines and pairs them with a variety of interesting dishes, including veal chop with the super-premium, late-bottled Léoube Rosé Singulier that is £199 a magnum, is far darker, and should be served fresh but not cold.
“For me, this is the new frontier of premium rosé, a wine which, though not cheap, is beginning to be capable of going head to head with some serious reds and whites,” writes Smart.
“The first sensation of tasting a rosé must be, mmmm…” That’s the view of Romain Ott, whose family estate in Provence, Domaines Ott, has done so much to elevate rosé as a category. Ott, lean and perfectionist, is hosting our lunch at Langan’s Brasserie recently reopened restaurant in Mayfair to preview the new 2021 vintage of Château Léoube and a rather special 2020 vintage.
The biodynamic château, which neighbours the Ott family’s estate on Cape Bénat not so far from St Tropez, scored a coup twenty years ago by persuading Romain to become its winemaker. It now produces reds, whites, rosés, sparkings and top-notch olive oil. It has acidic soils (a mix of schist, clay and colluvium) and enjoys huge amounts of sunshine.
The ascent of rosé into a category of discernment is, of course, relatively recent, though one suspects France has probably been quietly imbibing excellent rosés without ever exporting them. The entry level offering is Rosé de Léoube 2021 (13% abv) and will retail at £16.99. We know with rosés, that a lot of people choose with their eyes. And the first thing you notice is the colour. There is that wonderful salmon-pink paleness evoking lazy days in the Provençal sunshine which is emphatically demanded by most customers.
For Romain it is an article of faith that rosé is all about delicacy. His contention is that it can be harder to make an excellent rosé than a white or red because any flaws are more exposed, they are less likely to be excused as part of the wine’s character.
So how does the 2021 fare? Served with our amuse-bouche, this is a blend of Grenache and Cinsault with a touch of Syrah and Mourvèdre. It displays the sort of marked salinity, aromatic balance and above all freshness that are the hallmarks of a top premium rosé.
Next up with beef tartare and leek vinaigrette mimosa, we move on to the Secret de Léoube Rosé 2021 (13% abv). A mix of Grenache, Cinsault, and an extra dose of Cabernet Sauvignon from the winery’s oldest vines, this will sell for between £30 and £35 a bottle, taking us into realm of some of the best-crafted rosés out there. Here there is some white fruit and excellent salinity and aromatic balance. But what’s notable is that it’s more precise and has real complexity. It has that “mmmm…” quality while also appealing to the discerning inner imbiber.
For me, this is the new frontier of premium rosé, a wine which, though not cheap, is beginning to be capable of going head to head with some serious reds and whites.
Romain and the Ott family have helped reinvent the rosé category. Interestingly, though, Romain seems to be driven not by braggadocio but hard work and a relentless quest to improve. He’s rather modest about his achievements, seeking year by year incremental improvements. When I ask him how he plans to develop rosé further, he responds almost bashfully: “I am not a magician, I don’t know how far rosé will go.”
It’s time for our main course (with a choice of Scottish salmon, veal chop or Jerusalem artichoke risotto) and the move into the highest of high-end rosés. The Léoube Rosé Singulier (14% AVB) is a combination of Grenache, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, comes only in magnums and costs an immodest £199 a bottle. Only 800 bottles of this late-bottled rosé have been released.
But here things get interesting. First, there’s the colour. This looks a little darker in the bottle, though, of course, that may be because it’s a magnum. But this is a wine which is less fresh than the Secret but has lots more complexity and greater depth of flavour. And, although not made to be aged, it’s older being from 2020. And our host advises that it must be served warmer. Yes, not straight-from-the-fridge cold as most rosé drinkers would insist but between 8 and 10 degrees centigrade. For the purist keen to sniff out all those wonderful notes and fully understand the complexity 12 degrees might be perfect.
The transformation of the rosé category seems complete. Winemakers like Romain have shifted rosé from cheap and frivolous and cold, to something that takes a little bit of time to develop and needs to be savoured just a little warmer. He may not be a magician, but an alchemist? Certainly.