Trish and I recently joined about 30 wine lovers for a lunch and tasting of the Chateau D’Esclans Rosés from Provence. A perfect way to kick off summer. The tasting was held at the L’Escale Restaurant at the Delamar Hotel on the Greenwich CT waterfront. An outstanding 4 course lunch was prepared to accompany the 4 Rosés made by the Chateau, allowing us to experience the differences in the blends, the vineyards and vinification techniques used in each of these wines.
Chateau D’Esclans was established 10 years ago by Sacha Lichine, of the famous Bordeaux family. You’ve probably tasted their entry-level Rosé, Whispering Angel, a widely available offering at a competitive price of about $20. The 2016 vintage was poured with a passed appetizer plate of smoked salmon on blinis with horseradish cream sauce. This Rosé is predominately Grenache and Rolle (Vermentino) but differs from the others in that it has small percentages of Cinsault, Syrah and Tibouren. The blend, the young vines (10-12 years of age) and the 100% stainless steel fermentation deliver contrasting ripe peach, red currant and bitter orange flavors. We enjoyed the wine, as it matched the strong flavors of the salmon and horseradish, but its attributes limit its versatility as a pairing partner. With its distinctive mineral edge, we think of Whispering Angel as most suitable with a strong-flavored grilled fish, like blackened catfish or black cod.
The first course was a stunner: a summer salad of watermelon, burrata and heirloom tomato, with basil, mint and strawberry dressing. This wonderfully fresh mélange was paired with the D’Esclans Rock Angel 2016 ($31). Light coral in color, this blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Rolle delivered ripe raspberry and tangerine flavors with more finesse than the Whispering Angel due to older vines (20-25 yrs) and 50% fermentation in barrel. The sweetness of the watermelon and strawberry was muted somewhat by the tomato and the burrata, allowing the Rock Angel to make a spritely contribution to the complex flavors of the pairing. Excellent together.
This second course was a risotto of English peas, lemon and asparagus, with a smoky glaze. As we have often written, it is not uncommon for the “sauce” to direct the pairing choice. This was clearly the case here as the “smoky glaze” seemed to taste of Worcestershire Sauce. The dish was enjoyable and well-executed, but the smoky flavors were too bold for the D’Esclans Les Clans 2015 ($62), our third Rosé. More delicate than Rock Angel, the Les Clans was our favorite wine of the afternoon. Like slipping into a Lexus after walking away from a Toyota Camry. Harvested from 50-55 year old vines, the grapes used in Les Clans underwent 100% barrel fermentation and 12 months of aging. A smooth yet vibrant mouthfeel was laden with raspberry, peach and a hint of orange zest. Elegant and balanced, the wine is a well-crafted work designed to pair with more delicate foods. Highly memorable.
The main course was Grilled Branzino with Fennel Puree, Wilted Spinach and Escabeche Sauce. Escabeche is a tangy, herbal sauce of Mediterranean origin. The refined flavors of this entrée matched perfectly with the ethereal D’Esclans Garrus 2015 ($88), our 4th and final pour. Like Les Clans, Garrus (“Lord”, from an ancient Provençal language) is a blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Rolle. The grapes are from 80 year old vines grown on rocky, limestone soils. The wine undergoes 100% barrel fermentation with 12 months aging in small barrels of 100% new oak. There was more mineral complexity in this wine and a touch of vanilla from the new oak; the texture was silky and the strawberry/raspberry notes seemed more expressive and precise than those found in the other wines. Pitch-perfect for this Branzino entrée. While everyone at the table loved the Garrus, we felt that the price-value ratio was too rich for us. We knowingly appreciate the expense and attention to detail in making the Garrus; nonetheless, it did not unseat the Les Clans as our favorite.
Strawberry Shortcake was the chef’s choice for dessert and it proved to be one of the best we’ve ever tasted. The perfect balance of sweet fruit, slightly moist shortcake and semi-sweet whipped cream. Unfortunately, none of the Rosés paired well with this dessert, as it called out for a sweeter wine. A superior pairing would have been a demi-sec Champagne Rosé or a sweet Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley, such as Quarts du Chaume. Notwithstanding the pairing, the delicious dessert was a fitting conclusion to a memorable wine luncheon. Both Restaurant L’Escale and Chateau L’Esclans proved to be worthy partners – producing an array of foods and Rosés that match the best that Provence has to offer.