Pink-wine season is almost upon us. In recent years, dry rosés have become so essential to drinking al fresco that the wine is practically a synonym for summer. The craze is the wine success story of the past decade. But much of the rising tide has only elevated low-price rosés. Now many important wine houses are trying to enter the market with premium-price, luxury versions.
It was only a matter of time, really. Last year sales of expensive rosés (translation: over $20) grew 41 percent in the U.S., compared with 1 percent growth for all other wine categories.
And last May, a single bottle of a U.S.-made rosé — 1995 Sine Qua Non Queen of Hearts — sold for $42,780 in a Winebid.com auction.
OK, that was a fluke. Only 25 cases of this rare wine were made. Each Sine Qua Non bottling boasts a different name and artwork on the label, which inspires obsessive collectors to aim for a complete set. But are top-end rosés worth extra money in general, or do they just have delusions of grandeur?
It depends on what you want from rosé. Part of the appeal has always been its under-$20 chill, pour, and guzzle image.
The growing movement to take pink wine seriously is about making prestige rosés with deeper, more intense and complex flavors and the ability to age. And their high prices don’t seem so crazy when fashionable pink bubbly costs in the triple digits.
The first expensive rosé to grab attention was from superyacht haven Provence — Château d’Esclans’s Garrus, which made a splash in 2007 at $100 a bottle. Savory, herbal, super complex, and almost ethereal, it was dubbed the world’s first cult rosé. The very pale 2012 vintage, with its toasty notes of wood aging, seems more like a rich, powerful white wine with a hit of oak and isn’t as good. I prefer the château’s better-value onionskin-colored 2012 Les Clans ($65), with its suave notes of ripe red berries and citrus. A great wine that just happens to be pink, it’s well worth the price.
“I’m trying to make rosé wines grand,” says ambitious owner Sacha Lichine, who enlisted Château Mouton Rothschild’s former managing director as wine consultant. To preserve freshness, picking is done in the early morning and dry ice pellets are dropped into just-picked grapes to keep them cool. Lichine now has 60 hectares of vineyards, including parcels of 80-year-old vines, and buys additional grapes for his mass entry-level rosé, Whispering Angel ($22).
Like many Provence producers, Château Saint-Maur, six miles from Saint-Tropez, has recently added a new super-premium cuvée to its lineup. Its 2014 Clos de Capelune, which comes from a special 26-acre plot, is another worth buying. It has a dimension of flavor and elegance that is rare in a rosé. Just 125 cases of the smoky, sensual 2014 ($60) are coming to the U.S. The château’s slightly less expensive 2014 L’Excellence bottling ($45) is not that far off in quality, with lovely floral notes of citrus and peach.
Maybe the Provencal lifestyle drew English billionaire Sir Anthony and Lady Bamford to found 560-hectare estate Château Léoube: Its website’s tag line is "La Vie en Rosé." Its top cuvée, pale, delicate Le Secret de Léoube ($30), is at the low end of the luxury price range. Though it’s a pretty blend of grenache, cinsault, and cabernet sauvignon made from organic grapes, it’s not on the taste level of more expensive examples.
Luxury packaging is part of the hype. Château d’Esclans favors distinctive fat-bottomed bottles, as does Château Saint-Maur. Domaine Saint André de Figuière puts top cuvée La Confidentielle ($90 a magnum) in a bottle that echoes the shape of Krug Grande Cuvée champagne.
Considering the bling factor of their bottle, Château Miraval owners Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie could charge much more than $25 for their silky-textured rosé.
It’s hardly the best in the world, as Wine Spectator proclaimed the first vintage, 2012, but the 2014 is fresh, subtle, and balanced, though a bit simple. The big booty-style bottle has new counterfeit protections because fakes have been spotted in China.
These high-end rosés follow in the footsteps of historic Provence examples, like Domaines Ott, whose savory, polished, and elegant Clos Mireille ($50) was first made in the 1930s. Of the winery’s three cuvées, this is the one worth sampling. The much-hyped, big-personality Domaine Tempier Bandol rosé ($45) has justified its price tag ever since improvements at the winery upped its quality. Château Simone’s barrel-aged Palette rosé ($65), with its seductive texture, has been made for decades but only tiny quantities come to the U.S. It needs age to show its best.
Naturally, producers outside of Provence have also jumped into the luxury rosé business to capitalize on collective thirst. Here are some of note from other regions:
Bordeaux: Château Brown just released the second vintage of its delicious, deep pink, herb-and-red-fruit cabernet-based rosé, the best one in Bordeaux. Most of the region’s rosés are an afterthought, a byproduct of making red wines more concentrated. But Brown’s owner Jean-Christophe Mau targets certain vineyard parcels specifically for rosé and ages the wine in oak barrels. The 2013 is £30 in the U.K.
Tuscany: Legendary Brunello maker Biondi-Santi’s rare rosato ($80) is one of Italy’s greatest. Made only for the family, it will soon be available in the U.S. and U.K. The exciting, pale-pink 2010 is rich yet steely dry, with rose petal scents and the taste of cherries. For rarity and taste, the price is not too high.
California: U.S. luxury rosés are on a roll, though some, like Sine Qua Non, have a kind of ponderousness that’s the very opposite of what I want in pink wine. Each of Sine Qua Non’s is highly collectible, but I find them too high in alcohol (15 percent!) and price (up to $500!) to be drinkable.
Oregon: Maggie Harrison debuted her Antica Terra Angelicall rosé with the 2008 vintage and it’s one of the most intriguing pink wines around, made from pinot noir and distinctly mineral and spice-laden. The just-released 2013 is $90 a bottle and, happily, actually worth it.