Nature gifted New Jersey with not one but two gloriously beautiful days the first weekend of May. Having been sheltering in place for weeks now, I was in desperate need of some vitamin D. And what wine pairs well with vitamin D? Rosé, naturally.
As Wine Spectator’s lead taster for the wines of Languedoc and Provence, I usually see a wave of pink bottles enter our tasting room this time of year. For me, blind tasting these rosés is a delicious sign that warm, sunny weather is right around the corner. Unfortunately, our office and tasting room in New York City are temporarily closed, so I haven’t had the chance to officially review many rosés from 2019, a solid but small vintage for southern France.
While 2020 is shaping up to be a challenging year for makers of French rosé, hit by both high tariffs and coronavirus shutdowns, I easily found three 2019 rosés from an online retailer: Château d’Esclans Côtes de Provence Whispering Angel, Hecht & Bannier Côtes de Provence (the “H&B” bottle) and Hampton Water Languedoc, the project from winemaker Gérard Bertrand, rock star Jon Bon Jovi and son Jesse Bongiovi. Each of these three bottlings has scored well in previous vintages, and they are widely available.
I tasted these wines, non-blind, on that glorious Sunday afternoon while sitting outside. I had some idea what to expect, knowing that spring 2019 was very cool in the south of France, but temperatures increased dramatically in June, causing stress in the vineyards due to lack of water. Crucial rainfall finally arrived in September prior to harvest, which helped save the vintage, but the prolonged drought resulted in a smaller crop.
First up was the rosé from Hecht & Bannier. Founders Gregory Hecht and François Bannier created their négociant business in 2001 and make cuvées from all over the south of France. For this wine, they source grapes—mostly Grenache with Cinsault, Syrah and Rolle—from the cooler, higher-altitude parts of upper Provence, with the goal of capturing high acidity. The wine is then aged in a combination of concrete and stainless steel tanks to preserve freshness.
The result is a delicate rosé with a crisp, refreshing acidity marked with citrus, red berry and mineral flavors, a perfect rosé to enjoy on its own but also to pair with raw seafood dishes or crunchy green salads. Of the three, this rosé had the lightest body, with a focused, linear profile. Non-blind, I would place this rosé in the “very good” range, from 87 to 89 points.
Next was Whispering Angel, the brand perhaps most responsible for America’s current love affair with Provençal rosé, thanks to Sasha Lichine’s push to make rosé worthy of respect. (Château d’Esclans is now controlled by French luxury giant LVMH.) The grapes—primarily Grenache with Cinsault, Syrah, Carignan and Rolle—are picked slightly riper to provide more intense fruit flavors and a lusher mouthfeel, then vinified in stainless steel. While aging, the wine undergoes bâtonnage twice a week for added complexity and mouthfeel. Indeed, it had a creamier texture and more weight on the palate, with tangerine, peach, melon and grapefruit flavors. It was delicious, a remarkable effort for such a large-production wine. Non-blind, I would score this 88 to 90 points.
Last up was Hampton Water, the only wine in my lineup from the Languedoc, a big region west of Provence, also along the Mediterranean. This is the third vintage for the young brand, but vintner Gérard Bertrand has been making wine for more than 30 years and has seen tremendous success with his other rosé cuvées, including Cote des Roses, Gris Blanc and his high-end rosé, Clos du Temple. The first thing I noticed with the 2019 Hampton Water was its new label, which I think is now much more streamlined and eye-catching. When I chatted with Bertrand, he told me that for 2019, which is primarily Grenache with Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvedré, “close to 20 percent of the wine was aged in oak to help develop and reinforce the length,” which is consistent with the previous vintages.
The only rosé of the three with any oak influence, this wine has a broader profile with spice and hints of richness to the floral, red berry, grapefruit and ripe melon flavors. With its structure and complexity, this consistently crowd-pleasing rosé could easily stand up to an array of seafood dishes. I would rate this 88 to 91 points, non-blind.
As the weather warms up and rosé season finds its groove, you can be assured that solid 2019 French bottlings are still available in the United States despite the current global turbulence. Until whenever time I can start officially reviewing more 2019 rosés, these tried-and-true bottlings will hold me over just fine and remind me that summertime is right around the corner.