Bordeaux is coming up rosé
Now, 5000 hectares of Bordeaux are dedicated to rosé production, around 5% of Bordeaux. Rosé production has doubled in the last 10 years, trending towards lighter wines, following the trendy Provence style. The Bordeaux versions tend to be fruit driven, a great food wine as well as a perfect aperitif.
It’s a niche production so you’re forgiven for not being familiar with it. The grapes used are the classic Bordeaux red grapes, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc and occasionally Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenère. Bordeaux Rosé can be a blend or a single varietal wine.
Bordeaux rosé can be made either from direct pressing or by the ‘saignée’ method. Direct pressing means picking grapes earlier than you would for red wines, pressing them so the wine has just a faint tinge of pink and then fermenting the juice as for a white wine, i.e., no, or very little skin contact. This gives a pale and refreshing rosé. Earlier picking ensures a higher acidity, keeping the wine fresh and the sugar lower, hence lower alcohol, most Bordeaux rosés come in at around 12-12.5% alcohol. Less ripe skins also ‘bleed’ less colour into the wine on pressing. Riper, more fragile skins release more colour. In really hot, ripe vintages it can be hard to restrain the colour of these wines, so the picking date is key.
The other option is a ‘vin de saignée’, bled, or macerated wine, where the juice is left on the skins for longer, a matter of hours depending upon the ripeness of the grape. The wine maker runs off the juice before it becomes too dark and then ferments as for a white wine, with no further skin contact. As well as more colour, these wines have more pronounced flavours, aromas and some tannin.
Clairet or claret
There is another, even smaller, production in Bordeaux called Clairet. The difference between clairet and rosé is mainly the colour. Too dark and your wine will not be allowed to bear the name Bordeaux rosé but becomes Bordeaux Clairet, it’s not a booby prize. Bordeaux Clairet has a faithful local following, it is the perfect apéro or picnic wine. There are currently only around 400 ha currently in production, so it takes some finding.
Claret, the English term for Bordeaux, is thought to originate from the word Clairet, as the English drank most of it back in the 17th century, which might account for the bad spelling or pronunciation?
Some to try
From the Entre Deux Mers
Château Lestrille in the Entre-Deux-Mers, a traditional rosé region where cooler clay and limestone soils lend themselves perfectly to rosé production. Owner winemaker, Estelle Roumage makes both a rosé and a Clairet as well as a ‘second’ rosé Le Petit Lestrille, available in 3 litre BIB (Bag in box), a perfect solution for wine on tap over the summer.
Neighbouring Courselle sisters at Chateau Thieuley, also in the Entre-Deux-Mers, produce both a rosé and a clairet as part of their range. The rosé is a 70% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot blend that undergoes a direct press under nitrogen in a specially designed press to keep oxygen at bay. Fermented in stainless steel and aged on the lees for 2 months, bottled with a very cute label that usually makes it onto my Valentine’s Day recommendations. Their clairet is a 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon blend with 30 hours of skin contact and a direct press under nitrogen. The fermentation is in stainless steel tanks and the wine is aged on its lees for 3 months in the tanks. This produces a wine with a signature bright cherry colour and the red berry aromas typical of Merlot. The property is certified Terra Vitis, a sustainable qualification designed uniquely for vineyards.
Château Bonnet Rosé has a transparent label, with a definite nod to a Provence style. It is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 38% Merlot with just 7% of Semillon, which is allowed but is unusual.
Château Bauduc is another popular rosé from the Entre-Deux-Mers. Their Château Rosé is made from equal parts of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in a ‘Provencal’ pale pink style. It is also available in a magnum, perfect for summer lunch parties and sealed with a screwcap just in case there is any left over – unlikely!
At Château Fonfroide in the south-east of the appellation, Hugues Dutheillet de Lamothe makes a 100% Cabernet Franc rosé on his 75ha sustainably farmed property with a label as vibrant as the wine.
Le Loup de La Loubière is a very pale rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, produced as a Vin de France from just 1.5 ha of sustainably grown vines. The bottle and colour are reminiscent of a Provence Rosé and easy to spot with the wolf running across the label. The property is managed by Caroline Teycheney is under conversion to organic production.
Bordeaux rosé can be made across the whole of the region.
Clos Cantenac is a 6 ha Grand Cru property of Saint-Emilion of where 1.7 hectares of the vineyard are dedicated to the production of rosé. Despite being made in Saint-Emilion, it can’t use the AOC as there is no rosé Saint-Emilion appellation. Unusually for a rosé, the 100% handpicked Merlot is fermented in 30% oak and 70% in stainless steel and is aged like a top white wine on its lees for 5 months with regular batonnage or stirring. Sustainably farmed, despite their tiny production they make two labels: L’Exuberance and Elegance. Elegance is vinified in a concrete egg, allowing continuous movement of the lees, adding structure with no risk of oxidation. The Elegance champagne style bottle with its glass stopper lives up to its name.
At Château Loudenne in the Médoc, Loudenne Le Château Rosé is handpicked from less than a hectare of young Merlot vines grown on cool clay and limestone soils, picked at the same time as the whites. Already benefiting from 2 sustainability certifications, they are under conversion to organic viticulture. A direct press protected from oxidation and a low temperature fermentation in stainless steel, keeps the freshness and aromas of these wines. A short ageing on lees gives it an elegant mouthfeel. The chateau also works with neighbouring properties to produce an organic range called ‘Les Jardins’. This blended Rosé is mainly Cabernet Franc with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon, a longer skin contact in the press produces a slightly darker, very food friendly Rosé.
Also on the left bank, Château de Cérons is at the heart of the Cérons appellation, a tiny, sweet wine enclave in the Southern Graves. Being in the Graves, alongside the sweet white Cérons, the chateau produces a dry white and red Graves under the chateau name but also a range called La Quille (skittle), local slang for bottle. In 2017 they added a Bordeaux Rosé to the range, (there is no Graves Rosé appellation) made from just half a hectare of Merlot of the HVE (High Environmental Value) certified vineyard. The juice is ‘saignée’ from tanks of red after just a couple of hours of skin contact, then cool fermented in stainless steel. Bottle presentation is so important for Rosé, and the fun cut out label of this wine perfectly shows off the pale pink wine.