So you think you know what Provencal rosé is all about? At the pale end of pale pink, ripe fruit with (you hope) some fresh acidity and a dry aftertaste? There will be a wide price range but a reassuring homogeneity, especially when chilled to within an inch of its roseate existence.
Every summer now there seems to be a mad scramble to think pink, especially Provence. Hence an obligatory tasting of 300 in the current issue of Decanter magazine. Verdict of their rosé expert, Elizabeth Gabay MW: “Quality was consistently high, with some squeaky clean wines at all price points. The downside was an almost unending monotony of style.”
In the resultant Top 30 recommendations the rosé at No.5 (with 93 points) stands out as a ruddy maverick interloper among the pale brigade.
She describes Château Gasqui, Silice, Côtes de Provence Rosé 2019 as: “Pale red copper. Perfumed, almost grapey, red fruit aromas. On the palate a beautiful explosion of ripe red fruit, creamy apple compote, a touch of orange peel, marmalade, crushed citrus and some pretty leafy acidity. Quirkily different, intensely fruity and fresh. A gorgeous wine from a biodynamic producer, who is not afraid of ripe fruit and who makes wines which age with ease.”
What did also surprise was the UK supplier, https://www.owtleeds.comOWT of Leeds. Weren’t they the outfit that set up in the city’s Kirkgate Market with a menu generated from what was freshest on the stalls daily? ‘Owt!’ being the answer to what was available. It was a natural extension of co-owner James’s time as a volunteer chef at Real Junk Food Project flagship Armley Junk-tion.
How does all this link to Southern France’s fields of lavender, sunflowers and vines? Bear with me for a paragraph. Well, OWT has now decamped from the Kirkgate to a cafe unit in the nearby Corn Exchange, Grade 1 listed, domed Victorian gem. The casual but precise food offering remains much the same – from breakfast to late afternoon but with a more expansive Thursday evening menu that wasn’t possible under market hours.
Oh and on the left as you go in among some chic OWT merchandise you’ll find a trio of exclusive Provencal wines from the family vineyard of James’s partner, Esther. Her surname, Miglio, is a clue to an Italian bloodline way back, but she is the very French daughter of Francois, winemaker for 30 years at Château Gasqui.
She’s proud of the Gasqui wines and so she should be. After hopping on a train to Leeds I can confirm what a complex belter the ‘Silice’ rosé is, like the Roche d’ Enfer! red, dominated by the Grenache grape. Yet just as striking was Esther’s favourite, the Roche d’ Enfer! white from 2013. The ageing has obviously benefited the Semillon that forms part of the cepage with Rolle and Clairette. What struck was a hint of jasmine on the nose, a waxy mouthfeel and spice notes among the honeyed peachy fruit.
All three wines are available by the glass at £5, £25 the bottle (which is also the takeaway price). Not cheap but worth it for the purity of fruit extracted by Francois, driving force behind Gasqui being one of only two biodynamic producers in the region. Pictures of the vineyards radiate healthy, blossomig terroir. The brand-heavy fleshpots of Saint-Tropez and the Med Coast may be only 40km to the east but this is a world away, a sustainable enterprise, the antithesis of vinous bling.
OWT’s food is a perfect complement to the wines. I lunched mid-afternoon off a small menu offering a choice of summer tartelette, aioli with prawns, ‘pepper patchwork’ or panzanella. I went for(and didn’t regret) the £10 steak plate that consisted of a 7oz Yorkshire rump steak, properly rare as requested, plus a herb salad and salsa verde. Fries had run out for the day (it was 3.30pm), so I ordered a side of OWT pickles at £3.50. Carrot, cucumber, ginger and red onion, all fresh and tangy as Esther recounted how after a history course at Marseille University she decided to check out Manchester and fell in love with it gigs and bars. There she met James and he persuaded her a future together lay in his native Yorkshire. God’s Own Country got the best of the deal, you feel, when you taste the wines she has brought with her.
OWT, Unit C12A&B Leeds Corn Exchange, Call Lane, Leeds LS1 7BR. 0113. 247 0706.
A swift guide to biodynamic winemaking and how it benefits Gasqui
Biodynamics is often referred to as ‘super-charged organic’. Its roots are in the theories of the Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Rather than simply reducing chemical inputs, biodynamic production is a proactive attempt to bring life to the soil with the use of natural composts and organic preparations.
It’s more than just an agricultural system, rather an altered world view that then impacts on the practice of agriculture. Winemakers drawn to this philosophy tend to be creative, spiritual types, deeply connected to their land and always experimenting to see what works best. Which seems to sum up Francois Miglio’s approach.
Gasqui holds Demeter biodynamic certification after the Château’s owner was persuaded to go down this radical route, which forbids chemical fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. Instead insect life and spiders are encouraged to control pests; manure encourages organic growth. After hand-harvesting the grapes the wine is produced in a gravity-fed cellar without winemaking additives. Ambient yeasts are used, with no or scant sulfites and no fining.
More controversially all significant vineyard activities – soil preparation, planting, pruning, harvesting – are done in accordance with the influence on earth by the moon, stars and planets. Finally, the aspect that can spark scepticism – the use of nine preparations 500-508 (a bit like homeopathy), using plants such as nettles, dandelion and chamomile, to be applied in powdered form or as sprays. Most divisive is Preparation 500’, where cow horns are filled with cow manure and buried in October to stay in the ground throughout the dormant season. The horn is later unearthed, diluted with water and sprayed onto the soil.
In a magazine interview Francois said of the Steiner strictures: “It is important to understand that 50 percent is symbolic and 50 percent is real… it all helps focus.”
All of which reminds me of a memorable trip to Ted Lemon’s Littorai winery in Sonoma, California. In Ted’s absence his young deputy confessed to not being a total convert to biodynamics (the perfection of the Pinot Noir was proof enough for us). And yet, as he put it, “It sure does make you pay attention.”
We loved the copper hue of Château Gasqui but if rosé has to be pale pink for you?
Much has been made of a celebrity influx of Provencal rosé providers, led by Brad and Angelina, whose Château Miraval is made by the Famille Perrin, Chateauneuf du Pape royalty at Chateau Beaucastel. Majestic have it at £19.99 bottle, £14.99 in a mixed six case.
My Provencal pink alternative from a celebrity duo would be Domaine de Triennes, a joint venture by Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, and Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac in Burgundy. It’s a serious well structured wine without sacrificing all the joyous fruit (£13.95 from Vin Cognito. A simpler favourite would be Coeur De Cardeline Rosé, better value at £8 than its Co-op stablemate, Brangelina’s ‘Studio de Miraval’ (£12).