Wine is a sensory experience. It evokes all our senses; sound, sight, smell, touch and taste. I recently had the opportunity in New York City to take a journey back to Provence. It was an evening of observing, sniffing, tasting, touching, and listening. We took a deep dive into this magical region by bringing together all the elements that you find in Provence, like sweet fresh fruits, delicate flowers, flavorful spices, and succulent herbs. Pairing these components brought to the forefront all the complexities and subtleties of Provence rosés.
Provence, a charming region with gorgeous blue skies, sunny landscapes and picturesque villages, is a leader for producing premium dry rosé wines. Making rosé wines have been a specialty of Provence for generations. Visions of Provence rosés takes the imagination to rooftop celebrations, garden parties, and sunny beaches. Rosés from Provence have a signature style that is crisp, bright and dry.
Provence rosés pair beautifully with a variety of foods and can be drunk year round. Some fun summer pairings with these rosés are light salads and seafood, but they can also be enjoyed in cooler weather with Mexican, Thai or Indian cuisine. My favorite pairing is Provence rosés with Indian food. The subtle spicy components of the rosés complement the bold spicy flavors of Indian cuisine.
Like the French, drinking rosé has become a lifestyle choice for Americans. In France more rosé wines are sold than white wines. Provence rosés have found a second home in the United States. Americans consume the most amount of Provence rosés after the French. The rosés from this region have become the gold standard for winemakers around the world. This scenic region is home to France’s oldest vineyards and winemakers have been specializing in crafting dry rosés for generations. The rosés produced here are distinct and unique and represent a sense of place with its soil, climate and Mediterranean landscape. There are fields of wild lavender, thyme, and rosemary throughout the region, adding to the zesty aromas of their wines.
Provence rosés are best enjoyed when you immerse yourself and let yourself be open to experiences that unfold with all your senses. Beginning with the sound of the cork pop, to the celebratory clinking of wine glasses. Arthur Hon, Sommelier and Assistant Wine Director at Union Square Cafe guided us through this festive journey back to Provence. Arthur kicked off the evening on the rooftop by exploring our sense of touch and tastes with various fruits that are distinctive to Provence rosés, like strawberries, blackberries, lemons, and apricots. Next we observed all the beautiful delicate colors of pink in the glass, some soft and pale, others more intense and bright. Tessa Liebman was our creative and talented chef. She tasted the lineup of wines along with Arthur, and they discussed and prepared a menu to pair with the fruit, floral, herb and spice elements that are prevalent in rosés from Provence.
Summer Fruits – Study of Strawberries
First we began with fruit, focusing on strawberries as they are in season and available in abundance in Provence. Chef Tessa prepared a unique pairing, green strawberries with black pepper to go with the Provence Rosé Group “Emotion” Rosé. The green strawberries were picked early, so they were tart yet delicious. Strawberries are sour, tart and citric, so as you swirl and sip your glass of rosé, you have a similar experience.
Second we had chickpea socca topped with strawberry kimchi. The savory notes of the strawberry kimchi brought out the salinity in the Château de L’Aumérade Cru Classé “Marie-Christine” Rosé. The wine was a knockout. It was a crisp rosé with lively acidity and plenty of raspberries and strawberries on the nose and palate.
Florals – Purple Flower Pissaladière
Floral scents are prevalent throughout Provence. Lots of lavender, lilac, and lilies fields are found throughout the region. We smelled through various floral scents in miniature glass milk bottles. We sniffed through jasmine, lavender, gardenia and lilac. Getting a real sensory experience.
We then sniffed and sipped the Maîtres Vignerons de la Presqu’île de Saint-Tropez “Fleur de Mer” Rosé. Wonderful floral notes were persistent in the wine. The rosé was paired with Pissaladière, a dish which originated in Provence. The Pissaladière was topped with caramelized onion, lavender green olives, pickled watermelon rind, and lilac vinegar. The floral notes in the Pissaladière was a perfect complement to the floral aromas of the wine. Notes of lilac and lavender dominated this wine along with strawberry and citrus notes. This Fleur de Mer is very versatile, perfect as an aperitif or paired with food.
Herbs & Salinity
Provence rosé are about distinct smell and taste that are unique to the region. The next round of wines had herbal and savory components. We had a showcase of herbs in front of us. Basil, tarragon, sage and lavender were dispersed elegantly around the dining table, taking us back to Provence with our sense of smell, touch, taste and sight. Arthur mentioned that on his last trip to Provence he remembers being up early in the morning and he could smell the air which was filled with delightful notes of lavender, rosemary and thyme. It was fascinating how much the wines exuded the aromas of the region. Smelling the wines, touching the herbs, and releasing the essential oils presented a seamless marriage of the wines and the herbs that grow wildly throughout Provence. It was a unique exercise of experiencing terroir in a glass.
We had fun cutting, smashing and smelling the herbs, and then tasting our next few dishes. Next up was a fresh radish platter with various dips of grapefruit butter, tarragon butter, Provencal olive oil, and herbes de Provence salt that was paired with Château Saint-Maur “L’Excellence”Rosé.
The main course was a light Bouillabaisse prepared with fennel sea broth, sea beans, monkfish and mussels. Chef Tessa added a limestone rock, for a fun way to taste minerality and salinity in our dish. We then attempted to harvested our own herbs from the table and added it to the Bouillabaisse. Thisdeliciously light seafood Bouillabaisse was paired with Château Henri Bonnaud “Terre Promise” Rosé and Miraval “Miraval Provence” Rosé. The wines were versatile and paired eloquently with the main course and the fun addition of the limestone rock bought out the minerality in the dish as well as the wines.
By the end of the meal it was apparent that one consistent factor was present in the rosés we had through the evening, and that is spice. Notes of star anise(French call it badiane) and sandalwood were persistent in the wines. Chef Tessa prepared badiane macarons for dessert. Macarons are traditionally very sweet, but Chef Tessa’s were semi sweet so as to complement the wine. The macaron filling was made with a lightly sweetened eggplant buttercream with a badiane(star anise) shell.
Lastly Chef Tessa and her team came out of the kitchen and playfully entered the room with a smoky concoction of badiane smoke with bitter salted chocolate truffles. The aromas of star anise filled the room and engulfed our senses, enhancing the notes of badiane in the wine. The spice infused desserts were enjoyed with Estandon Vignerons “Estandon” Rosé. The very pale pink Estandon was aromatic, refreshing and light. Rosés can be hard to pair with desserts, but Chef Tessa hit it on the mark. The very lightly sweetened macaron and bitter dark chocolate helped bring out the star anise and floral notes of the Estandon. The sensory impressions of the evening left a lingering finish that was tantalizing and memorable.
The evening was an elegant and stylish journey to Provence via its fruits, florals, herbs and spices. The alluring sensory exercise made for a entertaining evening but most importantly it brought to the forefront the subtleties of Provence rosés.
Provence rosès are serious and complex wines, that can be enjoyed in a fun way and can be savored year round. So begin this summer season by stocking your fridge with Provence wines. Then with each sniff, swirl and taste be transported to this magical place.