Should You Drink Yacht Rosé?
There’s a musical genre from the late '70s/early '80s dubbed yacht rock: smooth, heavily-produced music made by virtuoso musicians in expensive recording studios. Think Steely Dan, Hall & Oates and the Doobie Brothers. And to drink on your yacht with such music? There can be only one candidate: Provençal rosé, the more expensive the better.
You can’t miss these wines in your local store. They come in a bewildering array of bottles resembling amphorae and bowling pins, with squared-off shoulders and some even entirely square. Then there’s the distinctive color: Provençal rosés have to be as pale as possible. It’s all a far cry from when I worked in a wine shop in the late '90s when rosé was white Zinfandel, bright red Spanish rosado or sickly sweet rosé d’Anjou. Nobody would have dreamed of spending more than $10 on a bottle.
In contrast, yacht rosés (I’m trying to coin a new genre) can sell for up $100 for the Chateau d’Esclans Garrus. It sounds outrageous but this is a drop in the ocean for the producer's target market. Sacha Lichine, from the Bordeaux family that owns Esclans, was quoted recently: “I knew we had arrived when I got a call from a top yacht-builder wanting the dimensions of our three-liter double-magnums ... He wanted to make sure he built a fridge on a yacht that was big enough.”
Esclans is best known for its more prosaic Whispering Angel brand (around $20 a bottle). Other names to look out for include Minuty, Domaine Ott, Chateau Gassier, MiP (made in Provence) and Miraval. The owners of Miraval, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, are to rosé what Jay Z is to Champagne. Indeed, yacht rosé shares some similarities with Champagne; they both sell on image as much as content. The crucial difference is if you spent $100 on a bottle of Champagne, vintage Pol Roger for example, you’re going to get a lot of flavor compared with a $40 bottle. Expensive champagne tastes expensive, but rosé’s pleasures are more ethereal.
“The art of crafting great rosé is the art of understatement," says British wine writer Andrew Jefford, who lives in the south of France. "The more forceful a rosé is, the less good it is. A blockbuster red can be great; a blockbuster rosé would be a comprehensive failure. The reason being that sippability, drinkability is even more important for rosé than for most wines.”
These delicate wines are made by lightly pressing red grapes, mainly Cinsault and Grenache, so that just a little color seeps into the wine from the skins. Sometimes this is done so subtly that the wine is almost indistinguishable from a white wine. The rosé paradox is that the most expensive wines are often the least intense. With a little reflection and enough money in your pocket, you might notice flavors of strawberries, peaches, herbs and sometimes a faint nuttiness.
These are not expensive wines to make. And unlike Champagne, which needs to be matured, rosé can be sold the summer after the vintage. Rosé is catnip to accountants.
The 2016s are just about to arrive in shops, but the better quality rosés are usually at their best in the autumn, just as the sun is beginning to disappear. Those ethereal flavors take a little time to come out. The very best rosés from the fishing port of Bandol can age for ten years or more.
Bandol apart, though, rosé is essentially background music. You’d never have a conversation about a rosé like you might a Santa Barbara Syrah or a good Burgundy. But whether you own a yacht or even a pair of white trousers, when you’ve just been paid, the sun’s out and I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) comes on the stereo, nothing tastes better.
5 Yacht Rosés That Are Worth Drinking
2015 Chateau d’Esclans Les Clans ($80)
My favourite of Esclans wines. It’s floral with delicate red fruit and a creamy texture from some very discrete oak aging. If you even notice that price, you can’t afford it.
2015 Williams Chase Rosé ($21)
Made by an English producer in Provence. It looks and tastes the part from the stylish bottle to the subtle but persistent fruit and, best of all, it’s not that expensive.
2015 Le Secret de Chateau Leoube ($32)
Made by one of the cult names in rosé, this is textbook stuff: gentle orange and peachy fruit with a distant scent of wild herbs, as if you’re smelling Provence from your boat.
2015 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé ($55)
A rosé worth talking about. The 2015 was one of the finest I’ve drunk with spectacular depth of flavour, gorgeous fruit and balance, and a long finish.
2015 Rouviere Bandol Rosé ($20)
Some of the magic of the Tempier but at an everyday price. Quite full-bodied with rosemary notes and a little almond-like nuttiness on the finish. It offers power with finesse.