The Wonder of Whispering Angel
By Master of Wine, Christopher Burr
I suppose the best Rosé wines in the World come from the South of France, after all they have been making them there for a couple of thousand years since the Romans started growing grapes around the Mediterranean.
But probably the best of the best comes from the Chateau d'Esclan a lovely property in the heart of Provence, up in the hills near Draguinan, just north of Frejus and Saint Tropez.
Whilst this Estate produces the World-famous Whispering Angel, thought to be the favourite wine of the fragrant Melania Trump, amongst thousands of others who love the wine, the estate also produces other extraordinary wines which are highly sought after for their quality.
Created by Sacha Lichine, more about which later, he was instrumental in making very pale Rosé fashionable, almost nearer to a fine white wine, and miles away from the darker sweeter styles that became so unfashionable.
I am reminded of Anjou Rosé and Mateus, which is still around and is ok. Mateus, slightly sparkling and pretty dry, was Princess Margaret’s favourite, and there is no doubt she became a sort of unpaid ambassador for the brand in the 1970’s and 80’s as she often asked for “that pretty pink wine in the pretty bottle“!
Whispering Angel has become the benchmark of Provençal Rosé. The pale elegance coming partly from using the gentle but full of flavour free run juice from red grape varietals like the pale juicy soft Grenache and the more robust thick skinned Cinsault, and also from blending in the white wine from Vermentino, called locally in France, Rolle.
So the wine is very elegant and light, but with lots of flavour and intensity, soft fruits and a wild herb and mineral freshness, which makes it a perfect match for most summery dishes, and also on its own.
Then comes the little sister of the legendary Whispering Angel - The Palm Rosé. A light fresh, very elegant wine with soft red berry fruit from the blend of different local grapes; Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Carignan. Made to be fresh and light, but with wonderful complexity and refreshing acidity. A very stylish wine.
The “piece de resistance” from d’Esclans is Rock Angel.
It is from the same carefully selected grape blend as Whispering Angel, but partially barrel fermented wines from low yielding very old vines, giving wonderful complexity and intensity.
By any standards a fine wine, to be compared with top class white Burgundy or Loire wines like Sancerre. This wine has the potential to age. As I said, probably as good a Rosé as you can get.
I promised to revert to the “Master” behind these wines. I have to admit to a tiny and very vague special interest in what happened to Sacha Lichine. The first job I had in the wine industry was working for his father Alexis, and living in both of his Chateaux in Margaux, Château Prieure Lichine and Château Lascombes, back in 1970.
His father was a “big” man in many ways, and young Sacha then a small boy would run about the garden making a lot of noise with the family dog - called appropriately Bacchus!
Alexis acquired these properties just after the war and built up a highly successful wine merchant (Negociant) business on the Quay de Chartrons in Bordeaux.
A Russian emigre, he had been brought up in Paris (so was fluent in French) then emigrated to the United States, returning to France in 1944 with American Special Forces.
Alexis was a toughy and took no prisoners - even in business. He later married a Hollywood film star, wrote a wonderful book about the Wines of France and also the first real Encyclopaedia of Wine.
I learned a huge amount about wine production and business from Alexis and his team then, and also had the fun job of showing visitors around the vineyards and Château.
One day I had been swimming after work, and before changing for dinner sat at the piano in the drawing room of the Prieure to play some Rogers and Hammerstein songs for my own amusement. Unexpectedly, Alexis and a party of his American film star friends arrived, and on seeing me sitting behind the keyboard, introduced me to his friends as “our strange English student, who loves to play the piano in the nude for my guests!” Aged 20, I immediately went scarlet with embarrassment and continued with “June is busting out all over” from Carousel.
I am delighted to see how successful Sacha has been, he clearly has the creativity and passion for wine of his father. He also now begins to look uncannily like Alexis as well.
Bravo Sacha for making Rosé so wonderful and fashionable again.
Updated 25th May 2021