I think that it’s been obvious to the most visually challenged of Winefullness’ Readership that I am a massive fan of what has been coming out of Chateau d’Esclans. The consistency is amazing and even their starter wines are worth a visit and are sure to surprise.
Talking of visits I’ recently paid a visit the actual Château, nosed around and talked beautiful wines. I even saw those little Whispering Angels who gave the best-selling wine it’s name (picture to the right).
The two facts that I know about Provence is that the weather is hot, and during my visit those in the know seemed to have wheeled out the hottest sunshine they could. If the weather can take you by surprise, it's not as surprising as the wines that are produced by Château d’Esclans. I feel that it’s approach to the art of making great Rosé took this wine from insipid fruit bombs to an almost art form the world of Rosé has never looked back.
No longer is it a wine that you simply wheel out to help pass a pleasant Sunday afternoon with friends. It’s grown up and taken the world by storm, and this should earn d'Esclans a place among the legends of wine.
I started my trip by taking in some mountainous Provence scenery on the way to the vineyard, and this included a stopover at the interesting town of Aups, where, as if to signal that I was no longer in Kansas, I saw the great actor Richard E Grant sitting having a pleasant breakfast with some friends. More people drawn to the Provence candle.
The road I took snaked it’s way through a variety of Rosé producers who are all at the top of their game, but I soon arrived at the gates where I can seen the Château that I’ve enjoyed writing about for quite a long while.
I enter the visitors centre and while waiting, I look over the various press cuttings that indicate that I’m not the only writer who has fallen in love with the wines they produce.
There are numerous formats of their wines on display and I’m giving the largest size of Garrus a look that is akin to a Dickensian pauper looking in the window of a penny bun shop while wondering if I can sneak this bottle in a bag that is obviously too small!
To try and take my mind off these tempting beauties, I see what other merchandise they are offering. Fancy a ‘Whispering Angel’ baseball cap or even a pair of ‘Château d’Esclans’ swim shorts? They’re here and ready for the purchasing, along with wine books and other assorted pieces of accoutrement. Thankfully, Tom turns up!
Now Tom Schreckinger, the Communications Director, has been my contact with the Château since I first wanted a serious word with Sacha Lichine about his incredible success, and following introductions
(which seem strange because we’ve been in touch for a number of years now) this warm-hearted and contagiously enthusiastic New Yorker guides me outside into the wall of Provencal heat and into the golf buggy that whisked us over the road, up a gravel path and right into the heart of the vineyard.
The electric anti-wild boar fence is turned off and we walk up to the beautiful Garrus vines that stand like proud soldiers in the sunshine. Talk is about the various varietals, ages of vines and the view down to the bay of Frejus as we sit and take in the grandeur that Château d'Esclans exudes. I take photographs and find that the only problem is lifting the camera because everywhere is a picture worth taking.
We get on to the subject of the recent purchase of land by the Château (which I imagine is needed to keep up with demand) and talk about the investment from LVMH and how they seem to share a joint vision for the future of this great Chateau. Tom tells me that things have worked out better than they expected and that LVMH know better than to shake things up when they are best left well alone.
After enough time has passed to let the beauty wash over me and the memories become firmly implanted, we get back inside the gold buggy and gently bob along the dirt path back to the heart of a production that has made their wines stand out. I'm shown an electric sorting machine that hounds out those little berries who just don't cut the mustard, and I actually see individual barrels that are wrapped in piping that controls their temperature and helps to give the wine it's unique flavour profile.
Finally, we go into the actual Château where I’m lucky enough to see mementoes of the Lichine family at ease and play (Sacha's humour is evident all around). There is a picture with the dog's head, various pieces of wine memorabilia that are a homage to the greatness of his father (whose spirit of Bordelaisian adventure should not be overlooked). The furniture in the rooms I visit is classic French Empire, and I wonder if a spot of ultra-modernity might be hiding away somewhere (I notice a small private relaxing spot so could it be there, but I'm not telling as we all need a touch of privacy).
Then it's homage time as we enter the chapel and those two cheeky angels that gave their name to that most famous of wines whisper and gently chide us for not having a glass at hand. This is soon remedied at Tom leads me onwards.
We enter a wonderful room that reminds me of a cross between a Roman and a Victorian bath, and on a beautiful slab of marble bottles rest proudly daring you to argue with their place in history as a collection of reviews support their claim. In each corner is a large font, and I wonder if I'm here for a Christening until Tom flicks a switch, lights gently turn on and I'm informed that these beautifully functional marble receptacles are where you dispose, what is left of your tastings. If these could talk what a tale they could tell!
The wines are as good as always and this is helped by being tasted in situ, and as I say hello to 'The Pale', 'The Beach' (used to be 'The Palm') 'Whispering Angel', 'Rock Angel' and 'Chateau d’Esclans' it feels more like a reunion with various welcome friends than a wine tasting.
As I taste Tom shows me some of the tasting notes others have written about these wines and I’m humbled by the fact that right before my eyes are words I've written. Later in the tasting room, Tom showed me another piece of writing in praise of their wines and it took me a moment before I realised it was a piece that I’d written some time ago. I am more amazed that I can still find fresh words to describe the wines.
As I drove away, happy to have achieved a viticultural ambition, I am aware of a large smile on my face and an array of thoughts turning to strong memories at the day I visit Château d'Esclans
A COUPLE TO TRY
I've been tasting these wines long enough to see through any hype, but not long enough where a sliver of excitement doesn't arrive as the cork is eased from the bottle.
This is a little restrained but only because it doesn't want you to sample all the goodies in one go. So sit back (not too far back because you'll spill it) and take gentle sips while exploring the range of tastes that will come your way.
Among these will be red fruits like raspberry, cherries and strawberry snoozing on a creamy bed that is surrounded by a satisfying collection of citrus fruit and a hint of oak and vanilla.
I tried to find out what makes them so different and I'm still none the wiser, but definitely not unhappy!
6 out of 7
Rock Angel 2021
There's no mistaking that dryness that tells you that you're on the trail of a Château d'Esclans. I find that it holds the wine together and, to me, it has always been the first point of difference between it and other wines.
The nose is a wonderful dance between flavours like peach, lemon, strawberry and raspberry. All this is carried out against a backdrop of salmon and rust colouration.
These wines are deceptive because they can appear simple variations of Rosé, but taste of complexity and care.
Grab yourself a bottle. Summer's gone and you know that it makes sense.
5 out of 7