The pink of health
Provencal rosé wines are popular in southern France, where sun and sea influence cuisine that’s best enjoyed outdoors.
I MADE a pan bagnat sandwich today because I was hankering for a taste of the Mediterranean. Pan bagnat takes its name from the French word for bread – pain (pronounced parn) and the southern French or Occitan word banhat, which means wet.
Imagine a round crusty loaf filled with a host of “local” southern French ingredients – flaky tuna, juicy tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and anchovies – melded together with a generous drizzle of olive oil and some vinegar.
If you are thinking that pan bagnat is a salade nicoise sandwich (sans potatoes), you are not far off. Some versions of the sandwich will have crunchy sliced green capsicum and a dab of Dijon mustard added.
I like to personalise my pan bagnat with additional ingredients and flavours of the Mediterranean – butterhead lettuce, oregano leaves, parsley, raw sweet onion, capers and olives. The end result is a sandwich with a medley of complex tastes.
With the crunch of vegetables, the pungency of anchovies, the meatiness of tuna, the nuttiness of the oil and the aromas of herbs, it called out for a glass of rosé. I uncorked a chilled bottle of Chateau Esclans “Whispering Angel”. The colour of pale onion skin, fresh and fruity, it was the perfect wine to savour my sandwich with.
The epicurean experience brought back memories of the time when I lived in southern France. I recalled one warm summer. The cicadas were chirping as I packed a sausiccon (dry cured sausage) sandwich and a half bottle of rosé for a hike up the cool heights of the Estérel. On another occasion, it was a slice of pissaladière (local caramelised onion and anchovy pizza) and rosé for an afternoon at the hidden beach of Anse d’Argent Faux in Antibes. (Check out the pictures that people have taken on Flickr.)
For the southern French, rosé wine is the ideal accompaniment to their joie de vie lifestyle. The cuisine is influenced by the generosity of sun, land and sea – and an abundance of vegetables, fruit, seafood.
Meat, if enjoyed is usually grilled, although stews are also common. As such, for most of the year, residents enjoy meals outdoors together with their favourite wine – rosé. There is good reason.
Pink wine – neither white nor red – combines the flavours of red fruits (found in red wines) with the sleek, crisp refreshing structure of white wines. No wonder the wine can accompany red meat as well as seafood.
Southern France’s most famous region for rosé is Provence. Here, grapevines share the landscape with fields of thyme, rosemary and lavender. Up to 89% of all wines produced here are pink.
Provencal rosés are made from grapes such as Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mouvedre, Carignan and Tibouren. Some wine producers might blend two or more varieties into a cuvee. Each variety brings to the blend different characters. Grenache, for example, contributes the delightful aromas of small red berries whilst Mouvedre has spice and blackberry overtones.
A typical Provencal rosé will be vibrant with aromas of flowers and small red fruits – strawberries, raspberries and the like. It will be of medium body and have a velvety smoothness. The taste will mirror the berries first detected in the nose but there will be nuances of spices and possibly herbs. Most of all the wine will finish crisp and fresh.
Provencal rosé wines are great thirst quenchers and can be served cold as aperitifs with snacks such as panisse (fried chick pea flour sticks), or simply olives from Provence. Typical picnic baskets might be filled with cheeses, deviled egg, pizza, potato salad, fried chicken and shrimp – and what wine best accompanies these but a rosé?
At the dining table in summer, it’s also rosé wine that goes best with salade nicoise, Melon with Jambon de Bayonne (air-dried salted ham from south-west France), cold roast chicken with cous cous salad, charcuterie and cold seafood.
Brandade de morue (salted cod) and bagna cauda (raw vegetables with hot anchovy sauce) call out for the refreshing taste of more complex rosés. The wines are a little more expensive but they also go well with red meats such as braised lamb.
Come autumn in the south of France, rosé will be uncorked to accompany dishes such as bouillabaisse Marseillaise, ratatouille, roast rabbit and various gratins of aubergine or zucchini. And by spring, the typical southern French resident will be outdoors, watching over his dorade royale (gilthead bream) and beef kebabs on the BBQ with tongs in one hand and a glass of pink wine in the other.
There are three main appellations: Côtes de Provence (the largest appellation, which accounts for 75% of all wine produced), Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence and Coteaux Varois en Provence. Other good wines come from these appellations: Bandol, Bellet, Coteaux des Baux-de-Provence, Cassis and Palette. My favourite pinks come from Provence Domaine Houchart Côtes de Provence Rosé Domaines Ott; Château de Selle Côtes de Provence Rosé; Chateau Cavalier Côtes de Provence Rosé; Baron Gassier Côtes de Provence Rosé, and Chateau d’Esclans, Garrus Rosé.
Edwin Soon is a qualified oenologist and has run wine shops and worked as a winemaker in various countries. He now writes and teaches about wine around Asia.