Château Salettes : elegant Bandol and surprising IGP wines

The French Provence is the world’s hotspot for rosé, and yet, its most interesting proponent is not very well known beyond wine illuminati. Situated about 50km east of Marseilles, the AOC Bandol produces rosé that has little to do with the rest of the Provence rosé, and that may very well be the reason of its place in the shadow. The first difference you will notice is the darker, salmon colored hue of the wine, that stands in stark contrast to those very pale rosés that have become the standard for many people. But more importantly, Bandol rosé has body and intensity. “Résolument gastronomique” is the way the Bandolais describe their rosé. The use of Mourvèdre lies at the heart of this very different style. While the minimum of this variety for the production of rosé is officially only 20%, many wineries use higher percentages of Mourvèdre. Its small, thick-skinned berries are responsible for that beguiling color, but is also rich in antioxidants, which explains why Bandol rosé has great aging potential. This is even much more the case for the AOC’s reds, where Mourvèdre minimally constitutes 50% of the blend. Also here, however, the percentage is often much higher, sometimes even reaching 95%.

Situated in the hills of La Cadière d’Azur, Château Salettes is a good starting point to discover Bandol. The flagship wines are obviously the AOC Bandol wines in red, rosé and white, but the range is quite diverse with IGP Méditerranée wines under the name Verdarail, and even a few low intervention wines labeled Haut Salettes.

“The whole range is officially certified organic since 2018”, explains Cécile Assante, who welcomes visitors at the Château. As everywhere in Bandol, Rosé is also here the main product. 2021 is the latest vintage on offer, but in April there was stell some 2019 available as well. “People always want the latest vintage”, sighs Cécile. “They think that rosé needs to be drunk fast, but Bandol rosé can age beautifully!” To illlustrate her point, Cécile pours a 2014 rosé, boasting a wonderfully complex nose with dried fruit and mild herbs. The palate is quite surprising as the wine is bone dry and still nicely fresh. “You need to tell the story of this wine to the people, and prepare them that this is something entirely different.” Few people will indeed deliberately age a rosé for so long, but this 2014 is a great example of what is possible with Bandol.

The 2019 rosé is a perfect bridge between the 2014 and 2021. While the 2019 is nowhere near the dried fruit of the 2014, there is a ripeness of fruit, “sucrosité” as Cécile calls it, that signals the evolution. The 2021, finally, is obviously the freshest of the three, with attractive aromas of citrus and peach, lively acidity and a bit of salinity in the finish.

Whereas Mourvèdre constitutes 37% of the blend for the Bandol rosé, it goes up to 75% for the Bandol rouge. While that may suggest strong and tannic wines, Château Salettes makes it reds with a nice balance between volume, power and elegance. Th 2018 is even remarkably accessible already now with fine aromatics of forest fruit. Rather medium than full bodied, this is a wine that boasts attractive fruit and ripe tannins. No hurry to drink this, but certainly enjoyable already now. The 2017 has similar aromatics, but on the palate everything goes up a notch : the intensity, the volume, and the structure. While the tannins are ripe and well managed, it is clear that the 2017 will outlive the 2018 by far. And yet, it also has a refined character that sets the reds of Salettes apart from other Bandol estates that make more robust wines, such as Gros Noré or Gaussen. Even the Cayenne, the top wine of Salettes, which is made of 95% Mourvèdre, is not the beast you would expect. Quite the contrary even. It was not available to taste at the Château, but the 2013 miraculously found its way to the blind tasting table a few weeks later. And the guesses ranged from Burgundy to aged Bordeaux, again perfectly illustrating the elegant style of this winery.

A special mention needs to be made for some of the IGP wines of Château Salettes. The Verdarail rouge, for example, is a wine made of Carignan. While that grape variety only plays a supporting role, at best, in the AOC Bandol, it is the star of the Verdarail 2021. This is a very aromatic wine, with cherries, cherry pith, lively acidity, and lots of juicy, ripe fruit. This is an entry-level wine in the line-up of the estate, but let that be no reason to ignore is, as it is simply delightful when slightly chilled and the sun is out.

A final word for the equally very drinkable and yet very different Haut Salettes rouge 2020, which is very expressive, with fresh red fruit and a slightly wild touch. Although there is 60% of Mourvèdre in here, the 30% Counoise and the 10% Rolle (perhaps better known as Vermentino, a white grape variety!) make this a decidedly light, fruity and fresh charmer that is even reminiscent of some the natural Beaujolais that is made much further up north. So should you visit this Château, do not stop after the Bandols, as there is plenty to discover and enjoy here.

Chiaretto di Bardolino : 10 great summer sippers

The summer season is coming, so the Consorzio di Bardolino presented the new vintage of Chiaretto, the local rosé, as part of the Anteprima Campaign. In fact, I should say Chiaretto di Bardolino, as is it officially called now. Bardolino is perhaps most known for its light and fruity reds, very much in the style of its bigger neighbor Valpolicella. But Bardolino is also Italy’s biggest producer of rosé, with 12 million bottles of Chiaretto per year. That’s twice as much as that other known Italian rosé, the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo. Chiaretto has nothing to do with Cerasuolo, however. As the name suggests (Chiaretto comes from the Italian word chiaro = light) the color is pale pink. But it hasn’t always been like this. In fact, it’s only since 2014 that the decision was made to change the style of the rosé. Before the rosé was made with skin maceration (or “saignée”, the French word for “bleeding”), which gave a darker hue to the wine. Now the grapes are pressed with minimal skin contact, resulting in a fashionably pale pink. The reason for this is very simple : pale rosé sells better! Having said that, there still was quite a bit of variation in the color of the samples, as you can see below.

Pale rosé is nowadays inextricably linked to the Provence in France. But there where Provence rosé often has rather ripe, almost sweet fruit, Chiaretto di Bardolino tends to be crisp, fresh and bone dry. They are not the most fruit forward pinks, although there is mostly a bit of citrus fruit there. The main feature of the Chiaretto is its freshness! And that immediately explains what makes it so attractive for summer sipping. The acidity in these wines is very refreshing, which makes them great for aperitivo, or for an al fresco lunch. Chiaretto is a favorite drink of tourists around Lake Garda, and in fact the match with the fish of the lake is ideal, as it is sweet water fish, giving a rather delicate taste and structure.

The wines

I tasted 50 samples of Chiaretto, almost all 2020, with a few exceptions. In principle the main grapes are Corvina and, to a lesser extent, Rondinella. Other grapes are grapes allowed, such as Merlot, but despite the fact that some of the wines indeed had other grapes in the blend, the consistency of the taste profile was remarkable : fresh and crisp rosé. Not immensely aromatic and also no fruit bomb, Chiaretto is made to be refreshing and inviting.

In general the quality was consistently good. Below I recommend 10 wines, but I easily could have listed many more that would provide an enjoyable summer drink. The 10 wines I chose have more to offer, however, than the hallmark freshness of Chiaretto. I rewarded the wines that showed a little bit more interest, in the form of more pronounced fruit or fresh herbal aromas. I also payed attention to the balance, as the acidity in some was so pronounced that it became unenjoyable. But those were really the minority. In fact, I daresay that that the consistency of the wines is so high that you can be pretty safely buy a bottle and know what you’re going to get. This is my selection of those that had more to offer than the standard crispness and freshness :

Seiterre – El Salgar, Chiaretto di Bardolino 2020 ❤️

I have a top 5, but if I had to pick one out as my favorite, it would be this one. Very attractive rasberry color, clearly a bit darker than most others. Attractive nose of redcurrant and green, minty freshness. Really nice on the palate with that redcurrant coming back and even a hint of blackcurrant. The balance is impeccable with well integrated acidity. There is more to this Chiaretto than the usual freshness. The red fruit and the green herbs give this wine an additional element that provides more interest. I thouroughly enjoyed this wine!

Guerrieri Rizzardi – Keya, Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico 2020

There is a lovely hint of minerality in the nose with a green fresh element, inviting you to take a sip. The palate is somewhat surprising as the aromas suggest a lean and tight rosé. In fact, there’s more volume here than in most others, which makes this rosé also a good companion for dishes with more character. A bouillabaisse springs to mind. The acidity is nicely integrated and overall the balance is really good. There is something distinguished about this wine.

Vigneti Villabella – Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico 2020

The nose immediately attracts my attention, with red fruit and a bit of herbal freshness. Good balance with the green herbs giving more depth. Everything is fresh, but the acidity is mild, which makes for a very pleasant rosé.

Vitevis – Cà Vegar, Chiaretto di Bardolino 2020

Probably one of the palest pinks in the line-up. The nose is appealing with citrus and a hint of smoky minerality. This is lovely on the palate with citrus fruit against a fresh yet mild background. You will want more than just one glass of this.

Poggio delle Grazie – Chiaretto di Bardolino (organic) 2020

Subtle but attractive nose with a bit of smoky minerality. Very nice balance on the palate with the typical salivating acidity of Chiaretto, but also good volume, which makes it more than just refreshing. The mouthfeel is really pleasing. This rosé would feature nicely on a restaurant wine list to accompany mediterranean styled fish dishes.

Villa Calicantus – Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico (biodynamic) 2019

This one is a real maverick in the line-up. It performed on the same level as the others in my top five, but at the same time this wine is very different. The color is remarkable, as it has a very orange hue. The nose gives evolved aromas with dried fruit, brown apple and even a bit of honey, which, admittedly, is a bit awkward between all those fresh and crisp Chiarettos. On the palate, however, this is extremely fresh, with a nervous acidity that balances the dried fruit. There are even tannins lingering in the background. Although this is definitely a bit of an oddball rosé, I cannot help liking it, as there is real complexity here. The contrast on the palate is challenging, but rewarding. During the Anteprima presentation there were questions about this wine, but Angelo Peretti of the Consorzio left no doubt about whether this wine should be accepted as Chiaretto : “yes, of course, this is also a typical Chiaretto. It has that typical freshness, just like the other Chiarettos”. I can only agree about the freshness. But it is obvious that this is not your typical summer sipper.

And the four runners up to complete my top 10 :

Bennati – I Gadi 2020, Chiaretto di Bardolino

One of the more darker colored rosés, almost raspberry color. Attractive nose, with a hint of florality, rose hip, and rather ripe redcurrant. The attack is fresh and the acidity is nicely integrated. A juicy and well-balanced rosé.

Lenotti – Decus, Chiaretto di Bardolino 2020

Not very aromatic but rather subtle nose with an attractive hint of minerality. Very juicy and pleasant. Perfect for a hot summer evening while chattering away with friends.

Casaretti – Rosa dei Casaretti (organic), Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico 2020

Very pale, onion skin color. Fresh but not very aromatic nose. Quite elegant and balanced with a certain pine tree freshness that gives a nice touch to this wine. There’s even a subtle hint of cedar wood.

Le Morette – Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico 2020

White peach and a hint of smoky minerality. This is very refreshing and juicy. Really pleasing on the palate with well integrated acidity. A no-brainer for a summery picnic.

To conclude : A few tips on the serving temperature. It is suggested to serve Chiaretto really cold if you have it as an aperitif. I found, however, that the wines showed more interest when served a bit warmer than served straight out of the fridge. These wines are already not the most aromatic, so letting them warm up a little bit will help to bring out the aromas. And the lively acidity helps alot to keep that freshness in there, even when the wine warms up a little. So there is really no reason to be afraid that your rosé will flat.

I wrote this piece in between the showers and hail storms, which is a little odd when the topic is rosé. But hopefully the weather gods will bring change soon. And when they do, make sure that bottle is well chilled. Salute!

Zweigelt : Austrian glug glug?

In France they call glug glug wines the easy-drinking kind of wines, like a simple Beaujolais. Nothing wrong with glug glug wines. A light and refreshing red can be very nice in summer or with a simple meal. In France they also call these vins de bistrot, wines to drink in bar. In France it is very common to just have un ballon de vin, a (round-shaped) glass of wine when you’re out with friends. In many other countries the preferred drink will probably be beer, but bear in mind that in France beer costs more than wine… In Austria zweigelt is a grape that often makes this kind of easy-drinking, pleasant ànd affordable wines. In my recent exploration of Austrian wines, however, I have also come across very different styles of zweigelt, such as a very dry and tight rosé, and a very serious, must-have red. Here’s a taste of zweigelt :

Zweigelt 2015, Umathum, Burgenland

Burgenland is a region in the east of Austria that stretches all along the border with Hungary. Mostly red wine is produced there, and this zweigelt is produced by Umathum, a well-known winery from this region. This zweigelt is a very good example of the easy-drinking fruit-forward wines that this grape produces. It has a attractive smoky nose with a bit of leather and ripe cherries. The ripe fruit is the key element in this wine, no difficult tannins here, and it’s kept sufficiently fresh so it doesn’t get boring after one glass. This is einfach lekker, or simply good! Really the kind of wine that I would be happy with if I got this in a bistrot. Bought this at 12,90€.

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Zweigelt Rosé 2016, Markus Huber

As you might have read before, I am not a big enthusiast of rosé wines. I don’t mind them, but it is rare that there is actually a rosé that will stick with you for longer than the actual time in your glass. So I didn’t expect that much from this rosé. Remembering the ripeness of the Umathum Zweigelt, I expected this to be yet another sweetish rosé. No such thing with this Zweigelt Rosé, quite the contrary actually. The nose was very fresh and mineral, and actually did not have so much fruit. This perfectly could have been the nose of a very fresh white wine. The mouth feel continues in the same vein. There is a racy acidity here that makes this wine extremely tight and fresh. The acidic backbone give this wine structure and length. Absolutely no mediterranean rosé feeling here! I paired this wine with an eggplant oven dish and that was a complete mismatch… This rosé should actually be paired like a very fresh muscadet for example, so rather with a sole or a cod fillet, or sea fruit even. Very surprising!

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Zweigelt Luckenwald Reserve 2015, Nittnaus, Neusiedlersee DAC

And then the biggest surprise still had to come. I grabbed this bottle from a shop in Vienna’s airport, taking as much wine as I could in my suitcase and hand luggage, knowing that Austrian wines are not so commonly found in Belgium. It had a big sticker on it with a 93 score of Falstaff, an Austrian wine magazine. I tend to be rather prudent with medals, scores and what not, so again my expectations were not very high for this airport bottle. Was I wrong! The nose is a feast of all the black fruits you can imagine, very abundant and very chique! There is a cedar wood touch here that gives the wine a luxurious feel, while not overdoing it. From the first sip you feel that this wine is incredibly deep and long. There is a lot of everything here, and yet it is all perfectly controlled. Ripe black fruit, freshness, bold but ripe tannins. Big and structured, and elegant and balanced at the same time. There is only one word for this : impressive! I had no idea that zweigelt was capable of producing such a classy wine. And the best is yet to come : I paid 15,90€ for this at the airport. I think I urgently need to go back to Vienna!

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This wine even looks classy!

A whiter shade of red

I’ll be honest with you. I’m not much of a rosé drinker. In my opinion there are three categories of rosé : the cheap stuff that’s made to knock back on a summer day (and get extremely hammered), the rosés that are a more serious effort but do not offer added value to whites in the same price category, and then the few really interesting rosés that have something unique to offer. I consider the latter to represent about 5% of all rosés. And perhaps that’s still an optimistic guess.

Are you already tearing your hair out? Good! Normally I try to be a bit more subtle, but I thought that rosé is the kind of subject that lends itself perfectly to a few bold statements. And reactions of course! But before you start abusing your keyboard, bear with me for a minute. Continue reading “A whiter shade of red”