Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pourquoi Gris de Gris?

Corbières Rosé “Gris de Gris,” Domaine de Fontsainte 2007
During a spontaneous shopping trip earlier this season, I was struck by the appearance of Gris de Gris, something I don’t often see on the labels of French rosés, on a particular bottle from Domaine de Fontsainte. The very fact that it managed to catch my eye, I suppose, means that the label had done its job. But that very facet also led me to wonder whether Gris de Gris might not be just another vino-neologism, cooked up by creative wine makers and marketers to try to capture a new market segment, whether centric or geeky. Nonetheless, the bottle came recommended by the shop manager and recommended itself, as I’ve alluded to so often before, with the rear label of a trustworthy importer. I bought it primarily with an eye to simple enjoyment. But its label language also led me to conduct just a tad of research.

Simply Googling Gris de Gris turns up only a little to do with wine, far more about voodoo and music. Most of the wine related matches that do come up point straight back to reviews of the very wine I was researching – telling, but not all that illuminating in terms of what I was after.

The etymology of Gris de Gris is an elusive thing. Even The Oxford Companion to Winemakes only a passing reference to it, not with its own listing but rather under the heading Vin Gris:

“Vin Gris is not, happily, a grey wine but a pink wine that is usually decidedly paler than most rosé, made exactly as a white wine from dark skinned grapes, and therefore without any maceration. No rules govern the term vin gris but a wine labeled gris de gris must be made from lightly tinted grape varieties described as gris such as Cinsaut or Grenache Gris.”

In literal terms, this makes perfect sense. Just think of Blanc de Blancs Champagne, wherein white wine is made purely from white fruit in a region where most wines are made with some blend of black and white fruit. Following the same logic, it would seem perfectly sensible for rosés made purely from pink skinned fruit to be referred to as Gris de Gris. Additionally, it turns out that there’s a measurable if small tradition for use of the term in various parts of the Loire Valley as well as in some of the more obscure Vin de Pays areas situated in the sand-based vineyards around the inland lakes formed by the Rhône delta.

Does any combination of that logic or tradition apply to the wine in question?

It doesn’t appear so. The largest AOC in the Midi, Corbières is far from the Loire and, though not far from the Mediterranean, its soils are much more continental than in most of the Vin de Pays zones for Gris de Gris production. A quick check of Domaine de Fontsainte’s website also tells us that the wine’s production methods and blend contradict the “rules” mentioned in the Oxford Companion (though it’s worth mentioning that I could find no reference to such rules on the INAO website). The wine does see a brief maceration before being bled from the vat in the typical saignée method. And while its blend does include some Grenache Gris and Cinsaut, decidedly dark skinned berries like Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan also play a role in the mix. It would appear that fashion, in this case, does indeed trump tradition when it comes to the language on the bottle.

What’s in the bottle? A rosé at the pale end of the Languedoc-Roussillon color spectrum, with just a hint of copper at the rim and silver at its heart. Aromatically, there’s not much on offer. And at first sip, I found the same on the palate. Low acidity, expected from the region, was offset by a cool serving temperature. The wine remained soft through and through. Fresh, fuzzy red fruits prevailed in the mouth, avoiding the candied character that some of the region’s rosés can carry but also missing the typical aromas and flavors of garrigue, that spicy, herbaceous, underbrush character than can make Mediterranean rosés so compelling with regional foods.

As I drank more of the bottle, I did grow to enjoy it more. I could see the appeal in its delicacy of body (only 12.5%) and subtlety of fruit and texture. It would actually make for a convincing introduction to dry rosé for those that are often put off or unconvinced by its fruitier or more boldly spicy counterparts from the Rhône and Provence. I’d happily drink it again, particularly as something with the malleability to suit Tex-Mex food. But it won’t make the cut as my go-to rosé for summer. For that, I want something with livelier acidity, more captivating perfume and a more honest voice. $14. 12.5% alcohol. Nomacorc. Importer: Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, CA.

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