Pedigrees may be less important in winemaking than they are in thoroughbred racing, but they still matter. Alexis Lichine, Sacha Lichine’s father, was instrumental in introducing wine into the mainstream of American culture. He promoted varietal labelling (without him, we might still be drinking jug wine labelled Chablis or Burgundy), and was one of the major importers of French wine into the U.S. He was also the owner of Chateau Prieuré-Lichine, a classified growth in the Bordeaux commune of Margaux.
Alexis grew up in Bordeaux, spent his summers working on the estate, and took over management of the property in 1987. He surprised the wine establishment by selling the Chateau in 1999.
“I realized there wasn’t much more I could do at Prieuré-Lichine,” he says. “In terms of quality, I couldn’t make a large difference from what was being done at the time.”
In 2006 he purchased Chateau D’Esclans in Côtes de Provence and decided to focus on making rosé. “People in Bordeaux all thought I was out of my mind,” he says cheerfully, but he had a vision of how far he could take the property with an investment of time, energy and care. He hired Patrick Léon, the recently-retired winemaker at Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. They cleaned up the vineyards, replanted most of the vines, and focused on producing rosé that could compete with the greatest wines on the planet.
His entry-level wine, Whispering Angel ($20), is made from purchased Grenache, Vermentino and Cinsaut. The nose exudes sexy whiffs of wild strawberry. In the mouth, the wine displays good acidity, crisp flavors of red cherry and raspberry, and just the faintest suggestion of tannin. Clean and bracing though it is, it embodies elegance and finesse, and pairs well with a wide range of fish and shellfish.
The estate-grown 2014 Rock Angel ($30) demonstrates just how complex rosé from the Côtes de Provence can be. Aromas of red berries mix with scents of vanilla and baking spices on the nose. The wine enters the mouth forcefully, with far more amplitude and palate weight than its pale, salmon-colored appearance would suggest. This is a wine you can drink with anything from seafood through white meats and even red meats.
“It’s very easy to make average rosé,” says Sacha, “but hard to make something special. When I started, rosé was not much of a category. My goal was to turn it into a movement.”
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is forthcoming from Black Opal Books in Spring 2016. For more information, go to amazon.com