Whispering Angel: The best and worst alternatives to the rosé that is flying off the shelves this summer

If you have been paying attention to your “socials”, you will have seen endless articles about which wine to drink if you can’t afford Whispering Angel. This pale, delicate wine has become an icon of the rosé shelves and, while I love a bargain as much as everyone else, I wondered whether it was possible to spend less for the same flavours. So how did Whispering Angel get its reputation?

In 2008, long before Provence rosé became the ‘go to’ pink wine of the summer, I visited Ch d’Esclans, the home of Whispering Angel, in the beautiful Vallée des Esclans, just a short drive north of St Tropez. The property, with a massive château, 74 hectares of run-down vineyard and 200 hectares of parkland and forest had just been bought by Sacha Lichine. A few years earlier, the French-born, American-raised Sacha had inherited Ch. Prieuré-Lichine from his father Alexis, an American wine merchant who had swept into Bordeaux in 1951, challenging the quiet order of the Bordeaux establishment. He actually opened his château to visitors which did not go down well with the neighbours.

Sacha decided to sell the Bordeaux château and move to Provence. After searching the region, he bought Ch. d’Esclans and started a renovation project with grand ideas of what this property was going to be. Frankly, I thought he had bought a money pit. In 2008 no-one drank Provence rosé. Rosé wine was a halfway house between red and white, sometimes sweet, sometimes dry and the colours varied from light red to faded orange and sometimes bright pink. I thought that the saving grace of this property was St. Tropez just down the road where there are a huge number of millionaires who like to wine on their yachts. How wrong I was!

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With one of Bordeaux’s finest winemakers on board, and the name Whispering Angel, derived from a sculpture of two cupids in the chapel at the estate, plus investment to replant most of the vineyard and create one of the best cellars in the region, the wine was launched.

Ch d’Esclans – neatly restored and making terrific wines. Photo: HERVE FABRE PHOTOGRAPHYCh d’Esclans – neatly restored and making terrific wines. Photo: HERVE FABRE PHOTOGRAPHY
Ch d’Esclans – neatly restored and making terrific wines. Photo: HERVE FABRE PHOTOGRAPHY

And the rest is history. In just a few years Whispering Angel has worked its way into all the smart events around the world. Soon the massive might of LVMH, the company that owns classy champagne and fashion brands took an interest and created a business partnership. Now the world cannot get enough of this pale, delicate, textured, refreshing red-fruit and peachy wine, that happily settles around any sunshine lunch, but is equally enjoyable sipped on your patio or even your yacht.

But it isn’t cheap. Most retailers manage to get it under £20 a bottle. Currently Majestic has it at £17.99 on a mix six deal while Roberts and Speight have it at £18.99 – or just £17.09 if you buy by the dozen.

So that is why there is a lot of interest in finding a match for the flavours without spending the money. I lined up a dozen rosés, all French and under £17.99 and tasted them blind against 2023 Whispering Angel. Here are the ones that got close.

Absolute match

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Rose by the pool.Rose by the pool.
Rose by the pool.

Whispering Angel Côtes de Provence Rose 2023, France, Majestic £17.99 on a mix six deal: None. Whispering Angel starts in the glass with a gentle aroma of wild strawberry and red cherry fruit, edged with a whiff of fresh lavender. The palate is rounded and balanced, starting with red fruits, a zing of pink grapefruit and a creamy finish. It is the kind of wine that can be sipped all day and into the evening – which I have done when I attended a wedding a while ago.

There were none in the line-up that matched exactly for elegance and balance.

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Screaming Devil Côtes de Provence 2023, Asda £13: If you are planning to disrupt a Whispering Angel (WA) market, then why not call it a Screaming Devil. And it is pretty good. It has all the right aromas of a good Côtes de Provence wine, with strawberry and peach notes and a palate that packs a punch with mango and citrus. There is just a slight bitter note on the finish, which you might not notice if you are drinking it with food.

La Vieille Ferme 2023, Famille Perrin, France, Morrisons £8.25 or 2 for £15: The Perrin family manage to get more quality into a bottle than most others and this shines with style. No, it isn’t the same as WA, but it has a lovely balance of light red fruits, a touch of lavender and a refreshing long finish.

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Forever Summer 2023, Mirabeau L’Atelier, Mediterranée, Morrisons £11: Just one of the excellent range of wines from Mirabeau, each one targeted to a price and a retailer. I like this for its cherry and peachy notes with a light, delicate style, and a finish that reminds me of Provence without actually coming from that region.

More work needed

Irresistible Côtes de Provence 2023, Co-op £10.50 down to £9.50 until 23 July: A lovely wine with all the right flavours and a gentle light fruity finish but lacking the intensity of WA. Even so, great value for money.

La Belle Angele 2023, Vin de France, Majestic £8.99 on a mix six deal: Pale as Provence and with a good amount of strawberry and red currant fruit, but there is an unnecessary sweet note mid-palate.

Côtes des Roses 2023, Gérard Bertrand, Languedoc, Asda £11: I am sure Gerard Bertrand is not trying to emulate WA, so this is no criticism. There is Syrah in this blend which makes the wine more robust, flavourful and able to stand up to an all-day barbecue. And it happily copes with a couple of ice-cubes in the glass without losing its character.

Not a chance

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Barton and Guestier Côtes de Provence 2021, Waitrose £23.99 for a magnum: An impressive bottle of wine, that will happily serve 12 guests around the table, but sadly the 2021 vintage means that the wine has lost the vivacity I would expect.

La Belle Rosé Vallée du Paradis 2023, Aldi £8.69: This is not a bad wine, but it definitely isn’t trying to copy WA. Fresh, bright strawberry fruit with a thread of lime freshness. It will go well with supper.

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