I don’t have to buy rosé. That’s not how I’ll earn enough to buy a little stone house overlooking the Mediterranean. Nor do I have to put up with the incredulous expressions on my clients’ faces when in the shop I recommend a rosé. “What do you take me for, a hick?” their expression demands. Or “Try that one on the next sucker, mister.” Or, “Let’s move on to something more serious.”
In the course of my buying trips I run across excellent wines with a rosé color. I don’t look for them. They appear. What can Ido?
So wrote wine importer extraordinaire Kermit Lynch nearly 40 years ago (quoted in the August 2022 issue of the famously readable Kermit Lynch newsletter). Pink wine is the People’s Choice in many markets but struggles for legitimacy among some wine drinkers.
I have read that Rosé outsells white wine in French supermarkets, for example, and American wine drinkers of a certain age will remember when the best-selling imported wines were Rosés from Portugal — Mateus and Lancers.
Rosé is once again getting a lot of attention. The Rosé tide has risen relatively speaking (the wine market has been pretty chaotic in the last few years), especially after 2021’s logistics struggles delayed some imports until the very end of the summer season or even later. Ugh.
The wines are even getting the critical attention they deserve. First Elizabeth Gabay MW published her 2018 book Rosé: The Pink Wine Revolution and now she and Ben Bernheim have released Rosés of Southern France. Taken together these two books provide anyone who wants to explore the Pink Wine World with a clear and critical roadmap.
50 Shades of Pink?
Gabay and Bernheim’s focus on Southern France in the new book is appropriate. Although Sue and I have enjoyed Pink wines from all around the world, France is the obvious reference point. France is the largest producers of Rosé wines in the world and the largest consumer of them, too, although they tend to export upscale Rosés into the global markets and import less expensive Spanish wines for ready drinking.
Southern France is general and Provence in particular is at the center of the action. Provence and its pale pink wines define the Rosé category for many consumers, although I agree with Gabay that focusing on a pale shade of pink is a waste of time. I think I remember that Tavel Rosés were popular when I first started paying attention to wine and they still have much to recommend. I like, therefore, the playful design of Gabay and Bernheim’s new book, which emphasizes the appeal of a range of hues.
The U.S. is the largest export market for Provence Rosé, accounting for more than a third of export sales. Recent NielsenIQ data reported in Wine Business Monthly places the average Rosé bottle price at $11.39, which is higher than Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, and much higher than the market average of $8.48.
American consumers might once have confused Rosé with “blush” wines like White Zinfandel (average bottle price $4.40), but that’s no longer true. Just look at the pink wall at your local wine shop or upscale supermarket and you will see what I mean.
Three Faces of Rosé
Sue and I were encouraged to probe deeper into the world of Provence Rosé when we received three editorial sample wines from Vins de Provence. The wines were sourced from the region’s three main appellations. Château L’Escarelle Rosé (in the Bordeaux-style bottle on the left) is from the AOP Côteaux Varois en Provence. The Ultimate Provence (UP) in the distinctive bottle, center, is Rosé AOP Côtes de Provence. And the attractive wine in the Burgundy-style bottle on the right is Famille Ravoire Costeval Rosé AOP Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence.
These are premium products. Based on internet sources the price points appear to range from mid-teens for the Famille Ravoire Costeval to the high twenties for the Château L’Escarelle. It is not really fair to make a single wine represent an entire appellation, but Sue and I were game. Were the wines good representatives of Provence? Were they distinctive?
We paired the Ultimate Provence Rosé AOP Côtes de Provence with sausages and grilled vegetables from our garden. The Famille Ravoire Costeval Rosé AOP Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence was paired with a Niçoise salad (grilled garden vegetables again) and the Château L’Escarelle Rosé AOP Côteaux Varois en Provence was terrific paired with a salad of fresh Dungeness crab and ripe garden tomatoes. Very different wine-food combinations.
Three Faces of Provence
We enjoyed all three wines — they represented Provence very well. They were very different from each other, however, as you would expect, so Provence isn’t a simple thing. The terroirs were different, of course, but so were the wine grape blends. Grenache led the list of grapes for one wine, and combinations of Syrah, Cinsault, and Grenache in the others. The Ultimate Provence, which was probably our favorite wine for its fruit and bright acidity, even included a bit of Rolle (aka Vermentino)!
Bottom line. Wine is pretty in pink. There is much to like if you just want to sit back and enjoy, but also a lot to learn if you take the exploration of regions, grape varieties, styles, etc. seriously. No wonder the Provence Pink tide is rising.