You would have to be a tea-teetotaller not to have noticed the explosion in popularity of rosé wines in recent years, they are everywhere. Exports of Provence rosés, the main production area in France, to their largest customer, the USA, have increased 10 fold in just over 7 years. As soon as the sun stars to shine, it seems that only a glass of the pink stuff fits the mood.
Rosé is the favourite summer drink of Provence
It wasn’t always this way. For many years outside of France, the fact that French rosés had a long tradition of excellence and were well worth exploring seemed to have missed most people. Rosé in France is popular with everyone, including the serious winemakers of great red wine in Provence.
“Do you mix red and white wine together to make rose?” I’ve been asked. Sacre bleu! No! At least not here in France where the practice is strictly illegal. It is associated with only the cheapest inferior rosés. Strangely the only appellation that does permit such a practice is Champagne. A proportion of wines are made by blending finished white Champagne with 15% still red wine from Pinot Noir grapes. But the principal method is time honoured and arguably leads to a much finer end product. Red grapes are lightly crushed and held in contact with the skins for just sufficient time to obtain the pink colouring. Thereafter it is made as if a white wine – this is called the “direct press” method.
Far and away the style of rosé that is driving all the growth is the light refreshing pale salmon coloured Provence rosé style. The big brands in the US are Whispering Angel and the Brad and Angelina owned Miraval. These are delicious wines that I call perfect “deck chair” rosés, light, refreshing and fun.
A rosé for true fans
But for the true rosé fan there is an altogether difference experience available – the Tavel wines from the Rhone valley. Tavel rosé, located on the right bank of the Rhone near the city of Avignon, is the granddaddy of French rosé. It’s the first appellation dedicated to the colour, and the only one that exists today purely for rosé. The style is rich, full bodied, strong in alcohol for a rosé, sometimes even 15.0% as per a big red. It has a darker pink colour that verges on the amber – achieved with a longer skin contact time. The palate is packed full of red summer fruits , think summer pudding, but in a glass.
This is what the French call a “gourmand” wine. They mean a wine for the table (not the deck chair!). It works brilliantly with spicy foods, tagines, couscous or even a curry.
La vie en rosé – it’s the taste of summer in France…
Wine expert Philip Reddaway runs Rhone Wine Holidays, tours which take you under the skin of the legendary wine produce area of Provence.