Why Rosé Matters, According To French Culture

Rosé wines from France
Rosé wines from France. Credit: Jill Barth

I don’t think there is a topic I’ve covered more than rosé. Part preference, part probability, it seems only natural that a Provence wine specialist would document the past, present and future of vin trois, the third color of the wine trinity.

Affiliations range from the “Hampton’s Water” lifestyle crowd to the “rosé all day, which turns all year” set to the “when in France, drink rosé” philosophy. But I’m here to argue, with the proud yet slightly guarded nature of the public defender, that none of these positions get that the root of what rosé really means.

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From my coverage on my Forbes contributor column:

“The Center for Rosé Research (Centre de Recherche et d’Expérimentation sur le Vin Rosé) is located in the small commune of Vidauban, situated in Provence in southeast France. Originated in 1999 as the first and only rosé research center in the world, it serves as a resource for rosé producers in Provence and around the globe. Grounded on centuries of experience held by Provençal vignerons and winemakers, the center harnesses a commitment to rosé, part of the Provençal culture for 2,600 years since the early Greeks utilized winemaking methods that resulted in pink-toned wine.

The Center for Rosé Research exists to maintain the high quality of rosé from Provence by capturing and making available scientific data regarding winemaking and wine preservation. ‘The center endeavors to put science and evidence behind our collective feeling that we have evolved something special,’ says Jeany Cronk, proprietor of Mirabeau en Provence and member of the Council of the Wines of Provence.”

When the Greeks made wine in Provence, and likely elsewhere, most wine was typically pale. Harvest was followed by an immediate crush during which the grapes spent some limited amount of time with skins, juice was removed and that bit of maceration left a pink tone to the wines. The next major civilization and winemaking influence in Provence came in the form of a Roman colony built around modern-day Aix-en-Provence. In what turns out to be the guiding light of the wine world, the Roman roads that connected Italy and Spain were the conductors of knowledge, technology and lifestyle. Recognized now as world treasures, the Roman antiquities of France inspire pilgrimages and awe. I myself have spent time at the altar of “Les Antiques” at St. Remy-de-Provence and the Amphithéâtre Gallo-Romain in Lyon.

French wine regions
Ancient Provence has a history of rosé cultivation. (Clockwise) Les Antiques, Amphithéâtre Gallo-Romain in Lyon and Palais des Papes in Avignon. Credit: Jill Barth

14th century France was the era of the Popes — the seat of religion found a home in Avignon. The sheer volume of important (thirsty) people in the area prompted a rush in wine cultivation — giving vineyards such as those in Châteauneuf-du-Pape their immense stature that is firm still today. Nearby Tavel, perhaps the prince of French rosé was a winemaking bastion dating from the Greeks, through the Papacy years onward, succumbing to Phyloxerra and rising again in the early 1900’s

The Romans treated pink wine as a drink of the wealthy, free-run and consumed fresh — juice fermented in red wine went on standby for soldiers and workers. By the 19th century, the bourgeois had begun to use wine as cultural proof of their standing, and a stockpile of red wine in a personal cellar was thought to mean something in terms of social standing. “But the wealthy didn’t need to prove anything; they continued to drink pink wines they didn’t need to cellar,” according to James de Roany of the CIVP. “Just by what they drank, the stated their cash flow was liquid.”

what is rosé? how is rosé made?
Côtes de Provence Rosé. Credit: Jill Barth

I must stop myself right here — because this story isn’t only about Provence. It would be a mistake to start elsewhere, however — Provence is (in my experience and opinion) the gold standard as well as the starting gun. And sometimes it takes a look back to see ahead.

Consider Gascony, a segment of southwest France that tickles Toulouse and the Atlantic and fills the space in between. Here they are making rosé with Carignan, Tannat, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The famed Loire Valley produces stunning rosé made mainly of Cabernet Franc Grolleau. Some of my favorite rosés come from the Languedoc, where appellations such as Minervois and Le Clape produce bottles of a range of shades — made with iconic varieties such as Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Bordeaux produces her own amount of rosé from esteemed varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carménère, Petit Verdot and Merlot.

There’s rosé from Burgundy Pinot Noir and Beaujolais Gamay. There’s rosé-colored Champagne and rosé-colored Crémant. There is a place, it seems, for rosé in every aspect of French winemaking. Why is this?

rosé color chart, Forbes rosé
The color gradient of rosé wine as illustrated in this chart by The Wine Council of Provence and The Rosé Research Center. Photo Credit: François Millo, CIVP

It isn’t because it is easy — in fact, making rosé is notoriously difficult. Freshness and aromatics are of the highest import. Timing is essential from the moment of harvest (very often at night, to take advantage of the chill) and the balance between extraction and color is a winemaker’s responsibility. In fact, CIVP has crafted a color chart, defining the shades available to a maker of rosé.

“According to the Council of the Wines of Provence, consumer preference falls in the following order: peach/pêche, melon/melon, mango/mangue, pomelo (similar to a grapefruit), mandarin/mandarine and redcurrant/groseille,” from my piece entitled The Definitive Guide To Understanding Rosé Wine in my Forbes column.

It comes to me, as I sit at my table surrounded by bottles of French rosé. They are beautiful. They taste exquisite. They sit down to every dinner and agree with the food, enhance the food. They feel cool on the tongue after a hot day, and they bring with them the taste of vineyards from every corner of France (and the winemaking world, really, but that’s other stories). They are a delight and an accomplice.

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There are misunderstandings, sure. Few wine lovers cut their teeth on good rosé and many Americans recall when pink meant sweet. People consider their choices, often, in terms of red and white yet still…still…

Moments happen — like they do — when a rosé presents itself as the perfect drink, and it’s a little like falling in love with wine all over again. These are evenings when our breath comes easy. Our guard is down and our feet are up and we think, damn this life is good. This is a cultural thing, right? It’s why wine matters always, and so rosé is no different. The power to transport us, via the ticket a bottle represents, to a vineyard somewhere with a very skilled man or woman, picking the grapes at just the right time, letting that juice ride the skins for just the right time. Opening the bottle — fresh and aromatic and clean — at just the right time.

Just the right time. That’s why rosé matters.

Wines to Try

Saget La Perrière, La Petite Perriere Rosé – From a Loire producer, labeled Vin de France, made of 100% Pinot Noir

Château de la Mulonnière, M de Mulonnière Rosé d’Anjou – Comprised of 40% Cabernet Franc, 30% Grolleau, 20% Cabernet-Sauvignon and 10% Gamay

Château Sainte Eulalie, Printemps d’Eulalie – From Languedoc’s Minervois appellation, near esteemed cru La Livinière, made of 50% Syrah, 40% Cinsault, 10% Carignan and Grenache

Bernard Margrez, Côtes de Provence Les Muraires Coup de Rosé – From famed Bordeux name Margrez, comes this Provençal Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault blend.

Provence Rosé Group, Côtes de Provence Urban Provence – A beautiful wine from the St. Tropez region built with 45% Grenache Noir, 35% Cinsault, 15% Syrah and 5% Rolle

Mathilde Chapoutier, Côtes de Provence Grand Ferrage – From the 8th generation of the Chapoutier winemaking family, this blend is made from Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Rolle.

Château Puech-Haut, Prestige – A biodynamic bottle from Côteaux du Languedoc Saint-Drézéry. Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan, Viogner, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Carignan Blanc — all included.

Racine, Côtes de Provence Rosé – From Bruno Lafon and François Chamboissier comes this mainly-Cinsault blend.

Mont Gravet, Rosé South of France – From vineyards in Gascony, this Pays d’Oc appellated wine is 100% Cinsault.

Chateau d’Angles, Le Rosé – This wine comes from vineyards in one of my favorite parts of France, situated on the Mediterranean near Narbonne. Made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.

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The French Winophiles

This month our French Winophiles group focuses on Rosé from France. We hope you’ll join us at 10 am CT on Twitter — it’s easy to participate: just log in to Twitter at the appointed time and follow #Winophiles.

Robin from Crushed Grape Chronicles shares her vision of Côtes de Provence through Rosé Filled Glasses.

Mardi from Eat Live Travel Write goes From Rosé? No Way! To # RoséAllDay.

Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares Warm Weather Rosé and Cheese Pairings.

Michelle from Rockin’ Red Blog will be Celebrating the Provençal Lifestyle with Three Rosés.

Lynn from Savor the Harvest cues up Obscure French Rosé to Look for Today.

Gwendolyn from Wine Predator prepares #RoséAllDay with Grilled Cheese Gourmet for #Winophiles.

Nicole from Somm’s Table adds Cooking to the Wine: Ultimate Provence Urban Rosé with Herbed Sous-Vide Chicken Breasts and Roasted Eggplant Sheet Pan.

Jane from Always Ravenous offers up a Summer Cheese Board with Rosé.

David from Cooking Chat says it’s Always a Good Time to Sip Provence Rosé.

Here on L’Occasion we explain Why Rosé Matters, According to French Culture.

Liz from What’s In That Bottle advises us to Live a More Rosé Life.

Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog discusses The Pleasures of Provençal Rosé #Winophiles.

Payal from Keep the Peas will share Rosé: Wine before the Age of Extended Maceration.

Julia from JuliaConey.com talks about Rosé: Not from Provence but Just as Delicious!

Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm tempts us with Soupe au Pistou Paired with Rosé.

Our host Lauren at The Swirling Dervish shares Celebrating Our New Home with an Old Friend: Rosé from Provence.

The French Winophiles are a group of wine-loving foodies who gather (virtually) on the third Saturday of the month to share wine-pairing ideas, travel stories, and tasting notes on a particular theme. New members are always welcome so, if you’re interested in joining us, we’d love to have you. In August we focus on Grower Champagne with our host, Martin Redmond of Enofylz Wine Blog. Should be a fun (and bubbly) event!

Some of the wines appearing on L’Occasion may be media samples. All opinions are my own.
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29 Comments Add yours

  1. Very interesting about the research of the population’s preference in color. I wonder why that is? What about the peach color makes it stand out as more likable?

    Like

    1. Jill Barth says:

      I wonder too — the psychology of color….

      Like

  2. keithvs says:

    Thanks for such an interesting explanation of rosé’s history and place in French culture. I remember a few years ago when there was a move afoot in the EU to allow producers to blend together red and white wine and call it rosé. My French friends were apoplectic!

    Like

    1. Jill Barth says:

      That is a big NO!

      Like

  3. Lynnnn says:

    Thanks for discussing what rosé really means. Your last paragraph says it all – moments happen. Will definitely share this with friends on the rosé fence!

    Like

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Hi Lynn — Thanks for reading!

      Like

  4. wendyklik says:

    Oh Jill, I love your paragraph describing the bottles of Rose surrounding you. When I was done with your article, I went back and reread that paragraph because it stuck just the right chord with me.

    Like

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thanks Wendy! Glad you liked it.

      Like

  5. Robin Renken says:

    “These are evenings when our breath comes easy. Our guard is down and our feet are up and we think, damn this life is good. ” Yes…these are rosé moments. Beautifully written.

    Like

  6. BB Kuett says:

    Here is some background on the gradients – it was all about marketing….https://bit.ly/2Nvo235

    Like

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thanks for sharing — I’ve been in touch with CIVP over the years and it does make sense to codify the color for tastings and consumers — we use a language of comparison to describe wine and since the color of rosé is elemental, the nuancier becomes useful. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  7. Interesting rosé history. Wine truly does have the power to transport us and yes, it does matter!

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  8. “Few wine lovers cut their teeth on good rosé and many Americans recall when pink meant sweet” <<< THIS! Great post highlighting lots of non-Provençal wines (love rosés from the Languedoc!) and facts many people might not know about this surprisingly complex wine!

    Like

  9. Comprehensive and compelling story of rosé in France. And, I’ve gotta say, your photos have transported me to Provence. In my mind’s eye, I’m lingering over a simple yet elegant lunch, pale pink wine in hand!

    Like

  10. shawnmdevries says:

    Fantastic article!

    Like

  11. I’ve written about the research center as well. They do so much for the Provence community. Great piece.

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  12. It’s always a joy to read your writing Jill! An interesting, informative and well written piece!

    Like

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