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Southern French rosé: 10 myths debunked

Rosé has acquired a less than sophisticated reputation in recent times, with even the wines of Provence being tainted. Taking southern French rosés as a case in point, Elizabeth Gabay MW argues that much of the criticism lacks substance.

The world of wine is full of knowledge and misconceptions.

Knowledge can lead you down a rabbit warren of geeky detail which, while absorbing and fascinating, can make wine increasingly inaccessible to most wine drinkers. Cue rosé.

Rosé has always promoted itself as the wine which doesn’t need knowledge. Anyone can drink rosé and enjoy it no vintage charts, no winemaking information, no complicated maps of terroir. The wine for everyman. But it does mean that misconceptions can spread like wildfire. Repeated and copied, they become cast in stone.

Scroll down to discover the 10 myths of southern French rosé

Provence is regarded as the cradle of the current rosé revolution with the Mediterranean lifestyle of the south of France contributing to the marketing image.
So much so that all of the rosés from the south are often grouped together. Being based around Grenache they must be all the same, right?

In fact, the south of France offers a vast diversity of styles, and this oversimplifcation is just one of the many falsehoods attached to rosé, along with the below:

1. Rosé is just for summer

That is probably true for any light, crisp wine – tannins do not shine in a chilled wine. A glass of cold pink or white with chilling condensation is perfect for summer.

Rosés with longer maceration and some tannins (think Tavel, right-bank Rhône and Roussillon) can not only act as great summer reds but are also perfect for autumn and winter, accompanying game, fish and cheese.

Much of Rasteau’s Vin Doux Naturel is also rosé, giving you a sweet wine to be enjoyed with cheese and dessert at any time of year.

2. It is best with summer foods

These include salads, goats cheese, fish and sushi – not exactly a myth but only half the truth.

Oaked rosés were originally created to complete the gastronomic range of food pairings, and those with more evident oak flavours can take on more robust savoury flavours such as roast meats.

Older rosés with their richer dried fruit notes go well with stronger cheeses and richer gratins.

pairing rosé wines with food

3. Pale means good

No! Pale is created by a number of causes which can be done either singly, partly or altogether: using lighter-coloured varieties such as Cinsault; earlier harvesting while the colour is more subtle; the addition of white grapes (common throughout almost all of southern France), and very gentle direct pressing (the first-run juice being the palest) are all techniques employed when chasing a lighter hue.

Such wines are a fine balance between ripe fruit and fresh acidity. Darker pinks can have riper grapes and longer skin contact – some, especially in Tavel, macerate for up to a week. They are just as good, but more full bodied.

4. Rosé is simple

As with any wine colour, the styles range from simple to complex. And yes, rosé can be complex with some outstanding examples appearing from old vines, low yields, blending different harvest dates, spontaneous fermentation, careful use of oak and amphora, or longer ageing on the lees. These wines push the limit of what any wine can achieve.

5. It has to be drunk young

Most rosé keeps its fresh fruitiness for two to three years, and many definitely improve as the flavours integrate and open up.

After three years, secondary notes start to emerge, often with a gradual evolution of dried peaches and apricots giving a charming richness. Most estates do not keep older vintages so this is a hard myth to disprove, but tastings of rosés (usually the premium cuvées) going back 20, 30 or more years reveal some stunning wines.

Château d’Aqueria’s Tavel rosé. Credit: E. Guigal

6. It is all about lifestyle and image

Hard to dispute this myth when so much marketing is focused on lifestyle and image, and the packaging can be so stunning. It is, however, worth looking out for the rosés in dark bottles where the colour is not visible and the wines are protected from light strike.

7. Rosé is cheap

The majority of southern French rosé certainly falls into the cheaper end of the spectrum.

However, many producers, especially in Provence, are increasingly adding not just a premium rosé to their range but also more experimental wines which sit at slightly higher price points. The detail on the back label is often the clue to why a wine is a little more pricey with details of vineyard, grapes and winemaking.

8. Provence rosé is just one style

This is one of the weirdest misconceptions for producers living in the south of France.

Even locals cannot agree on the definition of Provence! Is it the Var department, or perhaps the picturesque lavender fields of the Luberon and southern Rhône? Are the very different rosés of Tavel and Bandol part of Provence? Different soils, winemaking, grapes and traditions result in many different styles.

clos sainte magdeleine, provence

Clos Sainte Magdeleine: in Provence. Credit: Jonathan Sack / Clos Sainte Magdeleine

9. There is no vintage variation 

This myth may be fast disappearing as the news over the past few years has highlighted the problems of frost, drought, fire and hail.

But there are also cooler and hotter vintages which result in different styles. In Provence, 2018 and 2020 were more delicate and fresh vintages, while 2019 was more robust and concentrated. 2021 was difficult and 2022 may be more like 2019.

10. Rosé is just for women

A seriously weird untruth. Is it because pink is feminine? That only men can understand wines which are more complicated?

There is no answer to this misconception other than real men drink rosé, too. Rosé is also for people of all ages. As with other wine, you just have to find the style for you.

For those keen to explore the variations and diversity of southern French rosé, try different wines from different appellations, a range of colour intensity – from pale to dark – and different varieties such as Grenache, Mourvèdre or Syrah-based wines.

Elizabeth Gabay’s recently published book ‘Rosés of Southern France’ (£22, Amazon UK/com/FR) sets out to explain and define the tastes, styles, traditions and winemaking of this fast-growing sector, showing that there is no singular style, but huge diversity and exciting new directions.

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