You have to hand it to Provence. Until very recently, it was hard for the average wine drinker to know whether their pink wine was sweet or dry, especially when it appeared in various shades from barely blush to near-neon red. While all these styles of rosé still exist, we now have a benchmark for high-quality, dry rosé that’s celebrated the world over, thanks to the work of the Provençal wine industry.
Made largely from Cinsault and Grenache – with a smattering of other grapes like Syrah and Mourvèdre – Provençal rosé is the prima ballerina of wine styles: elegant in pink, yet capable of effortlessly complex twists and turns. And the fact that the colour in the glass is infinitely Instagrammable hasn’t done the drink’s popularity any harm. The Provençal, light-salmon hue has become the shade of choice for many rosé winemakers around the globe as they notice consumers muttering “pale is best, right?” in the wine aisles.
That’s probably because drinkers have come to associate this salmon colour with a reliable, versatile wine style; dry, with just the right amount of fruit and a slick of refreshing salinity, no matter where in the region the wine comes from. Provence is to rosé wine what Champagne is to sparkling, and while there’s increasing competition from around the world, there’s still plenty more for Provence to offer curious wine explorers.
The next natural next step for lovers of a Provençal pink is to look at the differences the various appellations and terroirs can bring to flavour. The largest and most famous region is Côtes de Provence AOC, which spans 50,000 acres and recognises five smaller, terroir-focused areas within it: Côtes de Provence Fréjus, La Londe, Pierrefeu, Sainte Victoire and now, since 2019, Notre-Dame des Anges.
Ninety per cent of Côtes de Provence wine production is dedicated to rosé and the style is famously crisp, aromatic and fresh, often citrus dominant (think pomelo, white flowers and herbs), with subtle, tropical and red-fruit flavours on the palate.
The smaller Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence and Coteaux Varois en Provence appellations also produce significant amounts of rosé, with the former to the west giving more fruit-forward wines with defined minerality. The latter produces full-bodied, expressive pinks with fleshy white and red fruit thanks the chalky soils and higher altitudes from its more central vineyards. There are also tiny amounts of pink produced in Provence’s much smaller AOCs such as Bandol and Pierrevert.
Appellations aside, the Provençal rosé category itself is constantly evolving, with new formats and styles to explore. As well as key producers bringing out their rosés in cans and boxes, we are also seeing a move towards more “foodie” pinks. Jeany Cronk of Mirabeau says they are adding to their winemaking repertoire in response to consumer demand: “We’re seeing lots of experimentation with wines tuned to gastronomy that don’t necessarily conform to the light styles we’ve come to expect.”
Recent experimentation in Provence to create more gastronomic styles has seen extra lees ageing for weighty complexity, as well as a considered use of oak – largely for the texture it brings, rather than any overt oaky flavours. “We’ll be releasing a partially oak-aged rosé ourselves soon, where colour and ease of drinking is a lesser parameter,” says Cronk.
Another thing to look out for is sparkling pinks – and not just those made in the traditional or regular tank methods. Some producers, such as Léoube, are looking back to the “ancestral” method, adding frozen must from the first pressing to start the second fermentation in tank instead of sugar. “It gives good roundness, delicate fruit and is a nice change from the norm,” says Léoube winemaker Romain Ott.
Perhaps the boldest claim to Provence’s position in the world of fine wine, however, is the start of a luxury “super Provence” movement. One of the region’s star producers, Domaines Ott, is leading the charge here with Étoile: a blend of its finest terroirs across several appellations, retailing at over £100 a bottle. Who will be the next producer to enter this luxury market? Watch this space. In the meantime, read on for a selection of top Provence rosé wines, all IWSC award winners in 2020.