It might seem implausible now, but there was a time when my fondness for rosé was a love that dare not speak its name. Sinking the pink was done in private, on holiday, or with close friends. As a young male, being seen with a glass of rosé was probably on a par with having a man bag or wearing a tank top. I came out as gay before I was comfortable ordering a bottle of something pink in public.
So much has changed, in such a short space of time. Head to a glamorous beach bar and the famous Champagne fridges will be rivalled by those packed with Provence rosé; where once a wine list might only mention Mateus, nowadays a good one might feature a dozen choices; and move over Kylie, the latest celebrity rosé to hit the market, Maison No 9, comes from the tattoo-faced gangsta rapper Post Malone. I’d suggest that anyone who still thinks pink is for girls has it out with him.
Although fashion is undoubtedly a factor, the rise of rosé is about so much more than being seen with a glass of it. There has been a sensational improvement in quality, driven by the producers of Provence and replicated elsewhere. When I first fell for its charms, in the late 1990s, it was still possible to drive to a workaday winery in Ramatuelle, just outside St Tropez, to fill a plastic container with five litres of rosé from something resembling a petrol pump. The wine was a little rustic, but the experience had a real romance to it.
The seraph of modern rosé is Sacha Lichine, who had the vision to marry the aspirational glamour of the Côte D’Azur lifestyle with the latest winemaking technology, to create Whispering Angel. An iconic wine, it proved that pale could be interesting and it has paved the path to premium status for Provence. Lichine’s Château d’Esclans is now majority-owned by Louis Vuitton Möet Hennessy, which tells you all you need to know about rosé’s new luxury status.
Twenty years ago, we frequently found ourselves in a snaking queue of traffic, stuck behind an insouciant farmer hauling back a trailer load of grapes sweltering in the afternoon sun. These days, night harvesting is the order of the day, combined with tight temperature control and state of the art hygiene to preserve acidity and freshness. Step into Château Léoube’s striking salmon-pink winery and you will find a cool, shimmering sea of stainless steel, laboratory technicians and shiny high-gloss floors that would shame Strictly Come Dancing.
Although some veteran wine writers can still seem a touch indifferent to it, rosé now accounts for more than 10% of the wine we consume in the UK and it is growing fast, with imports from Provence soaring by more than 50% last year. Competition is fierce in this war of the rosés and, as rival regions imitate the paler shade of pink, the CIVP (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence) is focusing on the terroir diversity of its three appellations – Côtes de Provence, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence and Coteaux Varois – and their subregions, to underline the nuanced, but still notable, shades of character that transcend colour.
Rosé is a revelation with Asian-inspired dishes, a peerless pairing for curry spices, and stunning with smoked salmon
I really enjoy treating my friends to a tasting, witnessing their delight at the subtle fruit and mineral-driven variations that define the different Provence wines. I also get a thrill from conjuring up food pairings that go beyond the traditional Mediterranean fare. Rosé is a revelation with Asian-inspired dishes, a peerless pairing for curry spices, and stunning with smoked salmon at Christmas.
As the wines have become more exciting, so prices have risen, with new premium tier wines entering the fray. Never one to stand still, Lichine’s celestial stable now includes the excellent Rock Angel, offering decent value at a cool £25, and the ambitiously priced Garrus, which is arguably taking the pissaladière at £100 a pop.
If this sounds like a paean to Provence, then know that my love for rosé extends far further and has nothing to do with its pallor, as some of the finest wines I have enjoyed have been at the fuchsia end of the spectrum. Above all, it is just wonderful to see rosé being taken seriously and given the credit it deserves. The next challenge will be convincing consumers that it’s also wonderful in winter. I may be some time…
What David has been drinking…
- Domaine Mirabeau, La Réserve, 1ère année, 2020, Stephen and Jeany Cronk were recent guests on my Food FM show, the Drinking Hour. It is little more than a decade since they packed up their London lives and launched Domaine Mirabeau, and this is their first estate-grown wine. An elegant, peach-scented, dialled down blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Rolle, partially matured in gently toasted French-oak foudres, production is limited to just a few thousand bottles.
- Ventisquero, Obliqua 2017, a delicious new premium Carménère from Chile’s Felipe Tosso, from an altitude plot in Apalta. Bright, elegant and silky smooth, this shone a new light on a variety for which I didn’t previously have that much love.
- Mar de Frades, Finca Valiñas 2016, from a single plot in the heart of Salnés, this wine revealed the ageing potential of Albariño, with summery wafts of honeysuckle, tangerine and candied lemon, firm citrus acidity and sea-breeze salinity.