Pink Rock: The best, and most varied, rose wines come from Provence

Drinks: Wines
Location: Europe, France

Many pink wines are more akin to dental mouthwash than wine. If it’s a bit of the gen-u-wine food-friendly rosé you’re after, guv’nor, you want to be lookin’ at this Provence stuff, says Giles Fallowfield

Wine sales in general might be pretty flat, but not rosé. Pink is hot. No longer just for summer imbibing by the pool or love-struck couples in restaurants, it’s barged its way into the national drinking habits to such an extent that over the next five years, rosé sales are expected to climb by nearly 50%. Restaurateurs or sommeliers failing to list a decent range of still pink wines are ignoring the clearest trend in the marketplace.

The problem is where to look if you want to find truly gastronomic rosés. You’re probably not going to find what you want in Portugal, Australia, California or Chile. Nor Italy either, unless you really think pink Pinot Grigio is where it’s at. No, if you want something dry, assertively fresh and attractively fruity, yet often with decent complexity, Provence is the place to look, not least because there are myriad subtly different styles to be found there.


Rosé is the Provençal speciality. In the area that stretches from just east of the Rhône Valley right across to the city of Nice, hemmed in north and south by the Alps and the Mediterranean, over 80% of wine production is devoted to rosé and it’s going up, according to the managing director of the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence (CIVP) François Millo.

They take rosé production seriously in Provence, or at least they have done for the past decade since both local and export demand have grown strongly. They even boast the only research centre entirely devoted to the study of pink wine – the Centre de Recherche et d’Expérimentation sur le Vin Rosé (CREVR) in Vidauban. It was set up in 1999 to provide producers with practical help to raise quality further because in terms of winemaking, pink is certainly not the easy option.

If you want help to break the

apparent association between pink

and cheap you need look no further

than the champagne market

As oenologist at the centre Nathalie Pouzalgues says: ‘Rosé wine is the hardest to make and to vinify because it’s so fragile.” Something of which the rest of the world perhaps ought to take note…

How the wine is made is key to both its colour and style, although with at least eight different grape varieties used across the whole region that, too, is clearly important. The four main varieties used in rosé wine production are Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Mouvédre.

‘If we take the example of Syrah, direct pressing is perhaps the best method of production, but in the past a lot of it was made by the saignée method because rosé wine was often a by-product of red wine. Now rosé is front of mind it’s a priority from picking – usually done earlier than for red wine – to pressing,’ says Pouzalgues.

Hence, they don’t tend to use skin maceration techniques with Syrah because they get too much colour (the best Provençal rosés are largely very pale, see box below) but it’s a method that’s widely used with other varieties.


A lot of the work at the centre has been with Grenache and Cinsault, looking at maceration times, maturity levels, harvest dates and more recently de-alcoholisation using reverse osmosis. Interestingly, Pouzalgues says they’ve had better results picking Grenache at potential alcohol levels of 14% abv and lowering alcohol levels by 2% than by picking at 12%.

Thanks partly to research and experimentation at the Vidauban centre they are starting to gain some understanding of the styles of rosé likely to be produced on different terroir. However, while Millo says the most important thing ‘is to match the terroir with the cépage’, this is not straightforward as within the larger AOCs there are very often significant local differences, making useful generalisations about which varieties should be used where impossible. It is, however, generally accepted that Mourvèdre, which is seen as good for fruit-driven styles of rosé, needs lots of sun to ripen so it’s mainly found in the warmer vineyards close to the coastline.

‘We have a continental climate here with little influence from the sea. It gets hotter than on the coast in the summer without cooling sea breezes and a lot colder in winter,’ explains Roselyne Gavoty of Domaine Gavoty.

Rosé can age too, old rosés take on truffley

and saffron notes, but you don’t have to age

them. In fact, some are far better drunk

young and fresh

The renewed interest in finding the best production methods, not just sticking with the traditional ways, has both raised quality and increased the number of available styles, according to Gisèle Marguin, présidente de l’Association des sommeliers des Alpes Marseilles Provence, who used to run her own Michelin-starred restaurant north of Lyon. ‘Provençal rosés have changed dramatically over the past decade, they needed to change too,’ she says. ‘Ten years ago there wasn’t the same range. There is a new breed of producers making good gastronomic rosés today that weren’t around previously. Standards have risen partly because rosé production has become the priority for winemakers. It’s no longer just a by-product of red wine.

‘It can age too, old rosés take on truffley and saffron notes, but you don’t have to age them. Some are far better drunk young and fresh.’

Unsurprisingly the young, fresh wines work really well with the vibrant, strong and contrasting flavours of Provençal cooking. ‘Our Cuvée Clarendon rosé goes really well with things like garlic and pesto, dishes where there are pronounced flavours: salt, sugar, spices, aromatic herbs, chilli; the pungent, sweet, salty taste of anchoïade for example,’ says Gavoty. ‘Even though our rosé is delicate, it has the freshness, the acidity to give a contrast. If you think of pesto there are the fireworks of basil, garlic, olive oil, and Parmigiano, but rosé somehow enhances these powerful flavours; the combination doesn’t become heavy.’


It’s the versatility of Provençal rosés that should help sommeliers convince diners that it’s a real gastronomic option. While if you want help to break the apparent association between pink and cheap you need look no further than the champagne market.

As well as being a flexible match for everything from fish to spicy food, rosé is also, as Marguin says, very much a young person’s drink. ‘They find it more accessible than quite complex reds, and partly because it looks attractive in the glass, it has romantic connotations and couples feel good about sharing a bottle.’

  • Provence accounts for less than 6% of total French wine output but it is the country’s leading appellation for rosé
  • There are three main AOCs: Côtes de Provence, Côteaux Varois en Provence and Côteaux d’Aix en Provence
  • Summers are hot and dry, winters are cold, and the Mistral, sweeping down from the Rhône, can be a factor
  • New sub-regions: Côtes de Provence Fréjus, Côtes de Provence Sainte Victoire. Côtes de Provence La Landes is going to be the next new sub-region
  • Key rosé varietals: Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Counoise, Tibouren

Don’t call me pink!

The rosé research centre in Vidauban (CREVR) has done extensive work on the most common hue of Provençal rosé and having originally identified and referenced 21 different colours they narrowed this selection down to just nine, producing a liquid colour chart, so that professionals involved have a precise reference point for the shade of pink of any Provençal rosé.

The colours (from left to right) are described as: mandarine, abricot, mangue, melon, litchi, pêche, pomela, framboise and groseille*. Most Provençal rosés are notably pale and tend to fit within the lighter colours in the middle of this spectrum – melon, litchi and pêche. For more information on the chart visit
*In English: mandarin, apricot, mango, melon, lychee, peach, grapefruit, raspberry and redcurrant.

Korma chameleon: rosé ‘n’ food

Gisèle Marguin, présidente de l’Association des sommeliers des Alpes Marseilles Provence and an ex-restaurateur, offers the following top tips on how your restaurant can get the most out of Provençal rosé

  • Look for a producer who specialises in rosé and who doesn’t make it as an offshoot of red wine.
  • There is often a distinctively spicy side to Provençal rosés and some have greater length and weight which stands up better to strong flavours in a dish. The fuller-bodied styles tend to come from the warmer coastal vineyards.
  • Provençal rosé has great versatility as a food wine. In summer the matches are many and more obvious. The wines go well with most white meats and fresh fish, but also more complex and strongly flavoured fish dishes like grilled rougets, and with even smoked fish, especially those styles with more body, length and fleshiness.
  • Other cuisines they work well with include North African, as in couscous and spicy tagines, but also Indian food. The spices and herbs you typically find in curries – coriander, tamarind, garlic, even cayenne pepper and chilli – can go very well.
  • They even work with foods as difficult as goats’ cheese – young or old – which are not easy to match with wine. You can help this match along by serving the younger, more acidic cheeses with some honey.
  • Fragrant herbal notes in a dish that is made using herbs like rosemary, thyme or even lavender may be contrasted well. The colour combinations are good, too, and could be used to get the whole Provence thing going.
  • On the sweeter side, try a soup of red fruits. Figs, fruit tarts or summer pudding also work with those styles that have a little more residual sugar.

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – May / June 2009

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