The rise and rise of rosé
But while rosé is often defined by a single colour, there is no single rosé market. Different segments have dissimilar needs. IGP Pays d’Oc splits the market into four segments: going up the range from “swimming-pool”, to “traditional”, then to “terroir-driven”. The fourth segment is “original packaging and design”. Each has its distribution channels, consumers and pricing. And each needs a different marketing approach. The emergence of gastronomic rosé may be a fifth sector. ‘Swimming pool’ rosé – the wine beloved by social media – relies on colour, simplicity and a clear brand image, with little to no information on varieties, terroir or producer. The traditional and terroir-driven segments have a wide range of styles: blends or varieties, levels of sweetness, single vineyard, oaked or unoaked; in these sectors the drive for quality is most exciting. Wines that at one time could guarantee gold medals in every competition are now competing against a growing number of quality competitors.
Provence has led the way in making paler, dry rosé, with its balance of fresh acidity and ripeness of fruit. Most are made to be drunk within a year. Considerable investment is needed in the winery, especially for cooling and temperature control – things that are essential as harvest dates start earlier – which has played a significant role in the freshness of the wines, and the gentler presses designed to give the palest of rosés. Grenache and Cinsault continue to dominate the blend, with support from Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Tom Ashworth, CEO of UK merchant Yapp Brothers, has seen “a huge rise in requests for pale-coloured rosé”, much of which “has been marketing-led – Miraval, M de Minuty, Whispering Angel – rather than taste-based. There’s considerable consumer misunderstanding with regards to the correlation between colour, ABV and sucrosity. The wines above have helped to push the price that consumers are prepared to pay for good rosé. Rosé is no longer viewed as cheap quaffing wine.” However, most rosés do not breach a glass ceiling of £20-£25 a bottle.
Provence’s biggest competitor is the Languedoc, where IGP Pays d’Oc alone sells 25% more rosé than Provence – and makes 23% of French rosé. Whereas Provence AOP rosés are by definition blends, over 90% of IGP Pays d’Oc rosés are single-varietals, largely of the classic Provence varieties: Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah. The areas climate and terroir are not very different, but Provence has the edge on reputation and quality, with much longer experience in making rosés. Yield in Provence is capped at 55 hectolitres per hectare, compared with 80 hl/ha for IGP Pays d’Oc. Rosés from the Languedoc typically sell for less. In a vicious circle, many Languedoc producers complain that, as they cannot command sufficiently high prices, they make rosé targeted for lower price points.