The rise and rise of rosé

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To oak or not to oak?

While Château d’Esclans has won the respect of wine critics with its top Provence rosé, Garrus, which spends 10 months in oak and retails for £90 a bottle, François Matton, co-founder of Château Minuty, believes oak has no place in Provence rosé. “I’m not a fan of oaked rosé and would never barrel age my rosé as I feel it goes against the philosophy of the wine. Provence rosé should be easy to enjoy, not simple but easy. With Provence rosé you want lightness, freshness and elegance, you don’t want tannins from the wood. When it comes to rosé, most of the work should be done in the vineyard not the winery. Provence rosé is at its best when drunk within a year, so there is no need for oak,” he says.

Keen to move the Provence rosé category into the prestige Champagne sphere, a few years ago Matton developed a top rosé made predominantly from 25-year-old Grenache wines using a clone unique to the estate. “I wanted a luxury bottle to go with it so I approached perfume bottle designer Hubert de Malherbe, who is best known for creating Dior’s J’adore perfume bottle. We called the wine 281 after the Pantone number of the royal blue colour that drips down the left hand side of the bottle. Rosé is usually drunk from an ice bucket, so it was important to make sure the neck of the bottle made a visual impact from a distance,” Matton says.

DIFFERENT STYLES

Other French rosés are different in style. The Loire makes large quantities, but these have traditional markets in northern Europe and have not hit the headlines. Bordeaux is making big efforts to develop its pale rosé sales, at the expense of its traditional, darker ‘clairet’. The major market for French producers is domestic; France is the world’s largest rosé consumer. Other countries are exporting rosé. Shelves of UK supermarkets feature entry-level rosés from Italy, Spain, South Africa and Australia, as well as IGP d’Oc. Spain is the biggest exporter of rosé, shipping mainly in bulk to France, the largest importer. While Bobal is talked about as a potential rival to Grenache for rosé, production in the grape’s main area, Utiel-Requena in Spain, is small, at 2.5m bottles, and not currently a threat. As Philippe Brel, CEO of large Provence co-operative Estandon Vignerons, says: “Provence rosés are being squeezed out of the entry-level – where they had a presence 20 years ago – because of their cost.” With such fierce competition, moving upmarket is a key objective for Provence producers. Aside from working on improving the quality of the wine itself, they are also working on the image.

Packaging has become a key element of marketing, alongside communication to suit each brand. An especially wide variety of bottle shapes is now used, sometimes one for each range. This costs more but helps build brand identity. A perfect example is The Wonderful Company’s JNSQ – standing for Je ne sais quoi, which launched this Valentine’s Day. Targeted at women, its packaging was inspired by luxury perfume bottles, flaunting the beautiful pink wine inside. A carefully crafted marketing campaign backed the launch. Château de Berne’s distinctive square bottle is instantly identifiable; so much so, the house has copyrighted the design. The Syndicat de Côtes de Provence has just embraced a strategy of “premiumisation”, aiming “to be the best in all aspects of the product, such as quality, image and environment”. Jean-Jacques Bréban, president of the Provence Wine Council, and head of négociant Les Vins Bréban, sees an opportunity “to develop the idea of ‘premium’ rosés towards ‘gastronomic’ ones that suit food and which last for two or three years.”

In top restaurants, rosés hardly feature on wine lists. The more upmarket the restaurant, the less the presence of rosé. Several producers have responded to this by developing gastronomic wines with greater complexity and aging potential. Examples from Provence are Garrus and Les Clans from Château d’Esclans, and Elevae from Château Gassier; and from the Languedoc – La Villa from Château la Sauvageonne. All retail at over £45.

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