Provence rosé: the wine we just can’t get enough of
The figures are astonishing. Last year, global exports of Provence rosé increased by a whopping 23 per cent by volume and 28 per cent by value. The previous five years had seen similar huge leaps: a decade ago, annual exports of Provence rosé were about 5 million litres; today they’re pushing 30 million.
Such is the demand for this pale pink fashionable drink that no less than 89 per cent of Provence’s wine production – 176 million bottles in total – is rosé.
One particularly influential Provence brand, Whispering Angel from Château d’Esclans, claims to be the biggest-selling rosé in the world, with an annual production of 360,000 cases – not bad, considering the brand launched only a decade ago and is far from being the kind of cheap plonk that normally notches up such numbers.
In the US, Whispering Angel is ranked by Nielsen as the No.1 selling imported French wine, and the average price per bottle is $US27, placing it firmly in the premium category. This combination of premium pricing and ubiquity has earned it the nickname “Hamptons water”.
Whispering Angel sells in Australia for between $35 and $45 a bottle – which is a lot for a rosé – but retailers tell me that when the weather’s warm, they struggle to stack the fridges fast enough to keep up with demand.
What’s more, Whispering Angel in large format – magnums and double magnums at $125 and $300 respectively – has been a hit at parties and in restaurants, where sommeliers enjoy the theatre of pouring from the big bottles.
Demand is growing
The Provence rosé boom shows no sign of slowing down. There’s still room for growth, especially in Australia.
We account for just 3 per cent of all Provence rosé exports but we’re catching up fast: shipments to Australia increased by 127 per cent last year. Which is why a group of vignerons travelled all the way from their homes in St Tropez, Toulon and Marseille earlier this month to conduct a series of trade tastings Down Under, swapping their sparkling mid-summer for our chilly mid-winter.
Some brands, such as Whispering Angel, are already represented here, while others are looking for importers.
Alain Baccino, a fifth-generation vigneron and president of the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence, travelled with the group. When I asked him for how much longer the Provence rosé boom might continue, he shrugged the obligatory Gallic shrug: “You tell us. The fact we are all here today means we think the Australian market could be very good for us.”
There are some parallels between Provence rosé and Marlborough sauvignon blanc. Just as the fresh, fruity, summery white wine style captured the zeitgeist of the 1990s and 2000s in a way few had predicted, so pink wine has taken hold since 2010.
But unlike Marlborough, where there was plenty of land available for vineyards to meet the explosive demand and no effective limits on yield (Marlborough growers can harvest 20 tonnes of grapes a hectare if they really push their vines), Provence is covered by France’s strict appellation laws. These define and limit the amount of plantable land and maximum grape yield, which is about a third of what the winegrowers’ Kiwi counterparts can achieve.
“Each year we ask the authorities for more area to augment our terroir,” says Baccino. “And each year they send a commission to explore, but if they think the terroir is no good, they refuse our request.”
From Provence to Australia
The surge of global interest in Provence rosé has been a boon for the 600 or so producers in the region. Many of the vignerons who travelled to Australia for the trade roadshow couldn’t have imagined 10 years ago that they would one day be selling their rosé in this country and that consumers would be clamouring for it.
I asked Baccino how his colleagues have handled their success. Do the winegrowers who were once content selling to tourists and now have lucrative export deals all have brand-new luxury cars in their garages?
Another smile and a shrug, this time imbued with the wisdom that comes from being a fifth-generation winemaker whose family has seen many fashions come and go.
“I tell my vigneron friends it is important to keep humility. It is important for us to keep our heads.”
Rosé in winter: a taste of Provence
2016 Château de Pampelonne Légende (Côtes de Provence)
Made from century-old grenache and cinsault vines, this is a very good example of how refined and elegant Provence rosé can be. Delicate floral perfume, a fine, creamy texture in the mouth, refreshing but with lovely savoury persistence. The wine has only recently arrived in Australia, so is not yet widely available. $55, imported by roseimports.com.au
2016 Domaine Tempier Rosé (Bandol)
This is benchmark Provence rosé, from one of the best producers in the small coastal appellation of Bandol. There’s lots of beautiful fresh summery fruit and a typical balance of richness and freshness, but what sets this wine apart is the taste of terroir: the subtle aromas of garrigue herb, the traces of mineral laced across the tongue. $89, imported by worldwineestates.com.au
2015 Château d’Esclans Garrus (Côtes de Provence)
This is what happens when a Provence rosé is given the same winemaking treatment as the best white Burgundy: old, low-yielding grenache and rolle (vermentino) vines, fermentation in older barrels, lots of lees-stirring. The resulting wine is gorgeous: ethereal and fine, gossamer-like, but with great depth and persistence. $195, imported by woodswines.com.au