The delicious rise of Provençal rosé

By Alexander Barlow

4 minute read

Summer, at last, is on the horizon.

Which means two things: the warmest weather for a decade (reckon forecasters, we’ll wait); and, for some of us, the return to life as something close to normal. How will we celebrate? Well, tradition dictates champagne; but, according to those that know, the signature sip of sunshine season this year will be, yet again, rosé. Correct: the boom in blush shows no sign of slowing down. Simple, smash-able, endlessly Insta-grammable – pink wine has seen an epic 40% increase in global sales in the past two decades. In France, rosé now accounts for a third of all sales of wine (outselling white since 2009); while UK exports of Provençal pink increased 51% in 2020. The stats go on and on, and invariably make gleeful reading for growers of grapes of a certain hue. So, what’s driving its success? And will rosé continue its inexorable rise, or are we close to reaching peak pink? 

Either way, at this stage it’s worth pointing out that there was nothing inevitable about the success of rosé. It was, for the longest time – and, to be fair, with some justification – considered a basic, cheap, “pool-fun” wine, wholly incapable of expressing the elegance and sophistication of its red and white siblings. Ironically, then, it was precisely this outlier, pretence-free image that has contributed to its success. With a certain age group, at least. Drawn to the inherent instability of its pale pink hue, as well as high-profile celebrity investments (from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to Kylie Minogue), younger drinkers, it turns out, have been huge in the emergence of rosé. “[It’s] become the champagne of millennials,” said social anthropologist Richard Delerins, at the 5th Rencontres Internationales du Rosé in January 2019. “Rosé is more than a colour: it is a mode of self-expression that captures the moments of spontaneity and inner truth that are the values of millennials.”

Maybe. But, even back then, it was far from the whole story. These days, experts like Elizabeth Gabay MW, author of Rosé: Understanding the Pink Wine Revolution, reckon there’s far more going on than a straightforward image overhaul; there’s been a serious uptick in quality, too. “The success of rosé is far more due to substance than style,” she claims. Andrew Bayley, UK general manager of Famille Perrin, the Southern Rhône vintners behind Pitt and Jolie’s Provençal estate, Château de Miraval, agrees. “One can’t under-estimate the influence of both social media and celebrity in the rise of rosé; but, for us, the underlying reason for its continued success is the move to drier styles and improvement in quality. In the past, a rosé wine was an afterthought – now it leads many brands’ offerings.”

Provence leads the rosé revolution

Miravl Journal May Pr
Top: A bottle of chilled Mireille by Domaine Ott, 2019, ‘Methuselah’; photography courtesy of Domaine Ott. Above: The dream summer set up with Chateau Miraval, Côte de Provence 2019 (6L); photography courtesy of Miraval

Provence leads the rosé revolution

The centre of this revolution in quality? Undoubtedly Provence; as Andrew Jefford reported in the Financial Times last year, not only has it “trounced” all other regions in the pink-wine explosion (exports up 500% in the past 15 years), it’s leading the new premiumisation of rosé. Largely thanks to innovation in growing and investment in vinification, pale Provencal rosé, with its balance of acidity and fruit, has now joined the ranks of “serious wine” that can offer as much texture, detail and complexity as any red and white.

That includes Château de Miraval’s rosé, of course; for all its starry Hollywood allure, it’s worth remembering that it’s a seriously good drink from one of the most revered wine families in France. Describing it’s pure and concentrated flavours of dried red berry, tangerine and melon, Wine Spectator declared its first vintage in 2013 the world’s best rosé. A blend of Grenache and Rolle, it’s high-end, magnum-only Muse de Miraval cuvée has been consistently highly rated since it debuted at Cannes Film Festival in 2019. 

“The idea was to show that rosé can be as great as great white or great red,” said its producer, Marc Perrin, in an interview with Wine Spectator in 2019. “It can evolve with time and become extremely complex. That’s why we decided to bottle it in magnums. So that people try to keep it as [long] as possible.”

Based in Bandol, Domaine Ott also produces one of Provence’s most consistently revered rosés. Joining its much-feted Clos Mireille cuvée (winner of the best dry rosé in the 2020 Global Rosé Masters competition), last year Domaine Ott released a super-prestige bottling, Étoile, a blend of fruit (80% Grenache; 20% Mourvèdre) from three terroirs (Clos Mireille and Château de Selle, Provence; Château Romassan, Bandol).

Will the rise of rosé continue?

Wine Rose Journal May Shutterstock
The drink of summer 2021? Rosé, of course; photography by Shutterstock

Will the rise of rosé continue?

That winemakers continue to innovate at both ends of the value spectrum offers what might be the most reliable indicator of the belief in the category. Is our passion for pink plateauing? Unlikely. Almost everyone anticipates continued growth. Domaine Ott is owned by Champagne house Louis Roderer. And while they took over in 2004, other big players have more recently bet on the growing power of pink wine. LVMH’s purchase of Château du Galoupet in Provence in May 2020 might be the highest profile. Sarah Jessica Parker and rapper Post Malone are just two of the most recent names to join the ever-growing conga of celeb winemakers to the South of France. No doubt there will be more. In May 2020, one UK supermarket reported a 400% increase in rosé sales from the previous year (despite lockdown). Gabay predicts it will account for more than a quarter of global wine sales in the near future. 

Anna Schena, brand manager at Domaine Ott, reckons improved quality has led to rosé’s increased profile; thanks to discerning somm’s, it’s increasingly found on fine-dining wine lists worldwide. “Which means it will become a year-round category, less dependent on one season,” she tells us. Bayley agrees, adding that Provence’s continued innovation and rosé’s association with the care-free, Riviera-style joie de vivre, all point to one thing: “The future of rosé looks rosy.” Let the summer begin. 

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