Monday, July 14, 2008
Rosé passes white wine as France's favourite
Pink wine is in vogue among French youth as a festive drink
Rosé, long dismissed by purists as uncultured plonk, has overtaken white wine in volume of sales in France, buoyed by a fashion for pink.
While much of France's wine growers battle lower consumption and persistent overproduction, pink wine - which comes into its own in the summer heat - is enjoying la vie en rose as never before.
It is estimated that more than one in five bottles of wine sold in France is a rosé, with the gains coming from falling red sales. A hot summer could push the amount of rosé drunk to more than half of all bottles consumed this year.
Pink wine is in vogue among French youth as a light-hearted, festive drink to be enjoyed with scant regard for labels, vintages, grape varietals and origin.
A study conducted this year found that red wine is favoured by richer, older French men, while rosé is drunk by both sexes, young and old from different social groups. Red is drunk mainly during meals, while rosé is also popular as an aperitif or in soirees.
Last month, angry growers of red wines in the southwestern Languedoc Roussillon region rioted against rival low-cost wine. But in the searing July heat of Provence - France's main rosé-producing region and which began making it 2,600 years ago – growers like Alain Combard are in the pink.
Surveying the vineyards surrounding his domain of Saint André de Figuière, Mr Combard, 64, raised a glass of chilled, dry home-grown rosé. In the dazzling light, the salmon-coloured liquid synonymous with Provence exuded a subtle perfume of grapefruit and lychee.
Sales from his domain, which produces 700,000 bottles annually, have increased by 10 per cent this year.
"We are extraordinary lucky as the world has truly discovered rosé. We have the wind in our sails," he said, to the sound of screeching cicadas.
"Before, rosé was just a summer wine to be drunk at barbecues. Today, it has acquired its letters of nobility, and can hold its own with red and white," said Mr Combard.
"A good rosé, for me, is above all very floral, with a hint of orange or grapefruit and must be as light as lace."
Producers in the Anjou in the Loire – France's other main rosé area - are enjoying a similar boom, amid signs that the pink craze is spilling over into Britain and the US. Given its success, the two top traditional red and white wine-growing regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy no longer blush at the prospect of rosé.
Bordeaux is reviving its production of clairet, a darker pink wine, while Burgundy now produces 2 million bottles of rose (NB acute accent on e) per year. In a sign of the times, Burgundy last month sent a delegation to a conference in Provence at the world's only rosé research centre, which Mr Combard runs.
The centre looks into every aspect of the rosé, from how to produce the right shade of pale pink to ways to cut rising alcohol levels in wine believed to be caused by global warming. Although it has white-wine qualities, rosé is made from red grapes.
It long suffered from being seen as little more than a by-product of red wine, being made from juice siphoned or 'bled' from the top of a vat of fermenting red grapes as a way of improving the red's intensity.
But Mr Combard, like many in Provence, uses a technique focusing solely on rosé called direct pressing. Red grape-skin, pips and pulp are lightly pressed and left to macerate for up to eight hours before extracting the rose-tinted liquid.
"I apply just the same techniques for making white wine to rosé, except that I use red grapes," said Mr Cambord, who spent 22 years making Chablis before coming to Provence.
Rosé, however, cannot be kept for long periods due to the lack of tannins, as the grape juice is only briefly in contact with skins and seeds. As he prepares to leave the daily running of his domain to his children, Mr Cambord insists the current rosé boom is here to stay.
Quality had improved considerably in the past decade. Doses of headache-inducing sulphur have been cut fourfold, while fermenting vats are now cooled to prevent grapes overheating, which used to produce heavy, coarse wine.
Exports to the US are booming, but UK sales of French rosé are still low compared to sweet New World "blush".
Mr Cambord believes that Britain is now ready to branch out from what he calls cheaper "drink" to pricier "real wine". Although still low, sales of Provence rosé in Britain were up 40 per cent in the first three months of this year.
"It goes perfectly with spicy food," he said. "Try it with curry."
Posted by BACCHUS at 7/14/2008