Rosè: an insight with Elizabeth Gabay MW

By Irene Graziotto

Elizabeth Gabay

What we discuss today is rosé. Thanks to Elizabeth Gabay MW, we dive into an extensive insight on rosé wine. Considered amongst the world main experts for the rosé wine category, Elizabeth Gabay MW has released her book on rosé wines last January. Rosé: Understanding the Pink Wine Revolution (see for details) can be considered the most comprehensive book ever written on rosé wine. Today, she helps us understanding a little bit more of this world, which is far from being a cohesive monoblock.

When has the rosè trend started exacty? According to you, there has been something in particular that has set rosè wine on fire?

EG: The fashion for rosé has come and gone – after the war and in the 1950’s then back in fashion starting in the mid 1990s. The big difference for this latest fashion trend has been a bigger focus on research and development in quality through the rosé research centre in Vidauban, and in the past 10 years marketing especially using social media. 2007 seems to have been a key date with many wineries around the world suddenly starting to think of rosé wine.

Which are success factors of rosé? 

EG: Most people claim that one of the biggest reasons for success is that it is pretty and uncomplicated – anyone and of any age can appreciate the wine without great wine knowledge.

Amongst the biggest changes concerning rosè from all over the world, there has been certainly a shift towards paler rosè wines. In “The pale and uninteresting problem with rose” on Wine Searcher you have stated that  picking graes too early is leading to wines that “Many wineries – some in Provence and many elsewhere – are picking grapes too soon. It doesn’t make the wines more pale, but it does make these pale wines unpleasant to drink“. Do you think once consumers will get bored with these flavourless wines and go back to darker (more flavoured) rosè wines?

EG: I think the consumer profile will change for sure. Pale, neutral rosé drunk icy cold will always be good by the pool or on the beach, made into cocktails, served with ice. The perfect light summer wine. The problem also with these lighter wines is they fail to do well in competitions – and in a market where medals and points are important these wines will fail to capture the serious market, and yes, get left behind.
Another important shift has been the one from sweet rosè wines towards dry ones. Do you think the amount of sugar is a key factor for a rosè? 

EG: As with all wine styles, sweeter wines are looked down upon – maybe because with drink driving, we now rarely allow ourselves the opportunity to enjoy sweeter wines during a meal? It is not the sugar that is important but the sugar: acid balance in rosé. Fine rosés from Anjou can be as beautiful as many classy sweet white wines, and beautiful with fruit, tomatoes, cheese, hams…. Because they have wonderful acidity.

What other big changes, if any, have shaped the rosè world in the last 10 years?
EG: The financial success of Provence rosé cannot be underestimated. It gave rosé producers the confidence to think that rosé could maybe more than a wine for two months a year. It encouraged people like Sacha Lichine to announce he was making the most expensive rosé in the world at 80 euros a bottle – and sell out every year. This success led to winemakers experimenting with oak and amphora, in their winemaking. In many way this is nothing extraordinary, but for many producers, just ‘thinking’ they could make more serious rosé if they wanted to was a big mental leap.

Rosè wine is without any doubt, the most instagrammed type of wine, always surrounded by pools, sea, party moments, etc. People buy rosè because it is a rosè, more than for the fact it comes from one region of the world or another. Would you agree?

EG: Yes – but I also think this emphasis on the Instagram rosé is showing a divide in the world of rosé – the beach rosé and the serious rosé. The big problem is whether the Instagram image makes it difficult for serious rosé to become appreciated.

Single-Vineyard Rosés in Napa and Sonoma are Bringing Focus to Terroir” was the title of an article on Wine Enthusiast published last Autumn. Do you think we will ever get to a terroir-driven production/communication also for rosè wines, maybe from cru?

EG: Definitely and this is already starting. Provence has highlighted four different soils – limestone, schist, volcanic and mixed gravel and these are showing very interesting diversity. Beaujolais rosé on granite soils, Sicily on Volcanic etc. Many producers are still thinking ‘neutral rosé’ but it is fast growing trend. Also altitude.

Italian rosè: there is not much talk about them. Is there any particular reason?

EG: Lack of confidence? Cheap bulk rosé or Pinot Grigio has been seen as the money spinner, and high quality rosés are still a secret for a small number of people. However, a long history and traditions and some amazingly diverse styles suggest that this is about to change. As long as quality and diversity are strongly protected.

Were you an Italian rosè producer, where would you export your wine to? Which is to say, which markets are particularly attracted by rosè?

EG: America especially the east coast is a big rosé market and there is an enormous growth in curiosity in wine. But, the market is quite saturated, and many producers say it can only take small quantities. Australia is a massively growing and interested rosé market – possibly the fastest growing right now. Scandinavia is also a good market – but again, with the monopolies, limited range. And central Europe. It is easy to forget, but Central Europe is a fast growing market too

Could you name 5 iconic rosè?

EG: Bodegas Lopez de Heredia Tondonia in Rioja; Garrus from Chateau d’Esclans in Provence ; Domaine Tempier in Bandol; Olivier Horiot, Rosé de Riceys; Pink Champagne.

And 5 lesser known rosè that deserve to become iconic?

EG: Impossible to say – regions to look out for Oregon (Pinot Noir rosés); volcanic roses from Sicily and the Azores; Greece – lovely indigenous varieties with good acidity and ripe fruit; Austria – fruit and acidity and some serious winemaking going on; California – varietal character, terroir character, interesting varieties and blends and a curiosity to try new styles.

Any forecasts on how the rosè world will change in the next 10 years? Are there already some minor changes moving forward?  

EG: Winemakers are learning how to make the most of the rosé style and going one step further.

Interesting varieties – many indigenous varieties were forgotten because they did not produce big red wines – but many are perfect for rosé. Others produce bug course tannic alcoholic reds – harvested a little earlier and they produce good rosé. Petit Verdot does not make the finest of reds – but is gorgeous and fruity as a rosé. Terroir. Limestone can give broader creamy acidity, volcanic soils more minerality, altitude gives acidity and ripeness of fruit. Greater recognition of historic traditions and appreciation of regional styles. Tavel, Cerasuolo, Clairet – all have a tradition of darker, fruitier rosés. This tradition is in danger of being lost as many producers feel the wines have to be pale to sell. Will the trend to like darker rosés succeed? Still a question mark – but I think maybe yes. Experimenting with winemaking – fermenting and/or ageing in oak – this is difficult because oak can dominate the wine. Use of amphora or cement – gives lovely weight and texture; Extra skin contact, especially if with some white varieties and blended in – again gives good weight without changing the essential rosé style. Biggest trend – discovering rosés can age. You do not have to drink them within the first year or two.

Elizabeth Gabay MW – Biography

Originally from the UK, and now based in south-eastern France, I passed the Master of Wine exams in 1998. I started working with wine in the mid-1980s, representing vineyards and selling their wines in the UK, specialising in the wines of south eastern France, before the rosés of Provence became the success story of today. Since then, my work has extended to freelance consultancy and education which includes conducting masterclasses at trade shows, for press and to promote regional wine bodies such as Anjou, Provence, Szekszárd in Hungary etc. I also write about wine. My focus is on the wines of the Mediterranean and Central Europe, regions with a plethora of indigenous varieties and unique styles. This involves frequent travels across southern France, northern Italy, the Balkans and Hungary and Central Europe, which have led to me greatly appreciating their wines. I have also been able to observe the evolution of rosé through the rosés of Languedoc and Provence, the chiaretti and cerasuoli of Italy and the schillers of central Europe – a great wealth of diversity. Research, articles and lectures have culminated in the publication of my book Rosé: Understanding the Pink Wine Revolution (in January 2018) see for details, the most comprehensive book ever written on rosé wine. With rosé wine such a fast-moving and dynamic area, the reseach and discovery is never ending… Watch this space for the next big rosé project!

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