Provence Rosés Conquer the World Interview

Provence rosé wines have been conquering the world.  Their growth has been double digits for several years in Canada and the USA; it is spreading in China; French people drink more rosé than white wine.  Need I continue?  I had a chance to interview Valerie Lelong, Marketing & Communications Export Manager from Vins de Provence about the current state of rosé wine around the world.

Valerie Lelong, Marketing and Communications Export Manager from Vins de Provence with 4 rosés to sample

Valerie Lelong, Marketing and Communications Export Manager from Vins de Provence with 4 rosés to sample

My Interview with Valerie Lelong

What dishes would you typically serve with rosé?

That is the versatility of rosé.  Dry and flavourful.  You can pair it with so many dishes. Asian food, sushi, Chinese, seafood, also Mexican food.  All food with spices.  The acidity and flavours go with the spice.  A simple cream sauce with prawns.  Seafood and Mediterranean food.  You can share it very easily, pair it very easily. When you are at a restaurant and everyone orders something different, it is easier to pair rosé with all the food, compared to other wines.

What Provençal dish would you have with rosé?

I would be happy to have a salad or ratatouille, or fish, or tapenade.  Traditional foods with olive oil and rosemary.

Would you say that rosé from Provence has changed over the past 10-20 years?

Yes. I have worked for this company 15 years.  I have seen the change in quality and in colour.  Winemakers are investing in technology and infrastructure in their wineries.  Rosé is one of the most difficult wines to do because it needs technique.  Consumers do not know that it is more difficult to make a good rosé wine.  Winemakers have invested a lot.

When you started 15-20 years ago are rosé wines still as dry?

Yes. Clear crystal and dry. But at the time there were only 2-3 vineyards very well-known. More wineries are known for the quality of their wines. Now people are drinking rosé year round.

I have read that the sales of Provencal rosé have gone up in the last 10 years in USA.

We have seen in December and January the biggest growth in rosé. Since 2008 it has grown double digits in the USA. Last year was 40% growth.

Is Canada the same as the USA?

Canada started slower.  Last year our growth was 38%. Quebec and Ontario are the biggest purchasers of rosé wine.  What is interesting is in Quebec, 23% of Provencal wine sold is red.

Canada has 4.7% of the world Provence rosé market.

Canada is our #8 country export market. For 2016 Canada rosé 3.6% export sales.

Do you want Canada to double in sales?

Canada has already doubled.  With the growth we see now, it will continue to grow.  Our biggest growth will be in BC, at +26% last year in volume.  And 21% in value.  We are very happy with this.

Who is the typical rosé buyer?

It is now women and men, young and old.  We have different rosé prices.  Women like the colour. Men now are buying. In Provence, one of macho areas, the men drink rosé.  For me it is normal to see men drinking rosé.

Are there any single varietal rosé wines?

We always blend.  Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault is the typical rosé blend. It is in our charter. Minimum of 50% of one of the primary grapes go into the blend: Mourvedre, Tibouren, Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault.

Do you think any New World wineries are influencing Provence?

I think more regions of the world are producing rosé.  I think the contrary. People are learning rosé wine making from Provence and taking that knowledge around the world.  Provence is taking marketing and packaging lessons from around the world. At international fairs, other French wineries are showing me their wines and say that they can make rosé too. Our tradition is rosé.  We see many regions trying to do rosé, but it is not their tradition.  They go back to red quickly, but we stay with rosé.

What would you say makes a good rosé wine?

First of all is the harvest. Having the grapes at the right ripeness and temperature. In Provence we harvest at night, by hand or machine. Machines are efficient to keep the grapes fresh and bring them quickly to the press. Coolness of the grapes are important.  Next is the right blend. Planting the ripe grape varieties on the right terroir is also important.

In 1999 we created a rosé research center, doing experiments on rosé colour.  The researchers noted if you separate into Provence into North and South, Grenache colour is different.  In the South you have schist soil, and limestone in the North.  Results of work in the research centre are given to the wine makers to increase quality.

With the drier climate in Provence is it easier to be organic?

Yes, and because of the Mistral wind. We have many winds, but the Mistral is most known. It comes from the North, hits the Mediterranean and turns East, and dries out plants if it has rained.  Most of our wineries are sustainable. But we also have many organic wineries. In the last 4 years we have 45% growth in organic agriculture in Provence.

You have the variety of soils and then marine and elevation and inland and wind, within the whole of Provence; what are the factors that make top quality rosés, or certain regions?

There are high quality rosés across the region.  Côtes de Provence is quite big and has 4 sub-appellations, which began in 2005, and there are more to come.  We have:

Côtes de Provence map (Courtesy Vins de Provence)

Côtes de Provence map – purple area (Courtesy Vins de Provence)

  • Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire (sub-appellation)
  • Côtes de Provence Fréjus (sub-appellation)
  • Côtes de Provence La Londe (sub-appellation)
  • Côtes de Provence Pierrefeu (sub-appellation)

There are different soils.  La Londe on schist, Sainte-Victoire on limestone, Fréjus on volcanic soil, and Pierrefeu on clays and schist. West is limestone. South and east are schist and volcanic soils.  These are 4 smaller sub-regions; the Côtes de Provence still has many sub-regions to define.  When tasting wines from the different sub-regions you taste the difference in the glass. Seaside flavours are different from inland.

In last 10 years global warming, is there any changes happening in Provence? Are winemakers using more of a certain grape? Has the blend changed?

I am not sure, but the 3 main red grape continue.  What is changing is the white grape, Roll (Vermentino).  For rosé wine we cannot create single varietal wine, but with white we can have single varietal.  We can add Ungi Blanc and Roll to rosé wines.

I was surprised that Vermentino after Ungi Blanc is the next biggest white grape.  I normally think of Vermentino as an Italian grape.

For Grenache you mentioned the colour is different from South to North.  Can you tell me a bit about colour in rosé wines? Does darker rosé wines have more flavour?

I think it’s all in the mind. In Provence the wines are all light pink or salmon. Sometimes there is more colour with Syrah in the blend.  It also imparts more spice and red fruit flavour.

I read that most people drink rosé asap to be fresh, but I also read there are rosés good for aging. Tell me about these wines.

It can be the blend, because certain grape varieties like Mourvedre can age. Winemakers are working on it at the moment. I tasted a 2006 and it was very good. Still fresh. We paired it with Tagine and it was perfect.  You should serve rosé within 2 years in general.  A few wine makers are working on aging rosé. I don’t know what their technique is.

In general rosé wines are 100% stainless fermentation?

Yes exactly. A few wine makers are working with wood for aging. This is not the taste expected by consumers, but it works well and there is a market for it.

It will make the price of rosé go up as barrels are expensive.

Yes, but that is for consumers who are already into rosé, and who are looking for something new.

Besides the oak treatment are wine makers using things like concrete or concrete eggs?

Yes, like in all wine regions around the world.  I know a few wine makers working with eggs.  Their experimentation shows there is an impact on the wine. Concrete of course, stainless most of the time, in part due to the need to ferment cool.

Did anyone try to dry the grapes before fermentation?

I have seen that in a winery a long time ago.  I don’t know if it still ongoing.   There are a lot of new wine makers, who have read a lot, and had training in other parts of world, bringing new ideas to Provence.

I read that French rosé outsells French white wines in France.

Yes, since 1994.  In France we sell wine in big grocery stores (monopoles), so in France now rosé represents 30% of sales in these stores.  That is not a new trend.  It is an old trend.

Are there other countries where rosé outsells white?

No, but the consumption increases in many countries. Sweden up 750%, Canada 120%. In many countries, like Hong Kong, new young people in Asian countries with more money to buy wine, so we have new customers around the world for rosé.

Does China like rosé? They do prefer red wines.

We have worked in China. The ladies like rosé. It is difficult to sell as the country is so big.  It is difficult for them to find rosé in a wine shop.  The availability is not there.  It is not like going to a BC liquor store.

There are 14 rosé for BCLDB, and private shops also bring in rosés.

Maybe there are 40 different rosés in BC?

I don’t know. In every study I read Canada will grow and be a bigger consumer. Cheers.

The 4 Rosés We Sampled

All four rosés showed their freshness and crispness.  I enjoyed all four wines.

Chateau Barbelle, Domaine Saint Ferreol, Mirabeau, and Famille Sumeire rose wines from Provence

Chateau Barbelle, Domaine Saint Ferreol, Mirabeau, and Famille Sumeire rosé wines from Provence

Chateau Barbelle “Cuvee Madeleine”, 2016 ($19.99) – 50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, and 25% Cinsault. Nice crisp, strawberry nose.  More strawberries on the palate. Crisp and dry with good acidity.  A patio sipper. 4 Stars

Domaine Saint Ferreol “Les Vaunieres”, 2016 ($17.99) – 40% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 15% Cinsault, 15% Carignan, and 5% Ungi-blanc (a white grape). More restrained flavours.  Red fruit and some pepperiness.  Salty minerality. 4 Stars

Mirabeau “Pure En Provence”, 2016 ($28.99) – 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah. Nice aromatic red cherries and strawberries aroma.  Full mouth feel, higher acidity, dry.  Flavours of red cherries and some dried leaves.  Peppery.  Almost has a waxy mouth feel.  Some bitterness on the finish. 4 Stars

Famille Sumeire “Chateau Coussin”, 2016 ($29.99) – 70% Grenache, 20% Cinsault, and 10% Syrah. Medium bodied, round and soft, with medium acidity.  Strawberries, red fruits, and flowers on the palate. I think this wine would go with a grilled steak. 4.5 Stars

Merci to Valerie for her insights into Provence rosé wines.  Now is the time to enjoy some fresh, crisp rosé wines on the patio.  Here is a link to the BCLDB listing all their Provence rosé wines. Enjoy!

Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Some people prefer red wines. Some only like Cabernet Sauvignon. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I met many great wine makers. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.