Once despised as “not real wine” by connoisseurs, now served in three-star Parisian restaurants, as well as trendy bistrots, rosés today account for more than a quarter of all wine consumption in France. Rosé is hip, rosé is fun, rosé is easy to drink, rosé reminds us of holidays in the sun – not of complex Bordeaux wine lists that seem to require years of arcane studies to get right.
Like many other changes, chalk up a good part of this revolution to present and former socialist governments. Not necessarily because pink is the traditional colour of the party (red being Communist), rather because the François Mitterrand-created wealth tax, unrescinded since 1981, exempted “production resources” from its base.
Any well-off French individual unwilling to leave the country and desirous to maintain a holiday home was advised to start some sort of professional activity on the premises. What better than farming, with its myriad subsidies, which didn’t despoil a pleasing landscape, could be safely left to locals, and was well-considered by all? And since buyers of vacation homes tend to look for them in the South, what better than production of a comparatively easier wine to grow, rosé?
They’re all at it, from Gérard Depardieu in the Loire to Brangelina’s Côtes de Provence Château Miraval. Together they are raising a hitherto cheap and cheerful local speciality, a staple of seaside al-fresco summer lunches, often drunk over – horror – ice cubes, to the level of something now deserving of ratings by serious wine experts.
It wasn’t enough for the self-image of hedge-funders, Lazards bankers and Hollywood stars to produce French wine; they had to produce good French wine. Thus, so many experts were signed up that in a matter of years, French vintages, already producing the greatest quantity of the world’s rosé, started producing the greatest quality as well. It helped that the wine required less time, expertise and investment than the decades of complex slog necessary to compete in Bordeaux or Burgundy country: best drunk young, rosé doesn’t need to age in oak casks, and goes from vine to table in under two years.
Availability and improved quality are only part of the story. There’s also price. Who can afford a serious claret or Burgundy these days: like Victorian orphans, we look at £1,500 bottles of Château Latour through the Nicolas plate glass, consoling ourselves with the incontrovertible truth that every bottle of Grand Cru Classé de Pauillac sold to another Chinese billionaire helps lower our tax bills.
There’s also the change in lifestyles: rosé is a lighter wine, with few of the after-effects of more complex whites, and little of the fuss seemingly required to appreciate a full-bodied red. Along with champagne, it’s practically the only wine the French will also drink as an apéritif. Start as you mean to go on works fine for the less formal dinner party preferred today: a single wine for the evening also means fewer headaches next morning.
The great Parisian wine bars, such as Saint-Germain des Prés’ Le Sauvignon, now serve some remarkable rosés. So do perennial classic restaurants such as Le Berkeley, near the Champs-Elysées, which introduced the Saint-Tropez-produced Château Minuty almost 20 years ago, and only last week served some to their most conspicuous customers, Valérie Trierweiler and Alain Delon, lunching à deux. (Château Minuty say they sell 350,000 bottles of rosé a year in Paris alone.)
Perhaps remembering that François Hollande had recently auctioned off the contents of the Elysée cellars, the president’s former partner looked well shot of the oppressive grandeur of the palace. The only pink in her life was in her glass.
Article written by Anne-Elisabeth Moutet in the Daily Telegraph, 21 Apr 2014