30 Mar 2011

Rosé comes with spring, and at different prices

The fashion for rosé wines has gone crazy here in France over recent years. And, so I hear, in a few other markets. Somebody even told me the other day (he was naturally a producer of rosé wine) that the French now buy more rosé than white. This seems quite hard to believe, and even to understand. But on the rare occasions when I venture into those horror chambers that are known as supermarkets (I am lucky to live in a place that has many street markets and still some good independant food shops), I do seem to see more shelf space devoted to rosé wines than to white.

At any rate, with the advent of spring, us wine hacks are regularly invaded by numerous samples of rosés (yes, I know, all of you who are not in the business are tut-tutting and saying: the poor sods, what a tough life!). And yet we do our conscientious best to do these samples proper justice by tasting them all. I have just received wines from two of the large-scale producers in Provence, the region which has, over recent years, become, for better or for worse, almost synonymous with this type of wine. The producers are Castel, one of France's wine giants in terms of size, and Gassier, which is part of the slightly less huge Advini group. The rosés I received from them are clearly at the upper end of the market, as for the 7 bottles we tasted, the price scale runs from 5 euros to a whacking 25 euros (gulp!).

I should first apologize for the very messy backdrop in my hastily improvised studio in the living room of my small flat. I promise to do this kind of thing better in the future, but I was in a hurry to write this piece.

In front we have the 3 wines that my colleague Sébastien and I preferred, unanimously. Interestingly enough they include the least expensive wine of the seven (5 euros, on the left) and the most expensive (a silly 25 euros, on the right). In the middle is a wine that sells for 7 euros.

I won't bore you with details such as tasting notes, as that is not the point here. What I do want to say is that there seems, in this instance at least, to be little correlation between price and a scale of quality. I will admit that the most expensive wine was the best. But, to be quite honest, if I was having a picnic or a barbecue with family and friends, I could almost buy a case of 6 bottles of the least expensive of these wines (the one on the left un the front row) for that price of a bottle of the one on the right. And I am quite sure that nobody would feel that I was being a cheap-skate and serving them with indifferent wine. The 5 euro wine is perfectly good, refreshing and with enough fruit flavour to give it character. In other words, I have yet to be totally convinced by the added value of expensive rosés.  


  1. David, we often agree, but mostly not on the matter of pricing.The angle is different, I suppose, according to which side of the account you stand: the receiving end or the paying party.
    For any consumer, the right price is that which corresponds, according to him/her, to the pleasure he/she derives from the wine. This pleasure can be based on esthetic criteria, inebriational ones (the famous piss-up), self-esteem (snobbery), digestion ....
    For the producer, I’m naive enough to think “cost-of-goods” is the basis on which to build a price-list, modified according to “fame”, rarity, skill .....
    By and large, rosé is made from shitty grapes. Indeed, whether you go for direct pressurizing or for “saignée”, the skins are not all too important. Generally, the aging takes less time. Finally, the yield is often higher. All these reasons prove you right and one CAN make profit while selling a decent rosé around 5 € retail price.
    Still – and I do not speak solely on my behalf – many a producer of fine rosé will use very good grapes, picked at the right time, at a reduced yield and will take very similar care as for his best white wines. Then, I do not see why they should end up cheap. The example that comes to my mind – and I apologize for not remembering it’s name – is the one Jean Gardiés makes, adding some cinsault to the blend (very rare in Roussillon) and aging it in oak ... with subtlety. A hell of a mouthful of a good wine.
    On the other end of the spectrum, why people would spend a fortune on Roederer’s Cristal rosé, this most acidic of “piquettes”, remains a puzzle to me.

  2. I think we DO agree on this Luc. I am not saying that one should pay no attention to quality in rosés. They should be judged like any wine, of course. Just that in this particular case, I do not think that the price spread of 1 to 5 is justified. At the upper end of this scale we are into the realm of marketinge and price positioning for egos. But I am very happy to pay, say, 8 to 10 euros for a really good rosé.

    And I totally agree about Roederer's overpriced Cristal rosé. Only for the silly rich, the rich and silly, and so on.

  3. You may have noticed I pay attention to titles, David. Yours always have an interesting added value, or contain a hint. This time, I’d be tempted to add that your Ducati’s valves also come with spring(s). Moreover, I’m almost convinced I remember a limited edition they used to call “Primavera”.

  4. Maybe this was a special edition for Belgium, where Ducati clubs organise spring runs every year, and these are called Primavera. I note that the one organised this year by the Brussels club starts and finishes at Waterloo.
    Luc, I have long since noticed your acute sense of observation, as well as your remarkable memory.

  5. And, on the subject of pricing for wines, I will try to reveal some of my contradictions in tomorrow's article.

  6. Waterloo is home to a recently opened fine food and wine retail shop, adequately named “L’accent catalan”. It is located 387, Chaussée de Bruxelles and run by a Michael Fernandez. You cannot miss it. Free to you to stop there, if ever your tyres are in need of cooling down.
    Meantime, I abandon to your sheer enjoyment this very lyrical little anthem:
    “ Napoléon 1er, est mort à Sainte-Hélène
    Son fils Léon, lui a crevé l’bidon.
    On l’a r’trouvé, sur le dos d’une baleine,
    En train d’bouffer, les fils de ses caleçons ... »
    Our only excuse was we were five at the time we used to sing it.

  7. I wish roses like this is more available in the States. . . lucky you to live in France for that.