Monday, April 27, 2009

Rosé Wine & The Square Wheel Society

Just had news through of a petition of French origin aimed at blocking an EU move to allow production of rosé wine by mixing red and white wines. Part of it states, "By signing this petition, I agree to support rosé wine whose quality results from vinification, and I oppose the notion that rosé can be made by mixing wines."

I'll translate into normal language. Most major red grapes have pale flesh. Red wines get their colour from the time the grapeskins spend in contact with the juice that comes from that flesh. A long time, and you have a deeply coloured wine; a short time, and it's pink. That's the way these people want rosé to be made. But what on earth is the problem with blending red and white to make pink? Just because it's not the 'traditional' way doesn't make it wrong - and it's also how pink Champagne is made.

However, the uproar is the classic response from the French wine industry - anything that upsets the status quo is evil, if that square wheel was good enough for my Grandad Ackroyd, it's good enough for moi. Rather than seek to compete with anything vaguely new, let's slag it off, or go on strike about it, or overturn a tanker or two. Or come up with a petition.

Don't get me wrong, France makes some brilliant rosés, far, far better than most of the stuff from California that is driving the increase in sales in the UK. Think Sancerre, think Corbières, think Côtes de Provence - some lovely wines that are great with food, unlike some of the oversweet clodhopping New World offerings. But rather than get out there and show the rest of the world just how good they are, too many producers are just sitting back waiting for customers to come to them. And of course if sales aren't what they could be, it's someone else's fault - can we have a subsidy please?


Richard M James said...

Hi Simon. Hope you're well. Don't know how I chanced upon this posting but anyway agree totally of course, having also been sent a link to that evil petition. Your reasoning is 100% sound but the problem is many French growers are still living in a 'bulk-price' obsessed world and are paranoid that this move will slash prices. As usual missing the point - these regs refer to table wines for a start and so what if there will be cheap blended rosés around for €1 in France? People will buy them once, realise they're crap then go back to the 'superior traditional' rosé (although not always) at €3-€5 . At the end of the day, you get what you pay for - although you always pay more for the 'Provence brand' for no apparent reason.
Cheers for now.

Richard M James, France
Editor/publisher - rédacteur-en-chef/éditeur:
Contributor/collaborateur:, Decanter, Time Out 'South of France' guide...
Wine translation service/prestation de traductions viti-vinicoles. /

Simon said...

Good to hear from you Richard, and hope you're right about people being able to tell crap wines from non-crap wines - a glance at a list of the best-sellers in the UK might lead some to think otherwise...

Richard Craig said...

Hi Simon, I agree that the French wine producers have been resting on their laurels for decades and as always,are slow to change their traditions to reflect market conditions. However, it could be said that with the current upheaval in the markets, this is not necessarily a bad thing. A long term traditional view of the state of the wine and financial markets will probably be proved to be better than a fast buck earned on a risky, here today, gone tomorrow venture!
As we know, French marketing and selling is improving significantly as demonstrated at the last two London Wine Trade Fairs with a stand dedicated to the promotion of solely roses from Provence. My concerns regarding manufacturing roses by mixing red and white wine are that it encourages formulaic wine making. Large quantities of cheap rose wines will be made in the lab to a recipe rather than in the small Domaine or Cave, further eroding the notion of terroir.
In this age of consolidation and mergers in our industry, the talent, knowledge, terroir and philosophy of these small, often family owned concerns should be nurtured and encouraged.
The Rose market is not one where consumers spend hours deliberating on the pros and cons of a specific wine. They are not interested in the fact that the wine was made by the son in laws illgetimate daughter, that it will be ready for drinking in 10 years or that it goes spectacularly well with Navarin d'Agneau! It is an impulse purchase, primarily purchased on price, discounting and climatic conditions. The influx of sound, in comparison cheap, blended rose could sound the death nell of quality saignee method producers. This would be a trajedy and a travasty for the rural communities that once gone, would be lost forever!

Simon said...

Hi Richard, I agree that most rosé buyers are not too interested in where their preferred tipple comes from, providing it does what it's supposed to. But to prevent someone from making something that caters for their wants/needs sounds to me like protectionism. And I've still not heard a coherent argument as to what is the problem with blending red and white to make rosé, just the 'we've always done it this way' line (which is just as formulaic). Only they haven't always done it this way - how many producers doing saignée survive without temperature control, stainless steel tanks and sterile bottling?