Premium Rosé, why not?

ONBOARD’s wine guru Claire Mottershaw asks why have we waited so long for the industry to deliver these new cuvées

Claire Mottershaw - VSF GroupWe all love to drink rosé when the sun shines. It has a simple nature, it’s fresh and easy to drink and often not expensive. But recently we have seen rosé producers releasing more complex and expensive cuvées. This fact has taken some by surprise, but we have long had premium red and white wines so why not rosé too? The fact that more people are drinking rosé has driven the demand for more layered, and therefore more expensive, wines.

For a long time, consumers looking to spend north of 40euro on a bottle of rosé would have little option but to seek out a magnum or jeroboam. The first brand to really branch out into and claim this space was Chateau d’Esclans.

Sacha Lichine purchased d’Esclans in 2006 having long identified the opportunity for premiumisation in the rosé wine space. Taking grapes from a small parcel of nearly 100-year-old vines and using barrel fermentation, Lichine started doing things never-before tried on a commercial scale with the hither-to, humble rosé. The result was an expressive, complex and above all luxurious wine they named Garrus, after the Roman term for hilltop. Initial public response to the wines’ release was muted and it was largely dismissed as nothing more than a clever marketing gimmick with no future. Priced at around 100.00euro, what could possibly make a rosé worth that much money?

Over time, far from becoming an amusing sidenote of wine history, Garrus has earned recognition as a truly exceptional wine. In addition, Garrus has forged the very market Sacha Lichine initially envisaged for super-premium rosé wine. For that reason, Garrus will forever stand alone as the pioneer, the instigator. A gastronomic rosé that dared to sit at the table of high society. As with all great ideas, imitation is the greatest form of flattery.

We now see an increasing number of wine producers releasing ever more expensive, “prestige cuvées”, to borrow the champenoise terminology. Terminology traditionally linked to vineyards and wineries in places such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, have now become commonplace in tasting notes of rosé wines; hand selection of grapes, parcels of old vines, barrel fermentation, less stirring. This is a new and exciting category of wines with experimentation and modernisation on a scale rarely seen in such a tradition-led wine country such as France.

Proof of the potential for growth in premium rosé wines, as well as validation of its acceptance as a wine category of note came with the release of Etoile from the historic powerhouse of Provence, Domaines Ott. Chateau Minuty have also dipped their toes in the water with their 281 cuvée, albeit at a slightly lower price- point than both Garrus and Etoile.

The market now extends beyond the borders of Provence and it is in the neighbouring wine region of the Languedoc, to the West, that we find the newly-crowned “most expensive rosé in the world”. Made by French, former rugby pro, Gérard Bertrand, a bottle of “Clos du Temple” does not leave you much change from 200euro.

The wine comes from Cabrières, in the heart of the Languedoc. A region which has endured a rollercoaster ride of fortunes having once been described by King Louis XIV as the best place for rosé in France before more recently becoming synonymous with quantity over quality. The question for consumers remains whether or not they are willing to part with more than 100euro for a single bottle of rosé. Sales figures from the last few years would suggest that for more and more of us, the answer is “oui”!

Claire Mottershaw, Executive Director at VSF Group.