The war of the rosés

Posted by Stuart George in Tastings | Leave a comment

At the end of May, I was invited to be a judge at the Concours des Vins de Provence 2009, a secondary competition to the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. It is not easy to turn down an invitation to taste wines in St-Tropez!

Brigitte Bardot St-Tropez

Typically, many of the other tasters were local winemakers. I thought that the scores awarded to some wines were a little excessive… My neighbour awarded a perfect 100 to a wine that I rated at 62 because it reeked of volatile acidity. If locals form most of the judging panel, then high scores are a certainty. Provençal winemakers are not known for their broadminded view of the world: I think it’s called a “cellar palate.”

There was an awful lot of fuss during the Concours about proposed EU rules on blending red and white wine to make rosé. The EU’s argument was that it would make producers more competitive with the New World (where blending is allowed) and reduce the wine lake. Most winemakers in Provence insisted that coupage (blending) was the road to ruin and that only rosé made by saignée (“bleeding” the red wine) should be produced. Only the worst red and white wines would be used in rosé blends, they howled.

Some other overseas tasters (from Belgium, Germany and Japan) and I were filmed by the local TV station tasting blind two saignée wines against a coupage blend. It was obvious which was which: the coupage was so shockingly bad that it seemed as though the worst possible example was found and used as a stooge. It certainly supported the argument that only the worst wines would be used.

However, I agree with Charles Metcalfe that the coupage proposal was a “red herring.” As he pointed out, most rosé Champagne is made by blending red and white wines – even Krug uses this method – and much New World rosé is also blended to a good standard. (Doubtless the Australian taster Amanda Regan would have an opinion on this). As the Concours tasting proved, not all French (or at least Provençal) rosé is great – indeed, the greater part of it is poor when examined closely. Mercifully, the wines rarely show the sugary unctuousness of Californian rosés but volatile acidity and/or premature oxidation – essentially, a lack of freshness – is a persistent problem.

In the end, the proposal was abandoned one week before it was due to be ratified on 19 June, much to the glee of rosé winemakers across France and Italy.

But even the worst coupage rosé tastes good when, like Pink Floyd, you “reach for a peach, slide a line down behind a sofa in St-Tropez.”

Pink Floyd in St-Tropez

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