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Updated: Jul 7, 2021

Transcription of the podcast interview.

Mattia Scarpazza 06.01.2021

First of all, a bit of contest on the episode and Elizabeth Gabay MW.

Rose wines have gone through an amazing renaissance.

You can now find roses from any wine producing countries and regions. Rose span from the deeply coloured Mediterranean style to the distinctively pale wines of Provence. Rose comes in many shades, but the colour is not everything to the quality of rose wine. There is more to what meets the eyes, there are soils selection, altitude and aspects come to play to produce an outstanding style of Rose.

For Elizabeth Gabay Master of Wines, author of Rose Understanding the pink wine revolution, rose wines are the product of the energy and creativity of Winemakers who are experimenting and pushing the boundaries of what rose wines are.

We’ll discuss the shaping of the contemporary rose industry, what conscious rose producers are doing in the vineyards and some of the more avant-garde way to make rose wines as well as how Provence come to be the leading producer of rose

Mattia: What was the idea behind the book?

Elizabeth: The original idea was because I live on the edge of Provence, I was to write a guide to Provence, the wines of Provence. With 90 % of their wine being rosé, it was sort of rosé within the Provence world, but also a bit of the history of Provence and the classic wine library said, well, actually, we would rather have a book on just rosé, not just on Provence. I was probably very much like a lot of other people at the time, Provence equalled rosé. Most of the market, wasn't aware of rosé from anywhere else. So for me, it was very much a journey of discovery, for me as the author, as much as for the audience.

So in the vineyards, what they've been looking at is how do you have grapes that mature to full ripeness but keep acidity. Some of the main usage are leaf cover, where you keep a greater canopy than you would for red wine, altitude's proving do some quite good roses with that acidity and the north-facing slope, you wouldn't use for your red wine.

It's a very broad topic and I think it's very difficult to portray every aspect and every shade of rosé. I think my biggest takeaway from the book was that colour doesn't indicate the quality, but indicates a style within the Rose world. Would you agree?

I think because, I am always very interested in the history of wine and so I looking into the history of rosé, seeing how until fairly recently, colour possibly was an indication of quality with the darker rosé being a leftover of red wine, residual sugar left in to balance the tannins. So historically there were a hundred years where darker rosé was the dregs, the leftover side of the wine.

I remember selling rosé in the nineteen-eighties from Provence, which was dark. It lasted two months. It wasn't brilliant. It had to be served very cold. So what we've seen is technological development, viticulture, winemaking, everything that allowed producers to understand how to make good rosé.

Symbolically paler was part of this new world view, now winemakers are applying that knowledge to be able to produce better quality dark rosés. So you need to know the history to understand where that idea comes from.

When you're talking about the technology there's a section in the book where you explain about the vineyards and the work we're doing, what sort of techniques that you see in them.

So you have to think a bit about how you define rosé before you can go any further on technology. And rosé is not just colour, it's not this pale, it's not this dull Rosé has the freshness and the acidity of white wine and the fruit of red wine.

So if you want the freshness for rosé, you have a couple of ways of doing it. You can harvest it early, that you want on your final rosé.

So in the vineyards, what they've been looking at is how do you have grapes that mature to full ripeness but keep acidity. Some of the main usage are leaf cover, where you keep a greater canopy than you would for red wine, altitude's proving do some quite good roses with that acidity and the north-facing slope, you wouldn't use for your red wine.

So in reality instead of being the leftover of red wine, it's becoming increasingly in the field, the mirror image. Is that right? The mirror image, the opposite of red wine.

Like in Tuscany, you say, why are you making rosé? And they say things like it's the vineyard where the red wine didn't ripen.

Is this is a conscious choice now then for a lot of winemakers and then rather than before, you say, was to the lesser vineyard, but now that's started selecting vineyards to produce roses.

So it's going on to the soil characteristics, you know if it's got slightly more cool soil.

But that's just one way. So there are producers who have dedicated vineyards, especially for rosé that are cooler. Then in Bordeaux, there are some producers saying, and this will apply for more marginal areas, depending on whether it's a hot or cold year, "we don't always use the same vineyards, we balance". Because for them, the red is the primary production. So, yes, the idea is that the vineyard is there's a focus on using it for rosé wine from the beginning of the growing season.

Régine Sumeire, head of Château la Tour de l’Evêque

Definitely you see these differences from like Bordeaux and different regions supplying different knowledge of what is their rosé and rosé is difficult to pinpoint because there's so many shade and so many stories from very pale to deep dark and so many techniques are used. And Provence is becoming like the hub of rosé. How did they turn the image from being quite, as you say, dark to extremely pale?

So, as I say, when I started selling Provence rosé in the 1980s, when it was this dark, often bled off the red wine, and there is the famous story of from Tour de l’Evêque talking to a Bordeaux producer who was telling her to make pressured white wine. Direct press whole grapes and she didn't want to risk destroying her white wine, so she said, you know what, I'll try it on Grenache and see if it works, ‘I've got nothing to lose’ and the resulting rosé was paler.

After the book was published, I was going through, I'd kept books and books of tasting notes, and I discovered a few other Vignerons at the same time were all trying to look into how can we make a better, fresher, paler rosé. So there was a movement at the end of the 1980s, early 90s to make a better quality rosé.

So throughout the 90s, the quality got better and better: temperature control, more delicate, fresher acidity. It was very much, I mean a very exciting, very innovative at the time in the rosé Research Centre, but then the key thing that happened was the early 2000s, leading up to 2007, there were grants from the EU to market wines just as this grant appeared, Provence had arrived at high-quality rosé. So it was the synergy of the money was available, the wine was available, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were renting Miraval to go to the Cannes Film Festival. It was just everything was right at the right time in the right place.

Bom Bom in the Sun at Domaine des Hautes Collines

That led to the success that it is now. In your book, you mention new experimental ways and people are making rosé. There is a beautiful picture of rosé left outside on the flor. How does this work?

So Clos Cibonne, is the most famous example of this so that you go into the cellar and they weren't trying to be experimental, it is what interesting for me, is they were just making their rosé as they had always made it the same grape variety, in their cellar they have big old beer barrels, not wine barrels!

They bought beer barrels in cheap and the wine evaporates a little bit because it's on the coast and this layer of flor develops, interestingly, I read a review about this wine last week, evidently someone who's never tasted it before, said it tastes like sherry It doesn't, when I tasted this wine, there was no hint of oxidation. It doesn't taste like a wine that you would say is old, it's faded or anything, all you can taste is a greater concentration of fruit, somehow, the flor protects the wines from oxidation.

So that is Clos Cibonne and it makes fantastic wine that ages very well.

Then the picture you're referring to of the rosé in the glass bottles, this is a slightly experimental winemaker just north of Nice where the flor develops called Domaine des Hautes Collines, if I gave it to you would say concentrated fruit character, no oxidation, I've tasted rosé under flor also from Slovakia. So what it does is, is just allow the fruit characters to come through without losing the acidity. You need acidity for the flor to develop.

Is it interesting when you speak about Slovakia, you see rosé cropping up from everywhere is becoming part of the portfolios in every wineries and most of the part of the world.

Well, that is partially not just the winemaker's choice, you can talk to producers who make fantastic red wine and their importer will say: "I love your red wine, can you put in two cases of rosé, three cases of rosé? We have a demand for rosé".

In several cases, producers, who have no idea how to make rosé. No idea kind of go: "OK, right, I'll add some rosé next year". And I've spoken to one producer, I said, well, how did you know how to make rosé? You have no tradition of rosé. He said, I went on to the website for a few Provence vineyards and I read what they do and I sort of copied it, you end up with this Provence style rosé in the middle of somewhere else. Do you think this is weird? So producers are beginning to learn the market wants rosé next to the red, but a lot of producers do not yet understand how to best use their local variety and local traditions to make their local style, this is something I found exciting with rosé, For me, it is the most energetic and innovative part of the wine market right now.

And there's just this great influence from, like, America to produce rosé and they are influencing buying the rose as well. And so what do you think that led to?

But when I talk to or taste wine for the American market and for the European market, for the rosé, there does seem to be a slight difference and I would like to investigate that a bit more. I think they tend to go for a slightly fruitier, a slight rounder character than we're used to in Provence, sometimes it's a different wine, sometimes not always.

So there is still national characteristics, but I think the American markets and what they want will have an influence, yes.

You can talk to producers who make fantastic red wine and their importer will say: "I love your red wine, can you put in two cases of rosé, three cases of rosé? We have a demand for rosé".

In the section of the book on the USA, you said there are four main styles of off-dry, blush, saignée, blend of an intentional rosé, darker Spanish, and increasingly this dry, Provence complex style. And do you think these are mirrored around the world?

To a certain extent. But because Provence hit the world in 2007 you suddenly started seeing a surge in rosé winemaking around the world, making rosé as they had always made it, Provence as now, 2020, there is an increasing number of Provence producers who are experimenting with what they're doing.

But rosé producers around the world have only just reached the Provence style we've got this sort of evolving range of styles, then you've got say Australia, they have a patchwork of grape varieties that make an enormous variation. So, yes, the growth in Provence style rosé is growing every year, but at the same time, we're getting growth in a totally different style. It's a ripple effect, it's not a clear linear effect, there is still national characteristics, but I think the American markets and what they want will have an influence, yes.

Because obviously there is not only the pale market. A large part of so-called traditional styles like those of Spanish Navarra or Chiaretto.

But that will also depend on if you want to export. So Chiaretto was slightly darker, but to export, they've had to become paler. Cerasuolo, for me Cerasuolo, the best Cerasuolo was quite dark. But to export, those wines are becoming paler, so you're ending up with a split in this is the rosé that will be drunk at home and this is the export market.

Do you think the exports will accept it is dark in style?

Depends on the sector, I think if we get restaurants back again, hopefully, we will get I think the darker style is very much the style that may be Sommeliers or small boutique wine merchants. They can hand-sell they can allow you to taste. They can promote it. My big fear is that the divide will be the paler ones will be the mass market and the darker the niche. And I hear people saying things like the paler is better and which if I ask them "why?" there's a lack of knowledge and that knowledge that needs to creep up and be at the same rate, but I hope both will survive.

Well hopefully with the interest of new rosé and your book will help, and other interest in rosé., And what do you think are the risk that could be because we have this sort of rosé could be like Champagne and could be becoming like a soft brand.

I mean, you can see it when you get the technical sheets for roses, I'm tasting them and they're identical. We have harvested early, we've kept the grapes cold, we ferment at a cold temperature with a rosé yeast, which quite often means strawberry fruit or grapefruit in tank we bottle after two or three months on the lees.

So the wine will be ready by February and it's on the market and the same method and technology is repeated over and over again. I think for me that is the danger that this becomes the generic brand, a cheaper wine a supermarket wine.

Rosé is not only cheap, there are also super premium style of rosé.

High-quality rosé, how would you define it?

So I'm often asked this question and I say, how do you define a premium red or white? And people say, well, it has complexity, it has the ageing ability and is the same for premium rosé. There should be no difference. So for me, the top premium roses will have greater weight and substance, greater extract, complexity, ageing ability and a rosé that will make me excited is a rosé where I don't mind if it's a bit quirky, I'm looking for a rosé that makes me think, that will go with food that will have all sorts of other complex things. There is some premium, not all premium rosé that is aged in oak, you have some that are in cement and then you get a lovely texture behind it. So that's for me, a premium rosé is a wine that makes me sit up and I think and is this is enjoyable and not ice cold, if I have to drink it iced cold I'm not interested!

I'm not going to comment on that! So when you are talking about ageing in rosé, there is a section in your book when you went and asked for some old samples.

How was the reaction?

I realised as I was tasting older vintages. We just didn't have a vocabulary for describing older rosé, you know, older reds we look at the colour becoming more garnet, more mahogany.

We're looking for more integrated tannins, softer tannins in red and for white wines dark yellow, you know, sort of mellow flavours. For rosé, as soon as people were saying it no longer has bright red primary fruit and is no longer bright pink, it was dismissed. So I felt we weren't developing positive tasting notes for an older rosé.

So I did a call out in Provence, and in Provence now, if you ask for older roses, anything younger than three years is young. We've got to that stage improvements, and so I had one producer who rang me up and he said, do you like to taste some old roses with you, can you come round for lunch?

So we turned up for lunch and he said, I've come through my entire cellar and we've discovered a rosé from, it's in the book, 1992 I think it was. It was slightly oxidised, but it was the bottle we all finished. It was amazing. It had a complexity that would go with food. So my feeling about an older rosé is that it does not taste like a young rosé. Thank goodness, because it's aged.

What sort of flavours do you think it develops? I never had the occasion to taste one old.

With Provence rosé I found with age it tends to take on slightly more red berry dried, orange peel type flavours, whereas I tasted a nineteen seventy-six Negroamaro from Salento two years ago and that had slightly more mineral, again that slightly bitter orange. But then the oldest was a fifty-nine cabernet d'Anjou which was dried apricots, dried peaches, creamy. So what I would love to do in my dreams.

Is to do older vintages of rosé, but from different places, because I'd quite like to see whether different grape varieties take on different flavours with age. So that is ambition. But there are not so many people who have older roses. I mean, Tondonia, the current vintage is 2009.

Is the Gran Reserva the one you mean?


It's not something a lot of people realise, that rosé can age, and definitely rosé is not only for Summer time which is how it's been marketed.

It's a problem, I know last year there were a lot of wine merchants in America saying they haven't cleared all this stock and they were very sad because they said, you know, that just as the rosé is opening out and becoming a bit more complex, the market is saying, no, we don't want it, we want the new vintage. So there was a discussion on Twitter about old roses as well. Somebody said to me, but they don't age, how do you know? I said. Have you ever tasted an old rosé? they said, no.

So I realised that there was a lot more to be done by promoting roses with age.

There's a lot of stress in the book about new technology have brought the quality of the wine up. What do you think are the key technological changes?

I think because there's been a lot of research, so. Although temperature-controlled cooler fermentation and handling of grapes has resulted in fresher fruit and a greater awareness of the health of the grapes has now meant that a lot of natural wine producers are also making rosé at a warmer temperature. So it's not one particular thing. It's a combination of work in the field, plus work in the cellar.

So I talk about technology a lot because I think people are experimenting. You know, 20 years ago, orange wine was maybe more faulty, whereas now people who make skin-fermented white wine understand that there has to be hygiene in the cellar or there have to be healthier grapes. So it's very much a pooling together from lots of different sides.

I think it's better care and more consciousness when making this style of wines so that have changed the shape of rosé.

It was just an interesting point in that we all think of hygienic cellars making better wine. And I did challenge one student and I said, OK, have you never tasted a good wine from a slightly scruffy wine cellar? So, I'm not asking for hygienic surgeries, but just a better awareness.

Well, just the last couple of question, what would you say is the best way to understand rosé to someone who's just getting into the world of wine.

Don't be a wine snob, I think there are plenty of people who put up a barrier straight away and say ‘because it's pink I'm not expecting it to be very good’. I think it's like I when I first started wine tasting, I was experimenting all the time, I tried something different each week to see which wine I like and maybe to do the same with rosé. I would say if you're serious about rosé, don't look at the presentation.

Elizabeth Gabay MW

What do you think is going to be the future for rosé, what styles do you think are going to crop up?

I seriously think and I'm talking only about sort of an upmarket rosé, I'm not talking about the general big volume rosé.

I think producers are going to maybe be looking at how to get complexity in the wine without making a heavy wine as soon as it becomes heavy, we're going towards red wine.

So as I said earlier, I think altitude and north-facing slopes, especially with climate change, is going to become very important. I think the greater expression of different grape varieties until fairly recently, the idea was that you couldn't identify rosé, by its grape varieties. The idea was that it was a sort of generic style. And I think that's just going to be something much more important, that you taste a glass of rosé. And you said that's a Xinomavro from northern Greece. Just as you would a red wine, and I think that is a trend that we should be looking at for premium rosé.

And now I'm considering the rosé world is just so dynamic. Is it time to do a second book?

That would be something to look forward to.

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