From Portugal to Provence: The Rose Revolution

From Portugal to Provence: The Rose Revolution

When I first joined the wine trade in 1975, very few rosé wines adorned the shelves of supermarkets or wine merchants, so I grew up watching my mother down many glasses/bottles of Mateus rosé. The history of Mateus goes back to 1942, when the founder of Portuguese wine company Sogrape, Fernando van Zeller Guedes, launched a visionary concept: a new kind of wine, rosé, slightly sparkling with a unique flavour and a strong identity reflected in an innovative bottle inspired by the hip flasks used by soldiers in World War I. Over 75 years later, Mateus rosé is a truly global brand, present in more than 120 countries with over one billion bottles sold.

I remember it coming in wooden cases, the bottles wrapped in straw.The early wine bars used to stick a candle in an empty bottle and place it on the table, all part of a romantic evening for many couples, but it now has new packaging, and can be found in most supermarkets in the country, priced around the £5.75 and probably on promotion at £4.99. It is fresh, young, still with a gentle sparkle and light in alcohol at 9%.  The choice of rosé back in the day was Mateus, Anjou (medium sweet, a generally sickly style) and the dry Provence variety, which now takes centre stage, but let’s first consider how rosé wines in general are produced? Saignee or bleeding is used to make the best quality rosés. Red grapes are placed into a tank and the weight of the grapes enables them effectively to press themselves, with the juice in contact with the grape skins for a very short time - the longer the juice is on the skins, the darker the colour. Presse or pressing is the technique of pressing the red grapes until the juice has the desired colour. When the colour is right, the pressing stops and the resultant juice is drawn off to ferment.  

Cotes de Provence rosés are now so much in vogue that the region is running out of wine, and an application has been made to increase the vineyard size by 300ha, from a current area of just under 27,000ha, which on average produces about 180 million bottles per year, with about 550 producers and 100 negociants. The grapes used are principally Grenache and Cinsault, with Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah also in the mix, while about 20% of white varieties can also be used to provide acidity and delicacy.  The wines are pale in colour and the paler the better is the current trend, which seems to be extremely popular with consumers. The Benenden community shop stocks the Rose de Sophie Cotes de Provence 2018 from the Famille Sumeire, a blend of Grenache and Carignan which at 12.5% alcohol/volume is dry, with crisp, fresh acidity, fine minerality and hints of blossom and stone fruits. I’d say it is a benchmark of the style, on the shelves at £12.25, but remember, one should not drink rosé wines too cold - the ideal temperature is about 11-15 degrees C. Colder than this will take out much of the flavour; too warm and the alcohol comes to the fore.  

Personally I prefer rosés with a bit more complexity and a deeper colour, so I could not finish this article without mentioning the best-selling rosé in the community shop, from my dear friends at Domaine de Pellehaut in Montreal du Gers, Gascony. Martin and Mathieu Beraut make theirs by the saignee method, with a longer maceration time giving a darker tone and more nuance.A blend of local grapes - Merlot, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec - and Syrah from the Rhone, it is fruit driven, a strawberries and cream style: a real bargain at £7.95.

Weird and wonderful: Our next tasting in the village will take drinkers ‘off piste’ into the world of exotic grapes.We’ll sample nine fascinating wines from unusual sources, with drinks on arrival and excellent food. It will be at the Benenden School café on Friday 20 September, strictly limited to just 40 places, tickets on sale soon in the community shop, cost £15.