Book review: The Rosés of Southern France – the story behind the book
My interest in the wines of Provence dates back to 1986 when my parents invested in a tiny holiday home in the wilds of the Var. Visiting vineyards back then was another world – rustic and romantic, and I started to import the red and white wines of Provence into the UK. The rosés were dark and heavy in those early years, and I witnessed first-hand the progression to increasingly lighter and fresher styles.
In 2002 I moved with my young family to southeast France, and, despite having earned the title of Master of Wine (one of the most prestigious qualifications in wine) in 1998, I decided to take a back seat from full-time work for a few years while we settled into our new life. Nevertheless, my children, like the children of so many working in wine, were used to visiting cellars. Lego houses with gravity flow and fermentation tanks, calculating the number of wine glasses per fermenting tank, and seeing me study for the Master of Wine qualification. Kindergarten descriptions of my husband and I showed my husband permanently on the phone and me drinking!
Later, I guess it was inevitable that my son, Ben Bernheim, would join the Wine Society at the University of Edinburgh, and be a taster on the competitive team, tasting against other Scottish universities, Oxford, and Cambridge, and as part of the winning team for two years running, on a prize-winning trip to Pol Roger.
In the meantime, I was writing more and more, not just about the wines of southern France but also about work further afield. Charting the rise in rosé, I decided to write a book on the topic – originally just focusing on Provence, but the book quickly expanded to look at rosé globally.
My book ‘Rosé: Understanding the Pink Wine Revolution‘, published in 2018, encapsulated the world of rosé as it was in 2016-2017, but even as the book was being written, rosé was changing. Post university Ben came home for a few months helping me taste through tasting endless rosé from around the world, and helping me write the notes, before travelling, working in vineyards, and a stint as a sommelier.
As one of the fastest growing and most dynamic categories in wine today, there is constantly more to learn, and for the next two years, rosé life was very busy. In the late winter 2019-2020, Ben returned home, looking for the next stage in his career. What we didn’t know at the time was that the world was about to be hit by the pandemic, and we certainly had no plans to work together.
Covid lockdown, and the subsequently reduced travel, was the trigger to explore the rosés of southern France more. As rosés for reviews and articles were sent home, the number of tasting notes started to climb, we had the bright idea that with travel and trade fairs on hold we could use our tasting notes productively.
1,000 rosés later, together we compiled an e-guide filled with tasting notes and decided to formally work together. Not always an easy plan. At 25 Ben had to learn to fit back into the family routine, and we had to learn to give up being empty nesters. While I was in a comfortable routine of travelling, tasting, lecturing, and writing about rosé, Ben, with all the youthful energy of a 25-year-old, was excited about what next.
Writing the e-guide had left us with more questions than answers. How and why were styles different throughout the south – when every technical sheet promised grapes picked at optimal ripeness, pressed
very gently to ensure minimal skin contact, fermented in a tank at cold temperatures and bottled young for fresh summer drinking.
The idea for ‘Rosés of Southern France’ was born
We looked through our notes from the previous year, and instead of ranking them by score, we divided them by region. We looked for patterns. Then we studied the geography, the regulations, and the varieties. We wrote down what we observed and attempted to explain why there were differences. Then we went into greater detail with winemaking and vintages.
One of our missions was to identify the precise regional styles of rosé from the many different crus and appellations of the southern Rhone. Rose is still a relatively small amount of production here but is growing fast, and producers were keen to hear our opinions on how they could establish their own style, not Provence-style.
For four months we drove around the south, exploring, tasting, and talking to producers. Ben became known as ‘take a left here’ as he guided us along the scenic, and often very, very narrow, routes of rural southern France. We tasted rosés back to 1976 (and we include full tasting notes of all the old vintages), identifying the evolution of the taste of older rosés, we looked at terroirs (we now have a lot of photos of stones and soils) and we dived into the history of production. One of the great things about this sort of writing is the fascinating conversations with locals about their memories and traditions.
Back at base, the book started to take shape. But there were some stumbling blocks. While grand appellations such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, and the Mosel have detailed maps, showing terroir and plots, the south of France, and rosé in particular, are sorely lacking. Ben discovered new skills as a map maker.
Nearly 300 pages later we had to stop
We expressly decided not to make this a glossy coffee table book, even though we had a pile of stunning photos and lots of maps. Our vision was that just as the book was the result of our exploring the diverse rosé styles so this book would become a handbook for trade, sommeliers, and consumers. And we’d love to see signs of use – muddy fingerprints, wine glass stains, and notes written in the margin.
Where to next? An interactive and more innovative approach to rosé wine, using the book as a launch pad, is being created on our new website – pink.wine – with more photos, maps, details, and regions beyond the south of France. Knowledgeable content paired with modern communication. The site should be up and running by early August.
Are you an aficionado of the Rosés of Southern France? Do you know someone who would appreciate this book? Do you have questions for Elizabeth or Ben? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
‘The Rosés of Southern France’ is available on Amazon (apart from Australia and Japan – technical problems for now) on https://amzn.to/3zazjR5 – this link will take you to your local site.
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