Cracking rosé

The New World has been steadily chipping away at the market share of traditional European wine- producing nations for several decades. But there’s one wine colour for which the Old World is

still the kingpin, and that’s rosé. What’s more, the express train growth of

Provence pinks in recent years is setting the trend for the rest of the world, with producers from around the globe pimping up their pinks to mimic the characteristic light salmon hue of the southern French region in a bid to hold on to the coat-tails of its popularity.

“We sell swimming pools of Provence rosé,” says Dean Pritchard, co-owner of Gwin Llyn Wines in Pwllheli, winner of the independent drinks retailer award in this year’s Drinks Retailing Awards.

Pritchard cites Williams Chase rosé, the latest drinks project of the Tyrrells crisps and Chase vodka founder, as one of his best Provence sellers. Others include Château de Minuty, Whispering Angel and JJ Esprit Domaine des Jeanne, owned by local businessman Mervyn Davies, aka Lord Abersoch. “He went to France to buy wine for his daughter’s wedding and ended up buying a vineyard,” notes Pritchard.

Gwin Llyn is not alone in selling rosé by the bucketload. The Wine & Spirit Trade Association says more than 2 million more bottles of rosé were sold in the UK off-trade last year, with value sales increasing by 5%. Rosé accounts for around 12% of volume sales of wine in the off-trade and 10% in multiple grocers (Nielsen).

But the longer-term view is not so strong for pink wine, with IRI figures showing that off-trade rosé sales last year were down 19% on where they were in 2011, the peak for sales after a mini- boom for rosé in the 2000s.

The big difference between then and now is a change in fashion for rosé styles. Sweeter White Zinfandels have kept their popularity over that time but at the drier, more grown-up end of the rosé market there’s been a massive shift from darker, almost light-red rosés to pale, salmon- coloured ones, led by a successful marketing drive by the Provence region to take a degree of ownership of the category.

In fact, it’s been so successful that producers in other countries have attempted to emulate Provence styles. “We’ve got some fabulous rosés from Languedoc with the same grape varieties and colours and they do very well too,” says Pritchard. “We write on the shelf labels ‘these are wannabe Provence rosés’. For half the price, you’re still getting a very decent rosé.”

According to figures from the CIVP, the governing body of the Provence wine industry, 76% of world rosé production is shared by five countries – France, the US, Spain, Italy and South Africa – with France by far out in front with 28%.

And a study of rosé shades by Agrex Consulting for the body suggests that the darker shades, closer to reds, have seen global market share drop from just over half in 2013 to 31% in 2018.

Provence exports 13% of its rosé to the UK, making it the second biggest export market for the region after the US.

Jane Salt, managing director at Hay Wines in Ledbury, Herefordshire, says: “People like the traditional dry crisp, very pale rosés at an affordable price. Even if they want a Pinot Grigio rosé, if they see a very pale one that’s the one they’ll go for. That seems to be the trend – it’s a fashionable thing.”

Packaging plays a part in the Provence success story too, adds Salt. “It’s mostly about France. We sell quite a lot of the Chase rosé. We have another Provence rosé that was in a traditional tall bottle – and it’s not a cheap; it’s about £15 a bottle – and it changed the shape so it’s bit smaller and lower. The wine is exactly the same but since it changed the bottle it’s just flown out.”

Julie Mills at Vinomondo, in Conwy, north Wales, has also witnessed the pale rosé trend. “It tends to be paler colours from wherever, not just Provence. “It’s governed purely by colour, regardless of style or grape variety. Domaine Fiumicicoli from Corsica is a beautiful little rosé which has no problems whatsoever and we’ve got a little Sauvignon Blanc rosé which sells well. We do OK with a South African Syrah/ Grenache, but generally the darker ones are very unfashionable. It’s absolutely governed and led by what the supermarkets are promoting.”

Bordeaux wine body the CIVB says sales of pinks from the region have been outpacing the market, 274% ahead of where they were at the start of the decade and 9% up in 2018 (IRI). It says sales in the past two years have been boosted by “in-store presence” and promotions.

The CIVB says around 35% of rosé sales are made between the end of May and mid- September, a bias towards the summer but perhaps not as big as might be assumed.

Retailers report different experiences of rosé’s seasonality. Pritchard at Gwin Llyn says: “It’s bigger when the sun is shining but we sell it for 12 months. It carries right through the year.”

But Mills at Vinomondo says: “It has its place for about one month of the year. Even though we continue to stock eight rosés throughout the year, we could probably delist all of them and not see any impact. July is the month. Overall, it’s only about 2-3% of our wine sales.”

In addition to sometimes being typecast as a summer drink, rosé is also subject to assumptions about the age and gender of its drinkers.

A UK Landscape report from Wine Intelligence published in 2018 confirmed a higher preference for rosé among younger drinkers. Of all wine drinkers in a sample of 4,000 people, 16% were rosé wine drinkers, but that increased to 31% among 18 to 24-year-olds, and 26% among those aged 25-34, steadily falling off among older consumer groups to just 10% of those aged 65 and over.

Salt at Hay Wines says: “The younger generation are not as into wine generally, but a light, dry rosé is a very easy drink, so when they do go for wine that’s what they’ll go for. Older people will pay more money and pick a nice Provence or Sancerre rosé.”

Pritchard says rosé has broad appeal “from young women to a quite prominent, male scrap metal dealer from Manchester who comes in”.

But others need more convincing about its cross-gender reach. “I’ve never had a man buy a rosé, ever, in 10 years of the business,” says Mills.

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