Book Review: Rosés of Southern France
This article originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2022-2023 print issue of Quench Magazine.
Rosés of Southern France by Elizabeth Gabay MW & Ben Bernheim
Zalabim Conseil, 2022, 263 pages, $27 USD/$35 CDN
Imagine Elizabeth Gabay’s reaction when the editor at Quench asked her to send me a PDF of her new book, Rosés of Southern France, for review. She and I had debated the virtue—or lack thereof—of rosé in the Spring 2022 issue of this magazine, so she knows that I have not been swept away by the tsunami of enthusiasm for pink wine.
I’ve even been accused, not unfairly, of having a disdain for the entire category. Instead of reviewing it based on a PDF, I purchased a copy of the book because I wanted to give the final product a fair shake. Am I glad I did! It’s a book you’ll keep handy because in addition to teaching us a lot about rosés, you learn an enormous amount about how the variables of terroir and winemaking determine a wine’s character.
In Part One, Gabay and co-author Ben Bernheim deliver one of the clearest and most succinct explanations of how the soil, climate, and winemaking techniques influence the character of the wine. They focus on rosé, of course, but their explanations are applicable to all wine. For those of us with an enthusiasm and a passion for wine, but without formal education about the subject, this kind of summary is invaluable. You’d be justified in buying this book just to read Part One.
Gabay and Bernheim are, moreover, uniquely qualified to write this book. I am always reluctant to state that someone or something is THE BEST because it assumes knowledge of the entire category. But in this case, I will go out on a limb. Gabay, a Master of Wine since 1998, is THE world’s authority on rosé. Her experience comes from living in south-eastern France and Provence for the last two decades and her previous book, titled, Rosé: Understanding the Pink Wine Revolution.
Along with those impressive credentials, Gabay has the rare ability to teach. Even I, the non-rosé enthusiast, found her April 2018 masterclass on Rosé of Anjou, held at the Château in Blois, mesmerizing. The direct and unadorned writing in Rosés of Southern France further demonstrates her ability to communicate. Bernheim, her son, is quite talented in his own right judging from his writings (https://benbernheim.com/blog/). Rosés of Southern France contains no extraneous fluff. The simple declarative sentences make it a joy to read.
In Rosés of Southern France, Gabay reiterates what she emphasized at the masterclass: “The fact the wine is pink should not distract anyone from its quality.” Taking a swipe at the fad for increasingly pale rosé, she and Bernheim emphasize that, you cannot judge a wine by its color.
The authors unravel the myriad of appellations stretching across the south of France, discussing how the climate and soil influences the style of the wines. Beautiful maps allow a quick understanding of the relationship of the small appellations to the larger ones.
They give a succinct overview of the various subdivisions of Côtes de Provence, Sainte-Victoire, La Londe, Pierrefeu, Notre-Dame des Anges, and Fréjus, the last of which they write, “Easily forgotten, this volcanic dénomination in the east of the appellation is by far the smallest and least well-known…Quality is excellent and the rosés are often tightly structured.” About Sainte-Victoire, they comment, “quality is consistent and extremely good, and typicity or terroir expression is amongst the best in Provence.”
They obviously, given the title, cover more than just Côtes de Provence. Of Tavel, they note, “Tavel is unequivocally historic and prestigious. It is also famous for its age-worthiness—we recommend waiting at least a couple of years.” And of the Languedoc-Roussillon, “Much of the wine made here is inexpensive with variable quality—but the top is excellent, if you can find it.”
Especially useful for consumers is their forthright opinions regarding producers, naming names as they go and devoting a whole chapter titled, “The Top of the Pyramid.” They admit that these premium rosés, sometimes commanding triple digit price tags, may “not be for the majority of rosé consumers, but for producers and serious rosé drinkers, they stretch the boundaries of where rosé can go.”
In the last section, devoted to vintage reports and aged rosé, they name more producers whose specific wines they tasted in 2021 or 2022, one of which, a Tavel, dated to 1976!
After reading this book, I’m still not a fan of the category because, as they point out, there are still too many innocuous ones out there, but I have been converted to rosé’s potential for quality.