Taking the Bloom Off the Rosé

Has the European Union lost its sense of taste? The unique character of rosé wines is so widely recognized that in France, they outsell white wine. But later this month, European Union representatives will vote on a proposal to change the standard for rosés by permitting them to be made from blends of red and white wines. With that vote, the union now threatens to damage rosés’ carefully cultivated reputation and undermine vintners’ record of quality.

First, a little explanation. Rosés are not, as some people believe, a mix. In Provence, the most frequently used method for producing a true rosé is called maceration, a delicate process in which the skins of crushed red grapes are allowed to remain in contact with the juice for several hours before they are removed and the fermentation proceeds. The grape skins impart the light red color to rosé. Their quick removal reduces the tannins in the final product, making rosés more like a fine dry white. (This process is quite different from the one frequently used in the United States, which can result in a sweeter wine, often known as blush.)

It has taken many years of patience and exacting attention to quality control to convince the public that rosés are a worthy accompaniment to a wide variety of dishes. The results of those efforts have been gratifying for France, which makes around one-third of the world’s rosés, and most especially for Provence, which produces more rosé than any other province.

The European Union seems to believe that this proposal will address the excess of red and white wines produced in Europe, while taking advantage of the global popularity of rosé. Pouring vats of the two together and calling the result rosé, the theory goes, will increase consumption and reduce the surplus of reds and whites.

But why would those who now pass up rosés in the mistaken belief that they are a mix of reds and whites suddenly embrace them when they really become such a blend? And why would those who love true rosés start ordering an imposter?

Further, if wine consumers did actually drink the blends, then they would probably be ordering fewer glasses of red and white wines. It would be a shift, not an increase, in consumption.

The only way out of this conundrum would be to make the blends so cheap that they appeal to a mass market. But the European Union has been trying to make European wines more competitive against the growing number of foreign rivals. Undermining the reputation of rosés will not help achieve that goal.

French people overwhelmingly oppose this proposal, and Agricultural Minister Michel Barnier has declared that if the union approves the blending process, he will ban it in France. We in France, especially in Provence, have raised the process of producing rosés to an art form. This achievement should not be drowned in a flood of cheap imitations.

If the European Union comes to its senses and rejects this proposal in a vote that should take place late June, we can all raise a glass. Make mine a rosé.

François Millo, the director of the Provence Wine-Producing Interprofessional Council, an organization of vintners.