When we first moved to the Languedoc, the less poncey part of the south of France nearly 20 years ago, there were two kinds of rosé. The first, piscine rosé as the French dubbed it, was thin, pale and uninteresting. It was best served in a large glass full of ice cubes, preferably around a swimming pool by a tanned French girl in a bikini. The second, darker in hue and fuller of flavour, carried the scent of the garrigue, thyme, lavender and rosemary. It went well by the pool, of course, served by anyone in a bikini, but was equally good with merguez sausages and pork chops grilled over vine logs.
But just as the grey squirrel pushed the red squirrel to the edges of civilisation, so has pale rosé pushed its darker cousin to the verge of extinction. It is now extremely hard to buy a bottle of rosé that isn’t as pale as a Scotsman in November. At a wine tasting the other evening with one of my favourite wine makers, the lovely Françoise Ollier of Domaine Ollier–Taillefer, I remarked on this. ‘It is impossible,’ she wailed. ‘Unless they are pale we cannot sell them.’
The rot set in about ten years ago when an Englishman called James Ivey wrote a book called Extremely Pale Rosé about a quest to find the palest rosé in Provence. It was a good enough joke, but unfortunately it was taken seriously. Soon, from Sloane Square to Pampelonne Beach, ladies who lunch could be heard repeating the mantra ‘I want the palest rosé you have.’ Husbands were taught that pale rosé brought kudos and kisses, and because they didn’t know any better, they embraced the movement with devotion.
This apartheid is as misguided as it is nonsensical.