Elizabeth Gabay, Master of Wine and author of "Rosés from the South of France"

Rosé is often criticised for erasing terroir, defined by its colour and served chilled with ice cubes. To counter this stereotype, Master of Wine Elizabeth Gabay, a title earned by a select few of the world’s wine professionals, speaks out in favour of terroir rosés in her book, "Rosés from the South of France", co-authored with her son, Benjamin Bernheim. Découvrez en exclusivité un article du premier Guide des Vins en Provence du Groupe Nice-Matin sorti le 16 juin.

Idelette Fritsch Publié le 16/06/2023 à 00:01, mis à jour le 16/06/2023 à 10:13
Master of Wine Elizabeth Gabay with her co-author and son, Benjamin Bernheim. François Vignola

How did you come to love rosé?

Elizabeth Gabay: In 2016, the publisher Classic Wine Library asked me to write a book on the wines of Provence. Ten minutes later, they called back to say: "Actually, we would like you to write a book just about rosé." At first I thought: "Easy! I’ll get the book out in six months, there’s not that much to say!" That’s when my worldwide research began, during which I tasted 4,000 rosés.

Ben Bernstein: I’d just finished my studies and Elizabeth called me in to help with the tastings. It was incredible, we were getting crates of wine arriving from all over the village. In Understanding the Pink Wine Revolution, three chapters are devoted to rosés from Provence. 

The language of tasting has been standardised for red and white wines. Is there a vocabulary for rosés?

EG: No, there isn’t. For example, the words depth, concentration, ageing potential, belong to the lexicon of red wines. If someone describes a red wine to me with notes of blackcurrant or coconut, I immediately understand what the person means: OK, blackcurrant, maybe it’s cabernet sauvignon; with notes of coconut, it’s been aged in oak barrels or tuns, it’s a woody cabernet sauvignon! But when it comes to rosé, most people say, “It’s got a lovely colour, it’s great with ice!

Fresh, elegant, with hints of grapefruit are descriptors that often come up about rosé...

EG: These words are often misused, sometimes even by the winemakers themselves. When I see a label which reads "this is a very elegant rosé, perfect served chilled", I understand is that the winemaker harvested very early, so there is no fruit, hence ‘elegant’, and that if I put it in the fridge or add a few ice cubes, it will be cold enough for me not to notice that there is no fruit. 

BB: Grapefruit, boiled sweets, banana, all these words are thrown around a bit, but for us it’s a red flag, ‘avoid!’ People think that everyone loves the taste of grapefruit, what they don’t realise is that it’s not just a tasty-sounding word, it’s a word that has technical connotations that can be negative. Among professionals, we talk about grapefruit esters, thiolated rosés, amylic notes of boiled sweets, bananas and nail varnish. These words are very useful technically to describe a wine, but incomprehensible to the hedonistic taster: in a restaurant, a sommelier will never say to you "The amylics on this wine are excellent, highly recommended!"

What vocabulary do you use to describe the rosés of Provence?

EG: I very rarely describe the colour. The debate about rosé, and in particular the ‘Provençal style’, is too often reduced to the pale colour alone, a tendency I would sincerely like to see disappear. The aromatic descriptors of rosé often sound like a fruit salad -strawberry, raspberry, grapefruit- these are not the best rosés. What interests me more than the fruit is its intensity: is it ripe or not, is it balanced by acidity (tension, freshness, Ed.). I assess the structure and tannins. And if it’s an oaky rosé, I like it to have enough ripe fruit and fat on the palate to balance out the wood.

F. Vignola.

For your second book, you tasted over 1,000 rosés from the south of France. Could you sketch a portrait of Provence, in three vintages?

BB: For traditional-style rosé, the cuvée Rebelle from Domaine de Rimauresq in the AOP Côtes de Provence Notre-Dame des Anges, made using the traditional saigné method. style using the juice drained from grapes that will be used to make red wine. To explore the ageing potential of terroir rosés, Le Clos Cibonne (Cru Classé) in Le Pradet, which works almost entirely with tibouren, an old Provençal grape variety matured in old, very large wooden vats. Their 2018 Cuvée Marius, with its creamy aromas of jam, honeyed peach, toast and brown sugar develops a surprising richness on the palate with marmalade and some delicate oak notes, before fresh red cherries, redcurrant and tart wild plums take over on the palate, with surprisingly vibrant and energetic acidity. And as a more consensual middle choice, the Whispering Angel or Minuty rosés from the luxury group LVMH because these investors now account for 30% of the volume of AOP Côtes de Provence wines.

--> Read the full interview in our "Guide des Vins en Provence", available on newsstands.

“Rosés of Southern France” by Elizabeth Gabay MW and Benjamin Bernheim is available for purchase at the price of €25 at the Maison des vins des Côtes de Provence in Arcs-sur-Argens.

Who is the Guide des Vins en Provence's writer?

Idelette Fritsch joined the Nice-Matin Group as wine journalist in January this year to cover the wine of Provence, after many years at prestigious publications such as Terre de vins and La Revue du Vin de France. To prepare the first edition of our guide, she conducted hundreds of tastings, interviewed many winemakers and visited numerous estates.


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