If you’re looking for rosé, don’t forget the Pays d’Oc
While Provence may have the cachet when it comes to rosé, the neighbouring Pays d’Oc has larger volumes, fewer restrictions, and greater diversity when it comes to pink wine.
That was the message of a virtual masterclass I hosted last week on Pays d’Oc IGP rosé, called ‘a pink wine opportunity’, which sought to highlight the broad range of good-value, pale, dry rosés from this part of France.
Covering 120,000 hectares out of the 240,000 hectares farmed in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region, the Pays d’Oc classification represents as much as 817m bottles of wine production annually, 28% of which is rosé (with the rest split between red, 48%, and white, 26%).
That means Pays d’Oc pink wine production amounts to 228m bottles each year, around 30% more than Provence’s output of 160m bottles.
In fact, the Pays d’Oc is responsible for almost one quarter of France’s total annual rosé production, and, because the classification encompasses such a wide area, and allows the use of as many as 58 different grape varieties, there is huge choice when it comes to pink wine style.
It’s why, during the virtual event for UK wine buyers last week, I was able to show samples of Pays d’Oc rosé taking in a broad range of grapes, from pink wines made entirely from Marselan, or just Petit Verdot, to blends combining, for example, Pinot Noir and Grenache, and, it should be added, with delicious results.
I also poured a barrel-influenced rosé made with Pinot Gris and Vermentino that, with its combination of ripe pear, pink grapefruit and creamy oak, showed that the Pays d’Oc can also be home to oak-aged pink wines to rival those hailing most famously from Château d’Esclans in Provence.
Indeed, the world’s most expensive still rosé comes from the Languedoc – Gérard Bertrand’s £200 biodynamic, barrel-matured Clos du Temple – which may not be classified as a Pays d’Oc, but proves that it’s possible to craft luxury pink wines from this southern French region beyond the borders of Provence.
The Pays d’Oc, with its dry climate, exposed sites, and near-constant winds, is perfectly suited to low-intervention viticulture, and the largest source of certified organic wines in France.
Furthermore, due to its pink wine style, and the grapes employed, the Pays d’Oc can provide comfort to the consumer wedded to the rosés of Provence.
Although the Pays d’Oc includes a wide array of permitted grapes, and allows wines to be made as single varietal offerings, or blends, the rosés are mostly made with the traditional Mediterranean grapes of the area, which are also those allowed in Provence. These are Grenache, Cinsaut, Mourvèdre, along with some Carignan and Vermentino, known more commonly as Rolle in this part of France.
Finally, it’s important to note that the climate and terroir of the Pays d’Oc is similar to Provence, but yields in the latter area are lower. While they are capped at 55 hectolitres per hectare in Provence, that limit is 80 hl/ha for Pays d’Oc IGP, which means that rosés from the Languedoc typically sell for less.
As illustrated by the shelf prices of famous rosé brands from Provence, such as Whispering Angel, the cost for consumers of such wines is going up as global demand increases, and supply from this area reaches its current limits.
While Whispering Angel now sells at full price for close to £20 in the UK, the majority of Pays d’Oc rosés, made in a similar style to Provençal wines – and coming in the same pale salmon pink hue – rarely retail for more than £12, and are commonly found below £10.
So, if you are looking for a rosé that’s pale, that’s dry, that’s Grenache-based, and can sell for a UK-retail price of less than £10, then you might have to leave Provence. And, if you do, just head a little further west along the Med to the Languedoc-Roussillon.
Here, you can approach one of the 1000 independent producers, or 160 cooperatives, to find a Pays d’Oc rosé that’s similar to something Provençal – the benchmark for pink wine style and quality – but at a lower cost.
On the other hand, due to the freedoms of this IGP classification, you could turn to the Pays d’Oc for something that’s pink, but different to the rosés of Provence, where the rules are much more restrictive.