There are less than 400 people on the planet with a coveted “Masters of Wine” certification. Considered the highest wine achievement in the world, Elizabeth Gabay is one of two people in the Alpes-Maritimes with the accreditation.
As a Provence specialist for the Wine Scholar Guild (formerly the French Wine Society), she is also the main South of France wine writer for Decanter magazine. Her second book, Rosés of Southern France, was published earlier this month.
“I passed the Master of Wine exam in 1998 after four years of intensive study, three after the birth of my son Ben,” says Elizabeth. “The exams involve understanding and being able to analyse viticulture, vinification, commercial business, the role of wine in society and, of course, being able to taste and evaluate wine. The pass rate is low – around 10% – and we do have an amazing global network.”
Back in 2018, Elizabeth wrote the definitive book on rosé, Rosé: Understanding the Pink Wine Revolution. “I had originally thought of a book on the region of Provence, but with over 80% of production being rosé, it made sense to focus on rosé. As I studied the market, history and different styles the book grew into being a global reach and a realisation that there really was a global revolution happening as rosés were growing in volume – now well over 10% of global consumption.”
When Elizabeth started researching for the book in late 2016, the level of quality rosé around the world was “erratic”. And while quality has improved in the past six years … “a lot of regional styles have disappeared as commercial competitiveness has pushed producers to make ‘Provence-style rosé’. Quality is improving but at the price of losing tradition and individuality,” says the Saint-Martin-Vésubie resident.
Rosés of Southern France is a collaborative cowrite with her son Ben Bernheim, who “has spent his entire life in wine. As part of the wine tasting team at Edinburgh university he won the prize for the best white wine taster competing against Oxford, Cambridge and French students.” After graduating in 2017, Ben helped his mom finish the original rosé book and he worked in vineyards and as a sommelier.
“Working with a 25-year-old is exhausting. He has so much energy,” Elizabeth shares. “I was in my comfy niche of writing and lecturing and he has pushed the boundaries.” In addition to last year’s e-guide and this year’s book really, the mother-son duo also found the time to create their own rosé, Sen, made with a winemaker in Slovakia.
Their book Rosés of Southern France clearly establishes patterns for regionality and what makes the wines stand out, which is of interest to both buyers and consumers. “Last year Ben and I did an e-guide tasting 1000 Southern French rosés and we realised that the best wines showed originality and we wanted to write more about these wines and estates.”
Elizabeth and Ben sampled over 2,000 rosés during the past year. “Including rosés from elsewhere – it is important to keep an international perspective.”
The book aims to be a classic wine book. “If you love rosé, you can read it and understand the different styles, and how to look for other wines.” At the same time, at the end of August, they are launching their website pink.wine which will be a modern and innovative approach to rosé,” the New Yorker explains.
“Most existing books on rosé either give a list of wines or list estates to visit or are coffee table books with lovely photos. We wanted to treat rosé as a serious wine. We have included maps showing the geology and geography, photos of the soils, grapes, regions. We have tried to show how and why the styles of wine have different styles. The elegance of Sainte Victoire, the robustness of Gigondas, the complexity of Tavel …”
Rosés of Southern France is for professionals, sommeliers, buyers and anyone who likes rosé. “Hopefully it will help consumers when they go into a shop and want to choose a wine. Recently someone mentioned they liked fuller bodied Les Baux rosés and we were able to suggest which regions and appellations had similar styles.”
Elizabeth has three recommendations to look out for this summer.
- Les Schistes, Les Maîtres Vignerons de Gonfaron, Côtes de Provence (€7.80): a delicate charming white peach, fresh citrus acidity and a lovely balance of restrained fruit and acidity.
- Pierre Amadieu, Romane Machotte, Gigondas AOP 2021 (€17): a juicy, slightly weightier rosé with real Gigondas character filled with fresh cherries, strawberries and raspberry fruit – but also a serious gastronomic wine.
- Chateau de Selle, Domaine Ott (€26): red fruit, floral, perfumed, orange blossom. Gorgeous citrus acidity, crisp, citrussy, vibrant well-made, elegant, direct, hint of leafiness on the Rather lovely.
And for those like me who know nothing about wine, Elizabeth says look for rosé in a dark bottle. “I know that is counter-intuitive but colour is not important. Pale does not make it good. The bright sunlight can damage the wine and give it off vegetal flavours. I’ve seen people say they don’t like rosé and then discover they are tasting wine which has been in the sun. An hour on the table in summer is enough to harm the wine.
“Look at the back label. If it says serve at 6°C you know it is best drunk chilled by the pool. Serve at 10°C and above with maybe some detail of the grapes suggests the producer is more serious.”
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