Elizabeth Gabay MW is one of the leading authorities on rosé wines and author of Rosé: Understanding the pink wine revolution. In this interview, she explains why the pink world of wine is a hub of creativity, why she might start tasting using black glasses from now on, and reveals that she is now making her own rosé wine… in Slovakia!
What is your earliest memory in wine?
It’s difficult to say what my earliest memories are. I grew up in a family which spent summer holidays touring the back roads of France, visiting restaurants, castles and exploring, and [with] parents who entertained a lot – so I guess wine and food was part of our culture – but I do not think my parents were very knowledgeable about wine. I do remember aged 16 visiting Henri Maire in the Arbois and my parents loving vin Jaune and ordering a case to be shipped to them back in London. I thought they were mad – it was horrid! I started to become more interested in wine on a student interrail ticket down the Loire. I still have my first book of tasting notes from that holiday in 1981 – even if all l said at first was “Good”. I then remained interested in wine, visiting vineyards on my travels, but only started to study wine aged 26 when a boyfriend explained Chardonnay was a grape not a French wine….
You are obviously well known for your expertise in rosé wines and as author of Rosé: Understanding the pink wine revolution. What fascinates you most about the world of rosé wines?
I know rosé gets looked down on by the majority of the wine trade as just an uninteresting wine that is neither red nor white, plus all the swimming pool celebrity imagery that goes with it. But… for me it is probably one of the most dynamic sectors of the wine trade. Outside of the standard pale pink neutral wine that dominates production – there is so much creativity going on. Producers who are real artists are experimenting, and are stretching the limits of what rosé is. So for me – yes – a lot is plain commercial styles, but I love the sense of discovery and unknown. When I get sent a bottle of old vine, ungrafted, high altitude, spontaneous ferment… and it is absolutely gorgeous – I am so excited. Sadly being able to sell some of these wines is very difficult because of wine snobbery.
And do you have any thoughts on what will be the next trend in rosé? Do you think Provence-style wines and celeb rosés are going to continue to grow?
This is an interesting question. Yes I think the rosé percentage of the market will grow. But I also think it may well settle down to being more diverse. While the bulk may well continue as a Provence style wine for a few more years, there is a growing amount of style diversity appearing with regional styles and local varieties and with producers becoming more confident, we will see more of these wines. Austrian, Greek, Spanish, Italian, American – we are seeing a growing amount of diversity. Then a third style will be more creative through winemaking – natural, oaked, amphora, darker… They maybe more niche, maybe requiring more hand selling by small wine merchants and sommeliers – but definitely pushing into the fine wine rosé scene.
Celeb wine – it may depend on how they make and promote their wine. Avaline was an interesting shock for many with their success in natural rosé. But, to be honest, doing an internet search for any rosé that is different – organic, aged, oaked is almost impossible to get results.
Are there any rosé wines you think are severely underappreciated?
Another good question. I was going to say dark rosé, and how often during a tasting if I see a darker rosé I sit up and think ooo – maybe this will be different, better, interesting. But now I think – hold on – sometimes a pale rosé is ignored because it is a fashionable colour – so maybe black glasses are essential – and then I think why on earth am I focusing on colour? My philosophy is that colour is a 19th-century construct when people liked categorising everything… red, white, rosé. But a blanc de noir is a rosé technically but is a white wine, and some dark rosé look red, – so what rosé is severely underappreciated? Any rosé which tries to be a wine not a fashion statement!
You are also a specialist in Central European wine regions. Are there any that are particularly close to your heart, and why?
I have been working with wines in Hungary for over 15 years, especially with the wines of Szekszárd – so they have a special place for me. My husband has central European roots so we also have some family in Hungary, Austria and Czech republic… And possibly any wine region where we get to know the region and people becomes important – watching the wines develop, age etc.
I do like the very different grape varieties, learning about totally different wine styles – keeps me on my toes. And this October I am launching my own rosé – made (thanks to Covid) via Zoom with a vineyard in Slovakia – Vladimir Magula. I’m hoping to make another rosé in Provence next.
You describe yourself as a ‘rare grape lover’, are there any rare grapes that you are particularly fond of or have discovered recently?
I love rare grapes because they stretch me. I have to learn what they can offer. The classic varieties can be a little predictable and I love it when I taste a variety that has almost disappeared and has been rediscovered. I love Kadarka, Olaszrizling, Clairette, Tibourenc, Bobal, Negroamaro, Xinomavro…. loads and loads of them.
What’s in the pipeline? What are you working on at the moment?
My Slovak rose, next the Provence rosé. A few rosé guides. This spring I did an e-guide to 850 rosés from southern France. It was a big learning curve tasting so many from across the region as many wines I had never tasted before were sent in – and it was so exciting – vin de France, small producers, unknown varieties… So I’m looking at maybe doing more precise focused guides for different regions/countries. I can’t say more right now as there’s still lots of planning going on. But I’m definitely still focusing on rosé!
You can learn more about Elizabeth Gabay MW on her website.