As of 18 October, 2023, France has a brand-new appellation, the AOC Sable de Camargue.
This has been a lengthy quest for the domaines in the region, taking 14 years to finally get approval which may seem like a grind, but is ultimately quite amazing as very few regions are approved these days now that everything has to pass through Brussels.
Spread across the départments of: Bouches-du-Rhône, Gard, and Hérault, it’s an extremely southern region but with a rather unique aspect to it in that it’s only for rosé wines which are locally called, gris wines. While literally meaning “grey” in French, this is a term given to the color of pinkish grapes such as Grenache Gris and in this case it’s how they refer to their rosé that’s something of a salmon color that’s neither pink nor onion peel.
There’s also a “Gris de Gris” classification within the AOC which is for 100% Grenache Gris wines and should be tremendous given that this grape variety has long-been underappreciated, often being used only as part of a blend. But as shown by previous comparative tastings, this is a solid grape on its own whether producing fully white wines or this rosé style.
The name means, “sands of Camargue” which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given that the entire region borders the edge of the Mediterranean Sea (see map above) and people may know Camargue more for its gastronomic salt. But what’s interesting is that due to this heavy presence of sand, phylloxera can’t take hold and there are in fact a great number of own-rooted, old vines in the region.
Beyond the 100% Grenache Gris wine, the varieties allowed for the primary, 70% of the blend are quite permissive being: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, and Merlot (of all things). But as if this wasn’t enough, they allow the minority varieties of: Chardonnay, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Marselan, Muscat d’Alexandrie, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Ugni Blanc, Rolle (Vermentino), and Viognier. There are apparently 3,000ha to which the appellation can be used as, is typical in France, this overlaps with various other appellations and was in fact an IGP classification prior to the elevation to AOC.
Does the world need another rosé region?
If it were anywhere else I would say probably not, but the fact is, the producers in this new AOC have in fact been producing their wines for a very long time and they have an extremely different profile than two other well-known rosé regions of Southern France: Tavel and Provence. Also, they don’t lack for producers as those who have been making the wine under the IGP and will now continue with the AOC number 89 wineries and there are also many cooperatives as well as several negociants.
Ultimately for me, if there can be more Grenache Gris wines in the world, I very much welcome this fine news.