Once upon a time, rosé wine was regarded as second-rate, and not even worthy of the interest of oenologists. Even as late as the 1980s, it still wasn’t considered a “serious” wine. This is a consequence of its modest origins, and a series of cultural contributions and transitions.
In antiquity, the Phoenicians brought techniques for making a light-bodied wine to Marseilles. Under the Roman Empire, it was known as vinum clarum (clear wine) in Latin, and spread to Bordeaux, then as now a major wine-growing region. After the 1152 marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry Plantagenet, the Duke of Normandy and future King Henry II, Bordeaux wine began to flow north to England. Initially called clairet, it became known as claret and scored its first international success, becoming the most consumed wine in Britain until the 19th century. But while rosé was certainly popular, the pedigree wasn’t there – it was a drinking wine above all.
Another reason that rosé may have had a hard time getting respect is that it never received the monastic imprimatur, authorization given by the Catholic Church, nor were they ever “consecrated” to serve as sacramental wine. They’re therefore absent from the liturgy and the Eucharist. Indeed, sacramental wine is traditionally red, by analogy with the blood of Christ. The Church saw vinum clarum as a profane wine, and its consumption was not imbued with Christian symbolism, nor attached to any table ceremony.
Rosé thus became a popular beverage, almost pagan, and acquired values in opposition to those of red and white wine, which were associated with the nobility and clergy. In the 17th century, when Louis Le Nain painted Peasant Meal (1642), the characters in the painting conspicuously drank a glass of “clear wine” or rosé.