With the better weather on its way, surely it is time to crack open a summer favourite. Paul Howard discusses Rosé…
Though Rosé is a wine style that has been made for centuries, it was seen as irredeemably naff by past generations of wine drinkers. Only in this decade did Rosé creep into fashion after years of neglect and now it seems we can’t get enough of it. Indeed, a bottle of Rosé has just been included in the basket of goods used to measure the Retail Price Index, which illustrates how Rosé is now in vogue. The pink craze is in full swing around the world, with wine producers stepping up production to meet demand. And Rosé doesn’t need to rely on chick appeal; it is chic in its own right.
The coarse, stickily sweet pinks of old are disappearing, those were products of poor winemaking that looked like failed red wine and usually tasted of mouthwash. I always imagined such vivid pink confections to be the colour of Liberace’s boudoir. No wonder they weren’t credible or enjoyable drinking. These days, the best Rosé is dry and refreshing and is the classic summer apéritif. In addition, it is also an excellent food partner; for alfresco dining, summer picnics and more besides.
Call it what you will – Rosé, as they do in France, Rosado in Spain, Rosato in Italy or Blush in the US – excellent examples can now be found in the UK from just about every wine producing country. You’ll find Rosé made from every kind of red grape variety, such as Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet, Cinsault, Grenache and many more. All will be characteristically different in colour and flavour. All can be delicious.
Pink wine traditions come from France and Spain. The idea was to make a light and refreshing wine for long hot summer days, especially in the areas that were more suitable for growing red rather than white grapes. A little pale grape juice would be bled off from the red grapes in the early stages of winemaking to make a Rosé for local consumption.
The best pinks take that idea but are deliberate creations. These days, good Rosé is made by carefully applying modern white wine making techniques to red grape juice. The goal is to ensure freshness and red fruit aromas and flavours while leaving any harsh tannins behind. Because the grape skins contain all the colour and tannin, the winemaker decides how long the skins are left in contact with their juice, usually only a matter of hours. The juice is then fermented, often in modern stainless steel tanks with temperature control to ensure fresh aroma and flavour.
Good Rosé is much less likely to be blended from a combination of red and white wines. With a couple of exceptions this technique is a recipe for insipid wine; it may be a pink colour but won’t have much Rosé character. One notable exception is sparkling Rosé. This is because fizz is usually a blend of wines made from different grapes and years. In any case it is easier to produce a very consistent colour this way.
And of course with any Rosé the colour is a major part of the appeal. It’s supposed to look pretty! You might be surprised at the wide colour variation, depending on the grape variety and the amount of skin contact. Colours can range from the palest onion skin, through orange, to salmon, rose petal, and finally tomato and pomegranate. Indeed, the deepest coloured wines are sometimes referred to as Clairete in Spain or Chiaretto in Italy to distinguish them from lighter wines.
The other distinction is that Rosé contains elements of both white and red wine styles – red wine flavours are accompanied by white wine’s refreshing crisp acidity yet usually there is an absence of tiring tannins and high alcohol. Hence Rosé occupies the middle ground – it can appeal to wine drinkers who usually prefer red to white or conversely to those who choose white over red. But it doesn’t have to be middle of the road!
Most Rosé is made for young drinking and is not designed to be cellared – usually Rosé won’t improve with age and so is best drunk young, typically in the summer following the vintage.
A light chill should be all you need for a great summer apéritif. Food wise, a good dry Rosé is surprisingly versatile any time of year. They make a great partner for charcuterie – try ham, salami and pâté. Fuller bodied examples go well with Tapas and they can also be a good foil at a barbeque. Try them too with milder dry curries because they avoid the clash of spices with tannins. My favourite match is a fish soup with lots of garlicky aioli, crusty bread – and a Rosé from Provence – it simply doesn’t get any better!
Paul Howard is the publisher of Wine Alchemy (winealchemy.com) and a judge at the International Wines and Spirits Competition and the International Wine Challenge.