There are some who see rosé wines as the cotton candy of the liquor store and while there definitely is some blush fluff out there, serious examples do exist. Its versatility and surprising diversity has found favour with many – but Provence is the byword.
At the first sight of spring, eagerness for sunny patio afternoons averse to exertion intensifies. With this comes the desire for an ‘unwinding’ beverage. Some prefer sangrias or beer, but an increasing number of consumers – with corkscrew in hand – opt for something a little fresher, drier, and perhaps more thought-provoking.
A penchant for pink
Rosé, blush wine, vin gris – however it is referred to – has become all the rage in recent years. More and more producers – even of regions traditionally unassociated with rosé – are capitalizing on the upsurge in demand – and creating saturation within the lower price points. The more ambitious are experimenting and endeavouring to create something truly arresting of this oft-maligned wine.
Many of you are familiar with white zinfandel, or the widely distributed Gallo brand. This sort is the form without the essence. Containing a considerable amount of residual sugar, diluted of ‘sense of place’, they are entirely remote from the quality-driven examples of provenance or producers solely dedicated to rosé production.
Provence is the genuine article. Located in southern France, this de facto rosé region has experienced a 500-per-cent increase in export volume in just the past few years. The tourism and luxury associated with the area has fostered the commercial importance of its diaphanous wine style. The almost limpid, pinkish hue, finely-tuned red berry, grapefruit and herbal nuances exemplify the art of food and wine pairing.
Grenache Noir supplies the mouth-coating, textural component indicative of the region. Synoptically speaking, grape variety does have a supporting role, but is more of a minor thread in the fabric of good rosé. It’s more about how the grapes are cultivated and subsequently manipulated.
How it’s made
Wine grapes are unlike those we normally consume, whereby the skin adheres to the flesh. The functional difference is found in the fact that – like Concord grapes – black skins, which provide pigment for wines, easily slip away from the colourless pulp.
Many presume that rosé is simply the product of stirring white and red wine together, but this is in fact banned under most legislations – apart from Champagne and a few lesser, cost-effective new-world examples.
Two primary methods exist, ‘direct pressing’ and saignée, but when to harvest is key – not too late, as acidity is required for freshness and ripeness for aromatic appeal.
With direct pressing the skins are discarded as per dry white wine production. Minimal, if any, pressing of the grapes is conducive to the most elegant, lightly-coloured, often copper-hued, rosés. Upon such a procedure, the vin gris style and the Provençal model masters itself.
The saignée method produces a deeper-colour, as it involves a red wine approach: a brief maceration of the skins in the juice. A few regions with traditional ties to saignée are acclaimed for the complexity, as well as ageability of their wines, but the method is also associated with mediocrity. Typically, the method creates a rosé as a byproduct of red wine production, as it is a convenient and clever way of concentrating the reds, whilst increasing sales through the pinks. The corollary therefore is that, from vineyard to bottling, every step was executed for a red wine purpose and often a lack of finesse is at stake.
The well-crafted can be barrel-aged, offering more tannin and substance. Prodigious examples, such as Spain’s R Lopez de Heredia’s rosado, stand akimbo over high-volume bottlings, offering credibility to the category, as well as greater gastronomic possibilities.
No longer the reserve of summer backyard barbecues; rosé has become a year-rounder, and restaurants are increasingly offering authenticity as well as wider selections. The distinction lies in its versatility – just as pleasing on its own, but with food, options abound.
One the one hand, there’s everything “white” about it: refreshing; lighter body; served slightly chilled, but overpowering its flavours is a risk. On the other hand, there’s some “red” about it, too: the slight tannin perception even amongst the fairest, and the weight.
Rosé’s crisp, citrusy side pairs well with fried foods as the acidity provides a fresh contrast to the greasiness. Some exhibit mineral or saline flavours, which are complementary to seafood and Mediterranean cuisine. Those of southern France tend to display notes of thyme or rosemary, which afford pairings with salads, roasted vegetables or herb-flavoured dishes such as ratatouille.
The grapes of warm regions such as California or Australia can overachieve on the ripeness factor and produce wines with softer acidity. In this case, heartier meals such as roasted white meat like chicken or pork and comfort foods such as ham with scalloped potatoes can match these “round” styles.
If your choice of wine turns out to be medium-dry – that is, perceptible sugar yet not over the top – it can tone down spicy dishes and perhaps segue into that strawberry shortcake, too.
When what’s for dinner is unknown or when a hostess gift is required, you can hardly go wrong with rosé.
So what’s driving the pink parade? Several recent celebrity-purchased and -launched, Provençal wine estates and rosé brands, have been influential, but I also think it has a lot to do with a confluence of health-conscious fads. The focus on lighter foods; the so-called “eat clean” movement, which is often Asian-influenced, would be overpowered by an Australian Shiraz, for example. At the same time, or perhaps consequently, consumers are gravitating away from such robust, full-bodied reds as were so popular twenty years ago.
Similarly, colour is highly important to the style, but some consumers are under the impression that the lighter the hue, the less sugar it contains. This is just as false as the assumption that rosés, in general, have less alcohol than the others, and the emerging preference for low- or no alcohol beverages is increasingly embracing the style for it. Nevertheless, whether you choose to drink pink under pretext or for pure enjoyment, one thing is for sure, it is an official wine category to be revered and more of interest is yet to come.
Written by Leah Beauchamp, sommelier and DipWSET (Diploma in Wine & Spirits Education Trust) candidate.