Just when you think Summer’s arrived, it buckets down and turns cool.
This is England, we should be used to it, but it always seems to take us by surprise.
And what would we do for conversation if we didn’t have the weather to talk about?
Anyway, warmer weather is around the corner and that means it’s time to stock up on the pink stuff. In many countries, rosé wine is something to drink throughout the year, but in the UK, it tends to be consumed mainly in the warmer months and its popularity appears to be growing.
A few people avoid rosé, believing erroneously that it is a mix of red and white wines, or perhaps they still remember the days of Mateus? Who didn’t make a lamp out of one of those iconic bottles of pink, slightly fizzy, Portuguese plonk?
But proper rosé is made from black grape varieties, where the skins, which contain the colour, are left in contact with the juice after crushing, for a much shorter period of time than for making red wines. In fact, with some of the very pale rosés, skin contact maybe a matter of hours, just enough to obtain the required, delicate colour, aromas and flavours. In recent years, the trend is much more towards paler coloured rosé, with their delicate rose-petal or salmon pinks. To make high quality rosé takes a lot of skill and expertise and the best are very fine, expressive, delicate wines.
Rosé wines are made all around the globe and can be made from a variety of different grape varieties, dependent upon the region and the climate. Styles can also vary enormously, with some being very dark in colour, such as some Spanish rosés made from Garnacha grapes, and Tavel Rosé from the Rhone Valley. There is also a wine from Bordeaux called ‘Clairet’, from which the British name ‘claret’, for red Bordeaux wines, is derived. This is between a red and a rosé, being either a dark rosé or a light red and is perhaps the oldest style of wine ever produced, before techniques developed and variety selection began.
Sweetness in rosé is also a factor which can vary considerably, from bone dry to medium sweet, although I have seldom come across a dessert rosé. The sweetness comes from residual sugar in the wine, that is natural grape sugar which has not been converted to alcohol once the fermentation has finished. One such wine comes from California and is not even called rosé, namely White Zinfandel. This is pink wine made from the Zinfandel grape variety, which is very dark skinned, and has a high level of sweetness. Not a favourite of mine, but it has its place in the market for those preferring less dry wines. Cabernet d’Anjou from the Loire valley and made principally from Cabernet Franc grapes, is another wine which is demi-sec, or half dry. Very popular in the 80’s it is currently less fashionable.
With appealingly pale pink wines now coming from countries such as Argentina, the choice in the UK is getting wider every year, but go to France and that’s where rosé takes on a different dimension altogether. The choice is vast from just one country, with many different depths of colour, flavours and prices varying from just over two euros a bottle (and still very drinkable) to over twenty. For me, the best rosé wines come from France, with delicate, elegant, fruity, dry wines which have great character, depth of flavour and individuality. One of the best regions is Provence and there are hundreds of great wines from this area and the neighbouring Languedoc. Chateau Minuty, Chateau de Berne, Whispering Angel, the list of first class quality wines is endless.
Still in France, but in an area further north, Sancerre in the central Loire Valley makes some outstandingly good rosé wines from the Pinot Noir grape. The best, such as Domaine Michel Thomas, are elegant, fine wines which are dry, crisp and refreshing, with wonderful aromas and flavours of summer fruits.
My general advice for choosing rosé is to choose one with a very pale colour – harder to get right and thus needing a very good wine-maker.
But above all, buy the youngest wine you can. Rosé is made for drinking young, when the fruit flavours are juicy and crisp.
The 2016 wines should now be available in the shops and are filtering into the restaurants, so choose these if you can. 2015 wines may still be OK, but try to avoid anything older.
Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.
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