Why is rosé more popular than it’s ever been? Adam Lechmere explores the complexity and charm of the perfect summer wine.
Rosé is never the headline act. It longs to be taken seriously, but somehow it seems to be forever the summer wine, suitable for glugging before barbecues and perhaps allowed in for the salad starter, but when have you seen it topping the bill?
It’s odd, because for the last fifteen years or so, rosé’s sales curve has been vertiginous. In the US in 2015 sales of imported rosé (higher than US$11) shot up by 58 per cent, the US writer Katherine Cole says in her very serious new book, Rosé All Day. Sales in the UK are just as healthy.
“It’s a sure winner,” Cole writes. “Rosé is an entire category that offers excellent quality for the price and is nearly foolproof in food-pairing contexts.” It can be made from red and white grapes in any wine-growing region. Why on earth isn’t it taken seriously?
Rosé is made from black grapes, sometimes with the addition of white grapes, the juice run off the skins after a short maceration – a couple of hours for thicker-skinned grapes like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, a day for the lighter reds like Grenache.
A huge range of grapes goes into modern rosé: Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre, Dolcetto, Grenache… the list goes on.
All the big UK wine merchants and supermarkets list dozens of rosés – the packed shelves of multi-hued wines look wonderful. When it comes to rosé, looks are important. In the UK we prefer the pale pink that the French call oeil de perdrix (it refers the coppery blush in the eye of a dying partridge). American wine lovers are the opposite. They associate lighter rosés with their over-sweet blush zinfandels and so go for much darker rosés.
In Europe, Provence produces a dependable, crisp, summer-fruit style; if you like a drier, more powerful wine, go for the grenache-based wines of Tavel (the only Rhône appellation exclusive to rosé); further north, the Rosé d’Anjou from the Loire is sweeter and lighter. France produces a third of the world’s rosé, Spain a fifth; but don’t discount the fine rosés from Italy, Chile, Argentina and South Africa. If you’re buying Californian, beware of bottom-shelf “blush” styles.
Look for red fruit flavours (strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant). You don’t want sweetness, which can taste like bubblegum, and you don’t want any green or herbaceous flavours. The acidity should be fresh – it should sing but not overwhelm the fruit. You’re not going to lay this wine down in the cellar for 10 years, but you want acidity that is robust enough to stand up to brisk summer salads, fish dishes and lighter meat dishes.
Lastly, remember that seriousness is not a rosé’s purpose. It should lift your spirits and dance on your palate: it’s first duty is to charm.
Sacha Lichine Single Blend Rosé, Var, France, 2016
This is pure Grenache from Cave d’Esclans in the Var, the heart of rosé country in the Var. Lovely fresh raspberry nose, refined dry palate with a great wallop of red fruit – raspberry, sweet cherry, zippy redcurrant. Drink from breakfast onwards, especially before Sunday lunch with seafood nibbles.
Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Rosé, Languedoc, France 2016
From Mas de Daumas Gassac, one of the most famous estates in the Languedoc (the Guibert family produce some of the world’s most sought-after reds) comes this delicate, spicy Syrah/Carignan blend. The savoury nose promises something serious to come, and it delivers. The palate has delicate acidity along with strawberry fruit and basil dryness, then rivulets of juice to freshen the lingering end. Delicious, and half the price of a cinema ticket. fromvineyardsdirect.com £8.95
La Maugellerie, Costières de Nîmes, France 2015
A couple of years ago, the UK supermarket Lidl would have been the last place a wine journalist would have gone to look for a decent wine (they’re a snooty bunch). But since Master of Wine Richard Bampfield started sourcing their wines, the list has got very interesting indeed. This is fine, fresh, white-cherry-flavoured, uncomplicated but with loads of charm. It’s got acidic backbone enough to stand up to robust salads and garlicky prawns, but really it’s perfect for sophisticated thirst-quenching on a summer’s afternoon. lidi.co.uk £5.99
Mirabeau en Provence Classic Rose, Cotes de Provence, France 2016
Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault. Lovely concentrated strawberry and raspberry fruit contrasts with the sun-bleached almost-pink colour of this fine rosé. There’s a fine smack of acidity to carry the fruit and to give the whole thing a most charming zip. This would go well with modestly-spiced Thai curries, lightly-barbecued chicken and much else. Fine for a Thursday. cellarviewines.com £9.99
Marks & Spencer Vaglio Rosé, Argentina 2016
A wine crafted by Jose Lovaglio, the talented winemaker son of the renowned Argentinian producer Susana Balbo. Malbec, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and the white grape Torrontes make a fine acidic mouthful shot through with bright, juicy red fruit. Packs enough of a punch to go with barbecued fish. marksandspencer.com £10
Miraval Rosé Cotes de Provence, France 2016
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie bought their Provençal estate in 2008 and promptly formed a partnership with the Perrin wine family of Beaucastel. Pitt himself gets very involved at every stage of the winemaking, Marc Perrin says. Whatever his input, the wine is delicious, with light strawberry aromas, balance and fine acidity. Drink with raw seafood. Majestic £17.99
Clos Rocailleux Braucol Rose, Gaillac, France 2015
Jack and Margaret Reckitt are English expats in the south of France. They haven’t been making wine for long but they’re obviously doing something right. This rosé is dry with stony intensity but lovely fruit and a juicy finish. Perfect with grilled sardines. redsquirrelwine.com £12.00
Garage Wine Co “Old Vine Pale” Lot # 41, Maule Valley, Chile 2016
A very unusual sweet red fruit nose then on the palate the smack of underripe raspberries and sour cherries with taut acidity and brisk salinity. There’s structure here – enough to stand up to light game like pigeon or grouse. bibendum-wine.co.uk £18.99
Chivite, Las Fincas Rosé, Navarra, Spain 2015
Chivite, an ancient family company, dominates the northern Spanish appellation of Navarra. This rosé stands out for its generosity of fruit – strawberry with fine hints of blackcurrant and floral perfume – and excellent acid balance. It’s a fine, intense wine, one to be savoured with dinner (try it with grilled fish) rather than glugged beforehand. greatwesternwine.co.uk £14.95