Rosé wines - Seriously pink.

Rosé is the little brother of red and white wine, overlooked, underappreciated, often mocked. I myself am guilty of this view at times. Rarely do I think of it as a possible contender for a food pairing, or a wine I’d bring out to share with a friend, or for that matter, even buy in the first place. Worse, when I see a bottle of rosé wine, I often think of what could have been. Why are you drinking rose with those mussels, mum? Have you heard of Picpoul, or Albarino, or Muscadet? Recently however, things changed. I bought a rosé on a whim with a friend one afternoon after a particularly long morning at work, and it was, in fact, amazing.

As far as epiphany’s go, this was of course a small one, but nevertheless it made me reconsider the humble rosé. There was something so satisfying about its proud fruitiness – not cloyingly fruity, but dark and rich, composed even – that made me almost resent the shadow that oak and tannins and high acids and all the other mumbo jumbo that my usual wines cast across the glass.

It was Cabernet Sauvignon, dusky pink, and southern French, and cost about £7.99. I doubt any red wine I could have had for that price would have been even half as good. This article then, is not so much a paean to the rosé, as a tale of my rediscovery; how they’re made and who makes them, what to drink them with and above all, why you should be drinking them, full stop.

Rosé wine is made from grape juice that has experienced a degree of grape-skin contact (or maceration) that imparts colour enough to turn the juice pink, but not enough to be classed as a fully ‘red’ wine. It is, in essence, something of a halfway house between a white wine and a red, combining certain red wine characteristics – pigmentation, flavour compounds, subtle tannins – with the lighter body (mostly, but not always) more associated with a white.

The colour of the wine will vary between a light, almost grey salmon pink, to a darker, jewel-like hue that firmly dips its toes into red wine territory. The grape variety itself will have an impact on this colour; darker or thicker-skinned grapes such as Monastrell or Cinsault will impart more pigmentation (derived from compounds known as anthocyanins) than a lighter skinned red grape, such as Pinot Noir or Gamay.

The length of time the juice macerates with the skins will have the most influence on rosé colour however, and can be anything from up to half a day to a full 24 hours for the heavier examples. Other methods of producing rosé including blending a red wine with a white wine, or by ‘bleeding’ off the initial, lighter coloured juice from a red wine pressing (this method is known as saignée), but by far the most common practice is the maceration procedure described above.

Rosé is made all around the world, and indeed, probably used to be ubiquitous as the de facto ‘red’ wine. Many of the modern winemaking techniques used to produce red wines today were simply not in practice for most of human history, so it is highly likely that the wines drunk in the past, from the ancients to the Tudors, would have been far closer to pink in colour than what we now know as red. Grapes had to be pressed rapidly post-harvest to avoid oxidation, so extended maceration periods would have been difficult to control.

The red wine that we now so closely associate with dining emperors and Roman legionaries would probably have been pink – the deep red ‘blood of Christ’ association a mere invention by Renaissance painters. As red winemaking has improved, some regions have remained hotspots of rosé production. The Mediterranean coast of southern France, notably Provence, is probably the most famous, and here the wines are typically light and salmon pink in colour, with fresh, almost innocent notes redolent of strawberries and raspberries.

Crisp, acidic rosé made from Pinot Noir is common in the Loire Valley, while the now infamous ‘blush’ Zinfandel is popularly made in California, produced in a sweeter style. These however, are the typical examples, the ‘everyman’s’ idea of rosé, quaffed whimsically in the sunshine on the patio, or drunk even more whimsically at parties. With a little bit of looking, some more interesting examples can be found, capable of matching sublimely with foods of all flavours and cultures and boasting intriguing bouquets and palate profiles that really are worth thinking about.

Tavel rosé is perhaps the quintessential ‘serious’ rosé. It is made in the appellation of the same name in the southern Rhone valley, not far from the famous red wine centres of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, and boasts something of its more famous brothers’ strength and potency, if in pink form. Made from Grenache and Cinsault, it is generally darker than your average rosé, high in alcohol and bears richer, spicier notes of strawberry and cherry than the lighter wines of the area. Said to be the favourite wine of Ernest Hemingway and Voltaire, it matches well with strong flavoured, meaty dishes, especially BBQs.

Further south near Marseille, lies Bandol. Once again famous for its red wines, Bandol rosé is made from the same grape, Mourvedre (called Monastrell in Spain), and these are somewhat lighter than the wines of Tavel, but fuller in body that those typical of Provence at large. Bandol’s light herbal note matches well with the seafood stew dishes common of the area, or as a foil for the piquant tang of black olives, tapenade, and similar Tapas style foods.

The general unwillingness to take rosé seriously is often reflected in the price, bar, that is, in its most prestigious incarnation: rosé champagne. Champagne is unusual in that here the common rosé production method is that of blending, rather than skin maceration. Although still a far smaller percentage of champagne market share than white champagne, sparkling rosé has risen drastically in popularity in recent years. When made well, a rosé champagne can bring subtle red fruit notes to the citrussy, savoury aspects common of white champagne, making it a distinctly interesting aperitif or function drink. The same characteristics apply to English sparkling rosé – a perfect tipple at about four o’clock to accompany a Devon cream tea.

Long maligned as naff, frivolous and unsuitable for food, rosé is making a comeback. Sales have risen across all price points in the UK over the last few years, spurred on in part by a wave of new, more flavourful and interesting rosé made available to the British market. Although there may still be a better white alternative to a bowel of mussels (in my opinion at least), rosé can pair well with a variety of foods, especially with those hard-to-match dishes such as light Thai curry, mezze, or afternoon tea. This is one band wagon you really should climb on.