Wine producers are taking rosé more seriously. At heart, it’s still the perfect easygoing summer wine
In one of the more amusingly scathing book reviews of recent years – a deserved nominee for the Hatchet Job of the Year award – Geoff Dyer came up with a passage that almost always comes to mind whenever I’m drinking rosé.
Reviewing Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending for the New York Times, Dyer said, “It isn’t terrible, it’s just so … average. It is averagely compelling (I finished it), involves an average amount of concentration and, if such a thing makes sense, is averagely well written: excellent in its averageness!”
Substitute “made” for “written” and Dyer’s sarcastic faint praise could double up as a tasting note for pretty much any decent rosé, perhaps with the addition of “averagely fruity” and “averagely refreshing” to complete the job. Rosés are seldom undrinkable, they’re usually clean, crisp and pretty to look at, and they go with most foods with which you care to share them.
But they have rarely offered more than that. If I set out to make a list of the best, most memorable wines of my life – wines whose flavours and textures I can still remember years after drinking them – there would be several closely typed pages of reds, whites, even orange wines, before I reached a pink. And even then the wines in question – Rioja producer López de Heredia’s Viña Tondonia Rosado, Tuscan producer Biondi-Santi’s Brunello di Montalcino Rosato, or Château Simone Rosé from the tiny Provence appellation of Palette – gorgeous and idiosyncratic as they are, would be upstaged in each case by the whites or reds made by the same producer.
I’m not alone in finding it difficult to take rosé seriously. My copy of 1,001 Wines You Must Try Before You Die features just two rosé wines, one of which, the deathless 1970s favourite, Mateus, seems to be there largely as a nostalgic, mass-market curiosity (its gourd-shaped bottle the base of a million impromptu candelabras [candlesticks?]) among the fine and rare vintages – an example, as the book says, of one of the “few truly global” and tenaciously long-lived wine brands.
Yet, having barely touched them five years ago, if I were to do a stocktake of my drinking in spring and summer now, rosé bottles would account for at least half of the contents of my recycling bin. I wouldn’t be alone in that: after more than a decade of rapid growth, rosé now accounts for around one in eight bottles consumed in the UK. In France, they’re even more enthusiastic: a couple of years back, rosé sales eclipsed those of white for the first time.
If it’s possible to detect an element of hypocritical snobbery in that behaviour – a gap between what we, or at least, I, say we think is good and what we actually drink – the reasons aren’t hard to discern. Rosé always used to be an afterthought for producers. When it wasn’t a byproduct of red-wine production (a use for the juice “bled” from a tank of red wine to give it more colour and concentration), it was a neither here-nor-there mix of red and white juice (the latter practice now banned in the EU, except in Champagne).
It’s also been prone to faddishness. As Tesco drinks boss Dan Jago told me at a recent tasting, the almost fluorescent pink of the sweet white zinfandel wines so popular in the 2000s is hard to find now, the success of the delicately hued wines of Provence meaning that, no matter the rosé’s style, it has to be pale to sell.
Producers are now taking rosé much more seriously, using red grapes and generally treating them like a white wine with a short time in contact with the skins after pressing. And as more and more producers around the world, often in places with little or no tradition of making rosé, have felt the need to add a pink wine to their line-up, so the range of grape varieties used to make it has increased, and the stylistic palette has expanded.
I get the sense that we’re just at the beginning with rosé, that winemakers are only just discovering how far they can take it in quality (and price). The results may not quite match whites or reds for diversity, complexity or sense of place just yet; there is still something essentially frivolous and uncomplicated about even the most refined of rosés from the region that still stands apart for softly pastel pinks, Provence. But when the sun is out, a dry rosé remains the Platonic form of easygoing summer wine, simply excellent in its averageness, and none the worse for it.
Six of the best rosés
Château Léoube Rosé de Léoube, Côtes de Provence, France 2014 (£14.50, vintageroots.co.uk)
If you were looking for a wine that sums up the soft, hazy, gently refreshing charms of Provençale dry rosé this might just be it: from organic vineyards, it has a pulse of redcurrant acidity and just a touch of leafy herb to go with that bouillabaisse.
Château d’Esclans Whispering Angel, Côtes de Provence, France 2013 (£16.50, slurp.co.uk)
Sacha Lichine’s set up his Provence estate in 2005 with the aim of making fine (and expensive) rosé. He’s succeeded in both missions with white burgundy-like Garrus (£60 a pop), while this is a gorgeous, subtly insinuating, delicate dry wine.
Aldi Toro Loco Rosé 2014, Utiel-Requena, Spain (£3.79, Aldi)
Like its Spanish red “mad bull” partner from the same shop, this is a good value party bottle, a robustly bramble- and strawberry-fruited partner for a spread of charcuterie or smoky fish and sausages off the barbie.
Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir Rosé, Bio-Bio, Chile 2014 (£6.99, Tesco)
Gentle in tannin and soft in red fruit even as a red wine, pinot noir is a logical choice for rosé. One of Chile’s best exponents of the grape, Cono Sur, here uses it to make a plump, juicy, but lively blend of cherry-berry fruitiness.
Domaine Gourt de Mautens Rosé, IGP Vaucluse, France 2010 (£44.99, armitwines.co.uk)
Who says rosé can’t be complex? Not Jérôme Bressy, evidently. Based in the village of Rasteau, his gorgeous, pink brings spice, liquorice, garrigue herbs, subtly chewy texture, and a long mineral finish to the pure tangy raspberry.
Graci Etna Rosato, Sicily, Italy 2013 (£16.95, bbr.com)
Grown on the slopes of Mount Etna, nerello mascalese is the grape behind some of Sicily’s most haunting reds. Graci’s rosé is a watercolour rendition of its qualities, with an intense sweet-sour snap of red cherries.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010