Think pink

I recall the moment I fell in love with Rosé in the same detail that more significant events such as the deaths of Robert Kennedy, John Lennon and Lady Di are permanently etched into my consciousness. The year was 1977. It happened in a camp ground in the south of France somewhere near Avignon. I was travelling with my wife on a limited budget – $10 a day, I think. The really cheap campgrounds had dodgy water. We needed a water container. I bought a 12-litre glass jar securely wrapped in cane for the princely sum of $12.50. I was attracted by its rustic charm. It was full of Rosé.

In those days I’d only tasted Mateus Rosé (not bad – tastings) and a few nasty, thin and weedy local examples. I rated Rosé as my second-to-least favourite wine type. My least favourite was Greek Retsina.

Our expectations were low when we inched the large cork from the neck of the carboy and poured a tentative sample. The colour was slightly deeper than I’d expected. It was pink with an orange tint. I sniffed the wine. I had never experienced anything quite so exotic. Imagine taking a couple of wild strawberries, one small and slightly green raspberry and a selection of wild herbs plucked at random during a stroll through the French countryside. Now rub the mixture together between your hands and discard. Cup your hands and sniff the concentrated aroma. That’s roughly what it smelled like.

It had a strong spicy flavour that filled the mouth and lingered long after the wine had been swallowed. It was bone dry, silken-textured and, despite its strength of flavour, totally seductive.

We couldn’t believe our luck. The contents of the carboy were carefully decanted into discarded water bottles we’d retrieved from campground rubbish bins. We drank the Rosé with every meal. It made every one of our simple dishes taste immeasurably better. We entertained our English-speaking fellow-campers to al fresco dinner parties with a choice of one wine. They all agreed we’d bought a bargain.

Rosé is the cross-dresser of the wine world. It has the freshness, fruitiness and tangy acidity of a white wine but the intensity of flavour and richness of a red. That makes Rosé a very versatile food wine. Great with most seafood it hits the spot with relatively light-flavoured red meat dishes that normally need red wine to expose their best features.

One of the best things about Rosé is its colour. White and red wine look boring by comparison. A delicately pink wine is a fashion statement that can enhanced with matching flowers, crockery or a variety of foods from scallops to strawberries.

I’m a purist when it comes to glasses, preferring pure white glass without a tint of colour. In the case of Rosé I’m prepared to make an exception. I was once served Rosé in glasses with pink stems. The effect was fantastic.

Rosé and Food

Rose is such a good sipping wine that it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking it’s a poor match with food. I reach for a Rosé when I’m heading for a restaurant that specialises in Thai, Indian or the spicy Sichuan dishes of northern China. Well, not just any Rosé but one with plenty of flavour and a little sweetness. The extra flavour and sweetness is a perfect foil for lightly spiced dishes. Rosé is normally served chilled offering a further antidote against spicy foods. It’s a bonus if the Rosé has a little spice of its own to complement that of the dish.

Rosé can be great with fish. I like slightly sweet Rosé with most shellfish and crustaceans but prefer dry (or perhaps off-dry) Rosé with most fish dishes. Rosé makes a good match with many anti-pasta dishes.

How Rosé is Made

Rosé is made in one of two ways. The first simply involves adding a dash of red wine to white wine. In this country most, if not all, Rosé is made by running off some juice before or shortly after a red fermentation begins. The juice of most red grapes is white. Red wine gains its colour during the fermentation process as colour, flavour and tannins are progressively leached from the skins. Juice removed from the wine at the beginning of fermentation typically has a blush of colour. It is them fermented away from the skins, usually in a stainless steel tank.

When a percentage of red juice is run off before fermentation the remaining red wine has a higher percentage of skins (the source of colour, flavour and tannin) to juice and is likely to have more flavour and colour. As a result there is much more Rosé made in years when red wine promises to be light in colour and flavour.

Rosé Grapes

It is possible to make a Rosé from any red grape although some make better Rosé than others. In the south of France where they make the world’s most famous Rosé, Grenache, Cinsault and even Syrah are commonly used.

In New Zealand Pinot Noir is the most popular grape variety although that may be more to do with the winemaker’s need to bolster colour and flavour in their expensive Pinot Noir rather than choosing the best grape variety for their relatively less expensive Rosé.

Pinot Noir grapes can make good Rosé but it can also make rather thin, acidic and slightly green wine. My tasting results revealed that the top wine from Clearview used a rather undistinguished and little grown grape, Chambourcin (tastings). Rosé made from Malbec and/or Merlot performed relatively better than those made from Pinot Noir.

Buying and Serving Rosé

Local Rosé is best enjoyed within a year or two of vintage. Screwcaps have extended the life of Rosé but most gain little from keeping for more than a couple of years. Enjoy them while they’re fresh and fruity flavours are at their best and before bottle age dulls the wines exuberance.

Rosé must be served cold. Most can be enjoyed at fridge temperature or perhaps a little warmer. Chilling helps to emphasis freshness and can mute excessive sweetness.

I like to serve Rosé in white wine glasses. Most fine, stemmed, crystal glassware is fine. Spiegelau Excelsior tasting glasses are my personal favourite.

The Best Rosé Money Can Buy

In an effort to find the country’s best Rosé I invited winemakers to submit samples for evaluation. These were tasted blind in random order.

I was impressed by the range of offer and intrigued by the many different styles. To help you choose a wine that suits your taste I have grouped my top wines by style. The marks shown are out of a maximum of 100 points. 78 to 84 earns a bronze medal while 85 to 92 achieves a silver medal rating.

Subtle Smoothies – Teasing, coquettish wines for summer sipping

  • 86 Bannock Brae Estate 2006 Goldfields Cathy’s Rose Central Otago $24.00 – Soft and creamy Rose with pleasing strawberries and cream flavours. It’s a subtle delicate style that oozes charm (tastings).
  • 85 Charles Melton 2006 Rose of Virginia (Australia) $19.95 – Soft, almost luscious with warm ripe berry flavours and a suggestion of grape juice. Attractive summer drinking (tastings).
  • 85 Te Mania 2006 Pinot Noir Rose Nelson $17.95 – Reasonably light strawberry cherry flavours with a silken texture. Plenty of weight and pleasantly dry (tastings).
  • 85 Neudorf 2006 Pinot Rose Kina Nelson $19.90 – Soft and reasonably charming wine with gentle strawberry flavours. Teasing acidity gives a good dry finish without any pain (tastings).
  • 84 Akarua 2006 Pinot Rose Central Otago $19.95 – Pretty pale pink. Soft, crushed strawberries with a touch of sweetness and a creamy texture. Simple, attractive Rosé (tastings).

Gutsy Rosé – Full-flavoured Rosé for hearty dishes

  • 89 Esk Valley 2006 Merlot Malbec Rose Hawke’s Bay $17.95 – Plenty of ripe berry and plum flavours with a reasonably smooth texture and drying finish. Warming wine with charm and weight.
  • 87 Cable Bay 2006 Rose Waiheke Island Auckland $19.00 – Attractive ripe berry flavours with some appealing spicy influence. Dry, full-flavoured wine with plenty of character (tastings).
  • 86 Forrest Estate 2006 Stonewall $16.00 – Lovely spicy wine with crushed strawberry, plum and raspberry flavours. Charming, fresh and satisfying flavoursome (tastings).
  • 85 Clayridge 2006 Rose Marlborough $18.95 – Plenty of appealing strawberry, dried spice and raspberry flavours. Fleshy wine with a good drying finish (tastings).
  • 84 Matariki 2006 Aspire Pinot Rose Hawke’s Bay – Smooth, fleshy wine with intense strawberry and raspberry flavour and drying finish (tastings).

Scented and Spicy – Plenty of charm and also a bit of intellect

  • 90 Clearview 2006 Black Reef Blush $17.00 – Attractive crushed wild berries and dried herb flavours. Totally seductive Rosé with plenty of flavour and a texture to die for (tastings).
  • 87 Mt Rosa 2006 Gamay Rose Central Otago $22.00 – Soft, warming wine with seductive berry flavours. Dry without being acidic. A sensitively made wine with loads of charm (tastings).
  • 85 Te Awa 2006 Rose Hawke’s Bay $18.00 – Full-flavoured, dry Rose with flavours that resemble strawberries, raspberries and clove/spice. Reminds me of southern French Rose (tastings).
  • 85 Allan Scott 2006 Pinot Noir Rose Marlborough $17.00 – Lovely focused fruit flavours, a hint of sweetness and a pleasantly drying finish. Appealing wine with a gentle scent and delicate flavours (tastings).
  • 85 Gibbston Valley 2006 Blanc de Pinot Noir $25.00 – Delicately luscious wine with the sweet scents of wild strawberries. It walks a tightrope between obviously sweet or excessively acidic but maintains its balance nicely (tastings).

Easy Drinking – Serve chilled in large quantities

  • 84 Mills Reef 2006 Reserve Rose Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay $22.95 – Plenty of flavour with berry, plum and dried spices. There’s also a slightly herbal influence. Serious rather than charming (tastings).
  • 83 Vavasour 2006 Rose Marlborough $25.00 – Fresh, tangy wine with crushed strawberry flavours. It has appealing vibrant characters and good fruit focus (tastings).
  • 83 Forrest Estate 2006 Rose Marlborough $16.00 – Light fresh wine with berry and raspberry flavours. Has charm and easy-drinking appeal (tastings).
  • 83 Glazebrook 2006 040S 177E Hawke’s Bay $27.00 – Soft, slightly succulent Rosé with a hint of sweetness and a tangy, dry finish.
  • 82 Matua Valley 2006 Central Otago $15.95 – Juicy, fleshy, with a hint of sweetness that is nicely balanced by acidity. Don’t think about it, just drink it (tastings).

First published in Taste Magazine NZ – Mar 2007.

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