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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
31 Dec 2002
 

We journalists like to think our noses are constantly alert to new trends. And for the first time in my nearly 30 years writing about wine, I'm smelling rosé.

Now you may dismiss pink wine as an aberration, a wine too wimpy to be red or with too much to blush about to be virginal white, but I really do sense a head of steam behind the whole rosé category.

Some of this feeling is just a hunch but I also have evidence. First the seriously geeky websites start dropping hints about a change in attitude to wines made deliberately to fit somewhere between red and white. These more characterful pink wines were no longer beyond the pale, but pale by choice! Then the more mainstream wine columnists have started to admit that not all rosé is hopelessly unfashionable, in fact some of it - champagne included - can be really rather nice. And in the space of the last month or two I have been bombarded with pro-pink material. There's a new British wine importer devoted to rosé (Devigne Wines of Welshpool), a website devoted to pink wine (www.drink-pink.com) and at least two people, unrelated to either the website or each other, planning to write a book exclusively about rosé. There's even a California wine writer, Jeff Morgan, who has decided to concentrate solely on production of his pink wine, Solo Rosa.

All this is prompted, and presumably encouraged, by more and more established winemakers taking rosé seriously.

One of the many problems with rosé is its name. It's silly really. We don't call red wine 'rouge' or white wine 'blanc'. And there's that awkward accent at the end. The current trend seems to be to call it, in English anyway, pink wine - and probably a jolly good thing too. Nor did the great ocean of particularly pale pinks dubbed 'blush wines' that washed over the American market in the 1980s do anything for pink wine's reputation.

Not that it was ever that high in the first place. Pink wine's image has been possibly eternally tarnished by the fact that there have been so many completely revolting examples around. If the typical blush wine is a vapid commercial mouthwash, the typical rosé has been sickly sweet and vivid rose pink. Or, in the case of some of the world's cooler growing regions, pink wine was in reality a failed red wine - until Germany's growers and makers of Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), for example, managed to harness yields and winemaking techniques to produce properly, definitively red wine from it. And the connotation with Portugal's Mateus rosé, a massive marketing success story but a dated one, has done pink wine's reputation no favours either.

But the pink wines of the future are not, in general, sweet. They are dry and characterful and extremely useful for both today's increasingly hot and spicy food and our planet's increasingly warm weather. As usual in the story of wine, the cradle of modern pink wine is France.

It may be difficult for non-French readers to grasp how completely devoted to red wine the French are. For them white wine is something you have to drink if you eat oysters, but basically vin is rouge. So if you put a Frenchman in a hot climate, he wants to drink something as close to red wine as possible - which means either a chilled, light-bodied (French) red (why else does Georges Duboeuf sell so well in the tropics?) or a sort of red wine manqué, otherwise known as rosé.

The warmest corner of France, Provence and the southern Rhône, is not surprisingly the centre of rosé production and rosé drinking. And it is quite extraordinary how well a good rosé goes with the garlicky, herby, Mediterranean flavours of the food of this part of the world. Try a mouthful of my favourite drink of all, water, after one of aioli [strong garlic mayonnaise] or artichoke, and your palate is seriously deformed, by the fiery heat or the strange metallic sweetness in your mouth respectively. Sip a mouthful of dry rosé with either of these, on the other hand, and some magic makes the combination utterly harmonious and soothing.

Unfortunately, a good 90 per cent of the rosé made in Provence is over-produced and extremely dull but there are quite delicious exceptions, themselves infused with the herbs of the garrigue and with no shortage of character while being bone-dry. Perhaps the most famously sought-after rosé of this style in south east France is Domaine Tempier's Bandol rosé but there is an increasing number of others.

Chateau Routas and Mas Gourgonnier spring to mind but virtually any reputable producer of red in the appellations Côtes de Provence, Coteaux d'Aix en Provence, Coteaux Varois, Costieres de Nîmes and Côtes du Rhône who produces a rosé will ensure that it is worthy of their reputation. In fact, dining out of doors in the region in the summer, it can be frustrating to find, as we did last year at the famous two-star Oustau de Beaumanière at Les Baux de Provence, that the local winemaking giant (Domaine de Trevallon in this case) does not make a rosé.

A constant challenge with making fine pink wine is to know how pink to make it (how long to keep the wine on the skins), and to what extent to control any astringency associated with those skins. I discovered one pale pink wine last year so satin-smooth in texture yet with quintessential Mediterranean flavours in spades, that I made it (so far my only pink) wine of the week on my website. Jean-Luc Colombo of Cornas can make some pretty extracted reds in my opinion, but the Pioche et Cabanon rosé 2000 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhône he made from his new property right on the coast just west of Marseilles was my idea of pink perfection.

It was made from a third white Vermentino with Mourvèdre and Syrah. The other southern red grapes Grenache and Cinsault are also particularly well suited to pink wine production as they are generally relatively low in pigments (Grenache can make deep-coloured Châteauneuf reds because it is so dry here) - which is why the Languedoc, with so much of all four of these red grapes planted, is producing an increasing amount of seriously interesting rosé.

Cabernet grapes give quite a different aspect to pink wine's flavour profile - much more aromatic - and a pioneer in Bordeaux has been Château de Sours who have even in their time managed to sell their popular, and increasingly dry, deep pink en primeur.

With a few isolated exceptions in the north of the country, Italians are yet to come round to the idea of rosato. Co-editor of the famous Italian annual Gambero Rosso wine guide Marco Sabellico says that every year he tries to persuade his fellow tasters that one or two pink wines might be worthy of one of their influential Tre Bicchiere awards but, so far, he has consistently been scoffed at.

Spaniards on the other hand are extremely enthusiastic about their rosados and claretes - perhaps because so much Grenache/Garnacha is grown in the country's vineyards.

In the New World, fashionistas such as Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon in California, Charles Beck at Fairview in South Africa and the likes of Charles Melton and Geoff Merrill in Australia are all way ahead of the pack in encouraging us, in hot weather at least, to drink pink.