A shorter version of this article is published by the Financial Times, which at one time was known as The Pink'un. See this guide to our recent coverage of pink wines.
One of the great side effects of the rehabilitation of rosé is that there is now so much serious pink wine around, and so many more styles of it to choose from. Even the colours vary enormously.
I’m wondering, for example, where exactly the borderlines between white, rosé and red fall as it’s really a continuous spectrum. Pinot Gris/Grigio and Gewurztraminer grapes, for example, are pink-skinned and, depending on how long the winemaker keeps the new wine in contact with the grape skins, the resulting wine will have a distinct pale pink, sometimes quite deep pink, tinge.
And then at the other end of the pink spectrum there are all sorts of wines that could be classified as either pale red or deep pink. Jura reds, especially those made from the pale local Poulsard/Ploussard grape, hover on the borderline between pink and red – as does many a wine made from really dark-skinned grape varieties sold as a rosé. There is a whole category of reds, described as clarete in Spain and clairet in Bordeaux, that are deliberately paler and lighter than full-blown reds. Are they rosés?
I have been giving many pink wines as much attention as any fine red or white recently. And of course it is not true that all rosés should be drunk as young as possible. A vertical of Domaine Tempier Bandol a few years ago showed me that this iconic Provençal rosé could last as long as 30 years. In Rioja, the women behind one of the most respected bodegas, López de Heredia, deliberately release their Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosado very late; the current vintages are 2000 and 2008.
One of the most educational visits I made when tasting in Burgundy last November was in Sylvain Pataille’s dark, low-ceilinged cavern in Marsannay, almost on the outskirts of the expanding city of Dijon. At one stage Pinot Noir-based rosé was the principal wine made in the village and Pataille is doing his utmost to revive the tradition. He opened a series of his Fleur de Pinot going back from the 2016 vintage to the 2011, each more exciting than the last – and I see my tasting note on the youngest of these maintains the wine is ‘so appealing it practically winks at you'. The 2011 had developed in bottle to such an extent that it delivered as much savoury satisfaction as one of the most admired Meursaults. Long contact with the grape skins helps. The youngest of the vines on which this miraculous wine depends were planted during the Second World War.
But if I look back over the other rosés I have tasted and most enjoyed over the last year, I see they have come from either Provence, the traditional heartland of rosé production, or the Languedoc and Roussillon, which are fast catching on to the rosé craze. A colleague of mine Tamlyn Currin decided she’d broadcast to Languedoc producers she wanted to do a blind tasting of them while down there earlier this summer. To her amazement, 400 samples arrived on her doorstep (see the results in Languedoc rosés in 2018 and Roussillon rosés in 2018 published the following day).
One of my two current favourite Languedoc rosés comes from the producer of the wine that came top of her tasting, Château Puech Haut in St-Drézéry north east of Montpellier.
The other one is a Faugères, an appellation characterised by the schist associated with freshness and nerve which are certainly evident in the deep pink Les Cassiopéides bottling from Domaine du Météore that is chock full of body and personality. Like most Bandol rosés, it immediately demands food rather than being a neutral sort of sipping wine. The same UK retailer has unearthed a particularly satisfying Bandol rosé in Domaine de la Ribotte’s Cuvée Anaïs, whose pretty salmon-pink colour is slightly at odds with the substantial and intriguing earthiness on the palate.
But the classic source of so much of the world’s rosé is to the immediate north and east of Bandol, most of them labelled Côtes de Provence and only just pink, often a sort of very pale greyish pink. The Bamford family of JCB and Daylesford fame certainly match this colourway with their Léoube range of bottlings from the rosé hotspot just along the coast from Hyères, where Domaine Ott is arguably the grandaddy of them all.
If Ott is the grandaddy of Provençal rosé, Sacha Lichine (above) of Château d’Esclans (pictured top right) way up in the hills towards Draguignan is the golden boy, the one who re-energised the whole pink wine category, successfully set out to make the most expensive example of all in Garrus, and has spun local Grenache and Cinsault grapes, now bought widely all over Provence, into gold via an apparently limitless flow of Whispering Angel rosé. The first vintage was as recent as 2006 but it was such an immediate success that that was the only one that was estate bottled. As Alder noted in his recent article on the fortunes of (White) Zinfandel, French rosé has really taken off in the US, a boom arguably detonated by Whispering Angel, which has become so popular with well-heeled Americans that it has been called both Hamptons water and millennials’ champagne. It has become the biggest brand of French wine in the US, with six million bottles produced this year. From the 2014 vintage, the estate-bottled Ch d'Esclans, based mainly on Grenache and Vermentino, was renamed Rock Angel. I'd say it is probably worth the premium. Garrus is obviously the best wine in the stable, but £85 seems to me to be a bit of a joke, however handsome the bottle.
Equally successful commercially, and to my palate more interesting, is Château Miraval, also a Côtes de Provence rosé, the one with the inimitable marketing advantage of being associated with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The Perrin family of the southern Rhône (Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Vieille Ferme, etc) are responsible for maintaining quality despite such impressive sales of these distinctively squat bottles that a whole new winery (below) has had to be built expressly for the brand. They seem to be doing an excellent job and, although on only their fifth vintage, sales volumes are already half those of Whispering Angel.
What’s exciting is that real care is being lavished on rosé production all over the world now. In Australia they are experimenting with pink versions of all sorts of Mediterranean varieties, for instance. Some great rosatos are coming out of Italy, and in Spain the local Garnacha lends itself particularly well to rosados. These are the sort of wines that I think will become increasingly popular as summer temperatures rise and we seek refreshingly cool wines to drink with food that provide alternatives to whites.
SOME SERIOUS ROSÉS
Dom du Météore, Les Cassiopéides 2017 Faugères
£11.50 Stone, Vine & Sun
Ch Gassier, Le Pas de Moine 2017 Côtes de Provence, Ste-Victoire
£13.29 Great Western Wine
Le Grand Cros 2017 Côtes de Provence
£13.95 Berry Bros & Rudd
Ch Puech Haut, Tête de Bélier 2017 St-Drézéry
£14.25 Le Vignoble of Devon, £14.95 Grand Cru of London
López Heredia, Viña Tondonia 2008 Rioja Gran Reserva
€15.90 El Sumiller of Galicia
Dom de la Ribotte, Cuvée Anaïs 2017 Bandol
£17.50 Stone, Vine & Sun
Chêne Bleu 2016 IGP Vaucluse
£17.59 waitrosecellar.com, £19 Huntsworth Wine
Ch Miraval 2017 Côtes de Provence
£19 Marks & Spencer
Dom Tempier 2016 Bandol
£27.95 Lea & Sandeman
Ch Léoube, Le Secret de Léoube 2017 Côtes de Provence
£29.95 Davys Wine Merchants, The Oxford Wine Co
Dom Sylvain Pataille 2015 Marsannay
€33.50 Grands Bourgognes of Brochon, $49 SommPicks of San Francisco
Ch d’Esclans, Garrus 2016 Côtes de Provence