by Robin Lynam
France last year, for the first time in its history, produced more rose wine than it did white wine. And if you take the trouble to match the names of Jancis Robinson or Robert Parker Jnr and rosé on a Google or Web search, you’ll be surprised at how many articles they’ve written recently about how dry rose is coming back into fashion, according to Cathay Pacific’s Melbourne-based wine consultant Roy Moorfield.
The key word is “dry”. Although rose wines in that style have long been popular in France, Spain and Germany, elsewhere the colour was associated for decades with sweet, easily accessible wines from Portugal, of which the best known is Mateus Rosé.
Mateus and Liebfraumilch are popular beginner’s wines, and those who start with Liebfraumilch and then develop more sophisticated tastes generally want nothing to do with it. Mateus did for pink wines, wherever they came from, what Blue Nun did for the entire wine production of Germany – it contaminated the brand.
About 10 years ago, however, a revival began, thanks partly to people enjoying dry roses “on location” when they went on holiday, and partly thanks to a handful of activists such as Mr Moorfield.
“Australia had five good dry roses in 1998 and I decided I wanted to change this. I went to Stanley Market and I bought some Chairman Mao hats, and put on top of them RLA – the Rose Liberation Alliance – and we started a movement in Australia. Now there are 300 or more good dry roses. They do work. You just have to embrace the concept,” he says. Other like-minded souls also took rose up as a cause. The United States has RAP, which stands for Rose Avengers and Producers, and describes itself as “an international group of winemakers and wine drinkers dedicated to righting the wrongs done to dry rose”. In the US rose sales are also now rising. One reason, undoubtedly, is that the style is generally served chilled, which makes it a great choice for a hot day. That is why it is so well appreciated in Spain, Provence, Italy and Portugal (their roses don’t all taste like Mateus and even that is now somewhat improved). Another is that dry rose goes well with food.
Ada Leung, managing director of Cottage Vineyards (International) which imports a varied list of roses from France, says: “We do a lot of food and wine matching, and roses are just so versatile that for us it was a natural thing. It lasts all the way from the beginning of a meal to the end, and will work with a lot of different meats, fish or poultry. There’s a change to a more healthy style of eating with less of an emphasis on red meats, and rose goes perfectly with that.” Mr Moorfield adds that he calls rose “the swimming fish”. “It swims between white wine and red wine. If you’re a white wine drinker and you don’t drink red wine at all, you are likely to be satisfied by a dry rose, but if you are a red wine drinker and you want to get refreshed, try a rose because it delivers the flavour of the fruit of the vine without the tannin.”
The best dry roses reflect the character of the red wine grape varieties from which they are made and the terroir of the vineyards.
These wines generally derive their colour from only a short period of contact – after crushing – between the grape juice and the grape skins, which contain a lot of the tannin that does so much to determine the character of a red wine. Roses can also be made by the “saignée” or “bleeding” process, in which some pink juice is extracted early in the winemaking process with the primary intention of intensifying the red wine. These roses are essentially by-products, but can nevertheless have character of their own. Wines made by those methods are essentially pale coloured reds. The third process, which is generally used only for basic still wines, is to blend a white wine with a small amount of red. This practice is discouraged in France, except in Champagne, where blending white sparkling wine with a small amount of red is traditionally established and officially sanctioned.
Although rose wines come in an eye-pleasing array of hues ranging from almost red to almost white, the colour tells you little about the wine, according to Ms Leung. “The Provence roses are very pale but they are full flavoured. They are quite aromatic. There’s a lot of sunshine in the bottles, but you can’t see the flavour from the colour. It’s like tomato water. Syrah has a lot more colour to it so naturally when you make a red from that it is going to be darker. Cabernet Franc is lighter than the Syrah rose, but it is still filled with flavour and is much more floral. Again with the colour you can’t really tell,” she explains. Rose wines in France have traditionally been taken seriously, and it is likely that they originally were across the English Channel as well. The English word “claret” for red Bordeaux is a corruption of the French “clairet”, for a pale wine that would probably now be called a rose, although with increasing production of pink wines in the Bordeaux region, the term clairet is now being revived.
It is in Provence and the Loire Valley that rose has been highly esteemed for longest. Rose d’Anjou may be the Mateus drinker’s choice of the French pinks, but Cabernet d’Anjou – made from either Cabernet Sauvignon or more typically Cabernet Franc grapes – is one of the glories of the western Loire.
It is from Côtes de Provence that a standard- bearer for a new generation of great French roses has merged, however. Sacha Alexis Lichine acquired Chateau D’Esclans in 2006 with the intention of making the world’s greatest rose, and of demonstrating that the category can and should be taken seriously as fine wine. Has this been achieved? Chateau D’Esclans has certainly raised the bar, with four exceptional roses in Whispering Angel, Esclans, the more expensive Les Clans and top of the range Garrus.
Mr Lichine certainly put his money where his mouth is, spending€3.5 million (HK$39 million) on the vineyards and cellars, which he equipped with individually temperature controlled wooden barrels. Grapes are hand-harvested and sorted and the wines are made by former Mouton-Rothschild winemaker Patrick Leon. Whispering Angel, available in Hong Kong from www.liquidassets.com, is a bargain at HK$240 per bottle.
Cottage Vineyards specialises in “niche wines” mostly from France, and Ms Leung has obtained some fine roses, including Frederic Lornet Cremant de Jura Rosé, a sparkling wine made from 95 per cent Ploussard, a signature Jura grape, and 5 per cent Pinot Noir. She recommends it as an aperitif.
“It is easier to find a really good quality sparkling rose than a really good rose champagne. The ones I’ve tried are either disappointing or really expensive, at HK$LOOO-plus per bottle. These are much more affordable.”
The fact that few French roses are priced at the same level as reds or whites of comparable quality – Chateau D’Esdans’ Garrus, which can cost more than rose Krug or Dom Perignon if you are lucky enough to find a bottle, is the grand exception to the rule – is another incentive to drink pink. Several of Ms Leung’s roses are made by the Saignée method including the Couly-Dutheil Chinon Rose Rene Couly 2007, from the Loire Valley made from Cabernet Franc (HK$178), and the Chateau Roubine Cru Classé Cuvée Classique Rose 2007, from Cotes de Provence (HK$198) which is blended from seven different grapes. Chateau Roubine Cru Classe Cuvee Prestige Terre De Croix Rose 2007 (HK$248) is made from just Mourvedre and Syrah and the top of the range Chateau Roubine Rose Cru Classe Cuvee Premium Inspire 2007 (HK$278) is made from Tibouren with a touch of Grenache. All wines are available from Cottage Vineyards, (email@example.com), and the Cuvee Prestige Terre De Croix is available by the magnum in Spoon by Alain Ducasse at the InterContinental Hong Kong hotel. Watson’s wine Cellar (www.watsonswine.com), offers a good selection of rose champagnes – Veuve Clicquot, Moet & Chandon, Gosset and Deutz. It also offers a selection of New World roses including Australia’s Turkey Flat Rose 2007 from the Barossa Valley (HK$145), Mitolo Jester 2007 from McLaren Vale (HK$125), Annie’s Lane 2007 from the Clare Valley (HK$135) and Chile’s Montes Rose of Syrah 2006 (HK$98) alongside Old World selections from France and Italy. For some, however, the memory of one glass too many of something sweet, sickly and Portuguese in a flagon shaped bottle remains a powerful disincentive to drinking tinted wine of any lighter hue than a deep red, while the more macho drinker sometimes considers the idea of raising a glass of pink wine as an affront to his masculinity. For those vainly trying to hold back the pink tide of the rose revival Mr Moorfield has a simple message – get over it.