No longer just simple thirst-slaker, Victoria Moore charts the rise of the oak-aged gastronomic rosé, wines to drink with a plateful of food.
Rosé never used to be fancy. It was a simple thirst-slaker, pale and gentle. You could count the hours whiled away on a sunlit verandah, or with sand under your toes at a St Tropez beach club by the number of empties at the end of the night and if you ate with it – well, you ate, niçoise salad, grilled lamb with herbes de Provence, tapenade, seafood, lettuce dripping with lardons fat, all that stuff, without it being clear and without it mattering whether the food was washing down the wine or vice versa.
Pink wine has long my default wine choice when I’m a bit stuck about what might go with dinner. Unlike many wines it tends not to interfere with the flavours in the food. Being happy when there are lots of different dishes on the table, it’s an obvious choice in restaurants, while tricky spicy foods such as tagines or curries, are easily pacified by an off-dry rosé because the sweetness counteracts chilli heat.
Now, though, we don’t just have rosé, we have gastronomic rosé. At one time this might have meant rosé d’Anjou or Tavel, now it takes in newer and more esoteric wines such as Dirk Niepoort’s deep-raspberry Redoma Rosé, made in Portugal, and the almost invisible pale pink wines from Chateau d’Esclans in Provence, makers of the most expensive rosé in the world – a wine called Garrus.
The new gastronomic rosés are structured like a whalebone corset and they spend time in oak. You can drink them as an aperitif but it’s a bit of a throwaway to do so, because they really only come into their own when you have a plateful of food at which point they exert previously invisible power.
In the case of the Esclans wines the effect of the wood is extremely subtle – you don’t sip them and think, “Oak barrels.” At least, you don’t unless you are a wine taster in which case you immediately recognise the more ample body and the texture that oak ageing brings. These are wines with a soft texture. Of the range, Ch. D’Esclans Rock Angel 2014 Côtes de Provence (Berry Bros & Rudd, Hedonism), is the one to try. It has less oak influence than the more expensive Esclans cuvees and I prefer it for that. Just half the wine spends time in large barrels – none of them new – while the rest goes into stainless steel and costs around £25 for a 750ml bottle but comes in a range of Côte d’Azur sizes. It smells of sandalwood and the oak adds a fat, creamy sensation to the palate.