The much misunderstood colour
As we all thoroughly enjoy this unseasonable sunshine (although as this is written, the prospect of hosepipe bans is already looming large across some of the UK), and BBQs abound, it's so lovely to drink the wines that really shine in the warmth. Dry, crisp whites like Picpoul, Muscadet and Chablis; lighter rights like Pinot Noir, Beaujolais and Zweigelt... and, of course, rosé.
But how many of us think about rosé at any other time of the year? Or even what goes in this drink that we spend our summer evenings in the garden with?
We've put together a short list of things that you may not know about this great wine, so you can hopefully buy better and drink better!
- It's NOT red wine mixed with white wine - with one exception
OK, so many of you probably already know this, but it's worth pointing out. You don't make rosé just by mixing a little red wine in with your white - in fact, this practice is not allowed in Europe. You do get the right colour, but you don't get the right flavours at all this way. The only exception to this is Champagne, because, well, they're special.
Rosé is actually from red grapes where the juice, unlike red wine, has only taken on a little of the colour from the red skins. It's then made into wine as if it was a white wine: cold temperatures to maximise the delicate aromas.
- Most of the time, winemakers don't set out to make rosé
It's an indictment of the way rosé is viewed that most winemakers around the world aren't aiming to make the best rosé they can. It's often a by-product when some red grapes don't produce a juice that's quite of the quality required for red wine. What this means in practice is that the ripeness of flavours isn't quite there to make a decent wine, so that plat is "relegated" to making rosé, where the acidity and freshness is more important than concentration of flavours.
In reality, the best rosé makers focus on producing red grapes specifically for rosé, and that starts in the vineyard. Growing grapes for red wine can mean favouring thicker skins, riper berries and fewer bunches. Rosé is all about different pruning and training methods to maximise the acidity and freshness.
- Rosé should always be drunk within 12 months...
You can often split wine into three categories: wines that are meant to be aged (incidentally, less than 5% of wines falls into this bracket), wines that can be drunk young, or held onto for a bit, and then wines that will definitely be better when drunk young. Rosé falls into the latter bracket as the leading example of it. The methods used for making rosé mean that the flavours and aromas produced are pretty fragile and volatile. Air (even with a screw-cap) and light gradually deteriorate these flavours over time, and when these flavours are the very thing that make us love rosé, it'd be pretty disappointing to open a bottle after 2 years and just find a sharp, tart wine without any of the pretty strawberry or herbal flavours you might expect.
- ...except for a few great wines you should seek out
By and large, rosé is made in stainless steel, because that's the most effective way to maintain fresh flavours and not let air get at the wine and strip those aromas away. But two styles of rosé buck that trend: oaked rosé and rosé made from saignée.
The former sees rosé aged in oak barrels, which does mute the fruit aromas slightly, but gives the wine body and depth more akin to an amazing white Burgundy than anything else. The latter is an entirely different way of making rosé. Without going into details, it's usually much darker in colour, with more tannins and much deeper, fuller flavours. It's a real half-way house between red and white, and therefore develops a little with age too.
- Rosé is perhaps the most versatile of wines
OK, so my last is probably the most controversial point I'll make today: rosé rocks in winter, spring, summer and autumn. It works with fish, salad, meat, curry and fruits. It's perfect in the garden or in a fine-dining restaurant... in effect, you can rarely go wrong with rosé. Not enough people drink it, probably because they most associate it with summer, but the flavours and the half-way house in terms of body means it really can be drunk in so many different settings. So next time you aren't sure whether to have white or red, try rosé, and it'll probably just be spot on!