Rosé tinted glasses

on 20 April, 2017

I was asked recently what I thought the biggest change had been in wine fashion in the past five years. My answer was unequivocal: sales of pink wines. From being a niche that expanded and contracted with the sunshine, rosé has subtly but steadily become a stalwart of many merchants’ ranges, with Provence firmly at the top and asked for by name.

Few wines are as evocative of a mood as rosé. We’ve all spoken to just-home friends who rhapsodise about chilled glasses of Bandol, spicy and dry, drunk slowly over a view of the marina, or downed from tumblers with a lunch of tuna Niçoise.

Even among rosé fans the reflex is to think of it as being simultaneously frivolous, with its connotations of yachts and the Riviera, and nostalgic, the vinous equivalent of an ice cream cone at the beach. 

Rosé’s traditional failure to be taken seriously by most wine drinkers has helped it retain a refreshing simplicity that strikes a chord with customers for whom buying rosé is emotional, intangible, a statement of hedonistic intent. Like the first spring day you put on a pair of shorts, it signals a change of mood. Yet, come the first cold day of autumn, rosé is banished, old vintages linger and shops scan their stock reports morosely. If only August had been better, we’d have been able to shift that, we say. Well, in the spirit of optimism and pragmatism, I propose that we stop confining rosé to good weather and start taking it seriously.

It demands a change of attitude, from retailers as much as customers, but it helps to think of rosé as halfway between white and red, rather than being a category of its own. For all the rosés that, aside from the colour, taste and behave like white wines, an increasing number show tannin, grip and even ageability, more in common with reds.

As Provence sails ahead, this latter category needs help. While one vaguely mendacious option is to put it in a dark glass bottle, the other is for retailers and drinkers to re-engage with the body, richness and versatility of these wines. Muscular Mediterranean rosés such as those from Sicily and Greece, with their flavours of pomegranate and dried herbs, are the perfect match for Middle Eastern cooking. Where a white blanches and a red overwhelms, these rosés are the ideal partner for cold lamb, tabbouleh and tapenades. Vibrant Australian and Spanish styles are ideal with paellas, not to mention garlicky aioli.

And I can’t be the only merchant consistently asked for a wine match for curries. My answer, off-dry rosé, rarely fails to startle, but what else combines the chilled refreshment of a beer or white wine and the fruity heft of a red? Customers willing to take the chance often come back for more.

Lest we be discouraged by the task of expanding rosé beyond Provence, we’ve already succeeded in doing this with sparkling wine. Ten years ago, the idea of regularly drinking sparkling wine that wasn’t Champagne would have seemed at best decadent, at worst deviant. 

If all else fails and we are left, in autumn, wondering why we can never order just enough rosé to last until the end of summer, there’s always Christmas. The right rosé is a surprisingly successful match for a festive dinner’s eclectic mix of flavours. In these strange days, weirder things are happening.

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