Summer bottles that will leave you tickled pink
Rosé came of age precisely ten years ago. Until 2003, just three out of every 100 bottles of wine consumed in Britain were pink. And then began the broiling summer of that year (the hottest since 1540, said climate historians) and wine drinkers started to turn pink.
This summer, now also turning out a bit of a scorcher, we're already four times more likely to choose rosé than just a decade ago. Pink wines now account for 12 out of every 100 bottles sold, and the number of brands on offer in the supermarkets has expanded accordingly.
The choice is wider, but is it deeper? Rosé might be a happy compromise between red and white wine, but it can suffer the fate of being neither one thing nor the other.
In my rounds of the tastings this summer I have come across plenty of rosés that are either light, dry and refreshing in the style of white wines, or plump, ripe and fruity in the manner of red wines. Few manage to bridge the gap, or to put it another way, to assert themselves as distinctive wines with merits of their own.
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There have, to be fair, always been good rosés. Since long before the present craze began, they have been making crisp, delicate and distinctly fresh pink wines in Provence, in the sandy soils along France's Mediterranean coast. These are known locally as "vin gris" – grey wine, as in the middle ground between black and white as a metaphor for red and white – and are sold mostly by specialist merchants.
Waitrose has the best choice of pinks among the supermarkets, about 50 of them from around the world. Included is the delicately coloured and flavoured Petit Rimauresque Rosé 2011 from the Côtes de Provence appellation, a dry, elegant aperitif wine with floral finesse. Price is £10.99, but today there's still time to buy it at considerably less, in Waitrose's seasonal rosé promotion, which knocks 25% cent off its entire range of pink still wines, and ends at closing time this evening.
Provence pinks now have plenty of rivals at the top of the market, but they take a bit of seeking out. Among my favourites are wines from elsewhere in France, from Italy and Spain, even from South America.
The vineyards of the Rhône, though neighbouring those of Provence to the south, produce a quite different kind of rosé. J Vidal Fleury Côtes du Rhône Rosé 2012 (Hailsham Cellars online £10.95) makes a very alluring introduction to the overall style. It has a coppery, onion-skin colour, aromas of sun-baked redcurrants and intense flavours that bring raspberries, cherries even nectarines to mind. It's dry, and has a reassuring grip of acidity and tannin at the edge of the flavour. This is the kind of rosé that stands up well to food, a real asset for al fresco meals.
Barone Ricasoli Albia Rosé 2011 (£11.99 online by the case from vintagemarque.com) is a simply fabulous pink made by Ricasoli, the original producer of Chianti wine, in the Italian province of Tuscany. The principal grape is Sangiovese, the mainstay of Chianti, and the wine is made by the traditional method of leaving the crushed grapes intact in the fermenting vessel for just long enough to impart the colour. The must (fermenting juice) is run off the skins when the colour is just right.
In this case, the judgment is perfect. Albia Rosé has a lovely pale salmon colour. The wine has a fresh, floral nose and poised, delicate summer-red-fruit ripeness, mineral crispness and a zingy citrus acidity. This is a unique wine. It looks expensive (although it has a handy screwcap closure) and it tastes that way.
Spanish rosé – locally called rosado – wines have proliferated in the boom year since 2003, and have the useful distinction of offering consistently remarkable value. I think Tesco's own Simply Garnacha Rosé 2012, at the risible price of £4.59, is one of the top pink bargains. It has an unashamedly shocking-pink colour, big brambly perfume and lots of brisk but ripe briar fruit. And unlike too many cheap pinks, it is not spoiled by residual sweetness; this wine is dry, and genuinely refreshing.
In a very different style is Torres Santa Digna Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2012 at £8.40 from independent merchant Tanners of Shrewsbury (see the full, fabled wine range, and delivery details, online). Torres is one of the great winemaking dynasties of Spain, but this is from the company's Fairtrade-accredited vineyards in Chile, a nicely focused, juicy and refreshing cherry-coloured rosé with the edgy blackcurrant abrasion of the Cabernet grape.
Last word: treat all rosés, whatever the price, with equal deference and chill them just as you would do for white wines.