It wasn’t that many years ago that rosé wine was beyond the pale for many wine drinkers, and it wasn’t just because what was then a much more male dominated wine trade thought it feminine. Pink wine was often an afterthought for producers, a way of getting rid of excess red grapes, whilst perhaps concentrating their red wines via a bit of saignée (bleeding off the red vats). Of course, rosé was, and still is, all the rage on the Cote d’Azur, where much of the produce of Provence gets guzzled during those long French summer holidays. Tavel, as a pink only AOC, once had a certain cachet, but otherwise much pink wine was over sulphured, over sugared, or both, and was destined for the less sophisticated end of the market.
Yet slowly, whether or not through climate change, or just someone realising that there was a whole wine style to be tapped, “pink”seems to have improved and is now firmly in fashion. I don’t mean the craze for “white Zinfandel” (sic), still favoured by the larger Californian producers, but good quality wines offering and alternative to whites and reds. Rosé comes in a variety of styles, from just an onion skin tinge of colour to something approaching pale red, and it hails from nearly any grape variety you’d care to think of (and a great many you probably hadn’t).
Decanter Magazine has produced a tasting feature on “the top 50 rosés” for this current month, so I thought it might be fun to elaborate on a few of my own favourites. Needless to say, there are a good few which didn’t feature in their selection.
A relaxing glass of pink Zweigelt in Spitz, on the Danube (see previous article)
The present fashion for rosé has focused on a few brands, so at least one element of rosé’s past has not changed. But the brands of today’s pink are at least individual producers, albeit with a good sprinkling of glamour and plenty of hectares at their disposal. It’s a list headed by the Whispering Angel range, from Provence’s Chateau, and Caves, D’Esclans, created by Sasha Lichine (whose father owned the Margaux Classed Growth, Prieuré-Lichine). The Chateau d’Esclans Garrus can be had for almost £100 in some of the more expensive retail outlets! Rock Angel is thankfully cheaper, a little above £20 if you are lucky.
Whispering Angel is closely followed by Chateau Miraval in its distinctive, squat, bottle, from the village of Correns. Miraval has 500 hectares under vine and is made by the Perrin family (of Chateuneuf-du-Pape royalty at Chateau de Beaucastel). Of course, it’s far better known as the wine of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie! These two producers seem to vie with each other for the title of “best rosé in the world”, whatever that means. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that the property was previously owned in the 1970s by French jazz star, Jacques Loussier, who installed a recording studio which has been used by artists as diverse as Sting, and Pink Floyd (tracks for The Wall were recorded there).
I wouldn’t wish to knock these wines, and I shall nail my colours to the mast here and say that I do enjoy pink wine. Probably more than many men. I find it a good choice with summer lunches, especially those taken outdoors. But I also enjoy seeking out some of the least well known styles, which can turn out to be the most interesting.
Provence is, of course, a good place to begin searching for a good pink. It’s not, on the whole, Cotes de Provence where I usually look, although I will be coming full circle when I reveal my “rosé of the year” towards the end of this piece. Usually I like to move to the smaller appellations, in particular Bandol and Cassis. Most of the top Bandol estates make a pink in their range, but Chateau de Pibarnon and Domaine Tempier are favourites. These tend to be wines structured for food, yet with lovely scents (often pomegranate to the fore). Just along the coast from Bandol, right by the towering cliffs of the Cap Canaille, is the Cassis estate of Clos Sainte Magdeleine. Not only is this wine a perfect accompaniment to a local fish soup or stew, these are also some of the most beautifully situated vineyards in France, poised quite literally right above the blue Med.
Further inland, near Aix-en-Provence, is another favourite pink wine, from Chateau Simone, in the tiny AOC of Palette. The Rougier family have been making wine here since 1830, but there’s been a monastic vineyard here since at least the 16th Century. The estate is planted with 17 different grape varieties (quiz fact – the most allowed in any French AOC), many being old Provençal varieties. The rosé is based on Grenache Noir, Mourvedre and Cinsault, is much darker than most of the other rosés of Provence (almost a red), and a wine not shy of ageing a few years.
Clos Sainte Magdeleine and Chateau Simone are not cheap (Simone is approaching £40 a bottle), nor are the Bandols. But those two wines are sold by Yapp Brothers, who are an excellent source for good value rosé in general, through their Loire-Rhone-Provence specialisation, and their forays further afield. Look for Gérard Cordier‘s Reuilly Pinot Gris (a very pale “oeil de perdrix” style), a good value Saint-Pourçain from the co-op in the upper reaches of the Loire region, La Canorgue‘s Luberon, and a couple of stunning value pinks from their Corsican offering, among many. Yapp’s usually do mixed case deals on pinks throughout the summer.
If you enjoy that Loire Pinot Gris, seek out some of the ramato style Pinot Grigios from Northeast Italy (copper-coloured, taking that colour from a light maceration of the pink skins of the Pinot Gris grapes). Foradori‘s is magical, though so far removed from ordinary Pinot Grigio in every way, and maybe not really a rosé in the strict sense?
Still in France, one grape which is often missed when thinking of pinks is Pinot Noir. When I started visiting Burgundy in the 1980s Marsannay was hardly known for red wines. Her thing was pink – Rosé de Marsannay. That has changed in recent years as the clamour for Cote d’Or red has elevated the quantity and quality of the Pinot Noir coming out of this northerly village, on the edge of Dijon. One wine which did feature in the Decanter Top-50 was Sylvain Pataille‘s “Fleur de Pinot” bottling. This young grower can do no wrong, and it’s a good address at which to try a pink from the Cote d’Or.
There’s another noted pink wine region, albeit pretty obscure, even further north, in that hinterland between Burgundy and Champagne, beyond the Cotes d’Auxerre. In the connected hamlets close to the regional border which make up Les Riceys you will find a pink wine almost never seen outside of France, Rosé des Riceys AOC. It’s a strange wine in some ways. It has a truly haunting quality with bottle age, which the best deserve, and on the palate there’s more than a hint of tea (Assam or English Breakfast, perhaps). The local producers usually make a little as a sideline to their Cote des Bar Champagne business, and the closest I’ve come to the flavour of this still pink is in Cédric Bouchard’s sublime rosé Champagne, Le Creux d’Enfer. My favourite Rosé des Riceys comes from another Champagne producer, Olivier Horiot. Horiot makes a number of single parcel rosés (and a red Riceys Rouge as a Coteaux Champenois as well) which show the nuance of terroir in such ethereal wines.
En Valingrain – one of Olivier Horiot’s single site Riceys
When I said that some pinks are almost reds, that can work the other way around too. Alsace Pinot Noir used to be notoriously pale, and Jura’s Poulsard/Ploussard is naturally pale as well. This has led some producers to make a straight pink from it, either as a still wine, or as a pét-nat. In the former category, Patrice Hughes-Béguet shows what fun can be had with a variety until recently out of favour with all but a few wine geeks.
Hughes-Béguet – Pulp Fraction, the lighter side of Ploussard
But not all the best pink wines come from France, by any means. One wine I was a little surprised to see in the Decanter selection was Gunter & Regina Triebaumer‘s Blaufränkisch from Rust, in Burgenland. Austria is not the first place you think of for rosé, but it’s a popular style locally. That said, it’s often pink Zweigelt that I’ll be found sipping on the banks of the Danube, though this Blaufränkisch is a very nice wine – fresh with hints of spice and floral notes, and worthy of its high score in the Decanter tasting. My absolute favourite Austrian pink comes from one of my favourite producers who are just a couple of kilometres from the Triebaumers. Gut Oggau‘s Winifred is made from a blend of biodynamically farmed Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt and, if I had to select just one adjective to describe it, that would be “alive”.
Gut Oggau – one of the younger generation
There are two world class pinks which wine obsessives will always try to have in the cellar. Lopez de Heredia is possibly Spain’s most traditional wine producer. Renowned for their red Riojas, capable of ageing for decades if not half centuries or more, slowly evolving, they also make majestic whites and Rosado at all levels. The Tondonia Gran Reserva is more of an amber/onion skin colour than pink, going tawny with great age. It’s a food wine of great complexity, more serious than our usual perception of a pink.
Tondonia Rosado – not Gran Reserva but still pretty special
If you don’t have one of those to hand, perhaps you have a pink Musar? Again, Lebanon’s famous Chateau Musar is known primarily for her reds, yet makes beguiling white and pink wine as well. Unlike your typical Provençal pink, this is a wine to serve just cellar cool, not chilled, and allow it time to breath (or carafe it). Look for scents and flavours of peach and oranges.
There’s been no mention of any so-called New World wines here. Of course, they do exist, in profusion. I used to have a bit of a thing for Felton Road‘s Central Otago Vin Gris, though I’ve hardly ever found it in the UK, and not had one for some time. It seemed to go very well with the Asian fusion cuisine of Sydney and Melbourne. I also recall John Forrest made a decent Pinot Noir pink in Marlborough, though very different from the merely copper tinged version of Felton Road. There have, of course, been enjoyable pinks from Australia, South Africa, and North and South America, and there are lots more to explore and discover. Next time you are in a branch of UK supermarket Waitrose, grab a bottle of Bolney Estate‘s pink to see what England can manage. It may not be up there with their Pinot Noir red and Blanc de Blancs sparkler, but it’s a tasty rosé and worth a punt.
So, what is my rosé of the year? Oddly enough, we are back in the Cotes de Provence: Clos Cibonne. Tibouren is an unusual grape variety which, at this estate near Toulon, makes both red and pink wines, made as Cuvées Tradition, Spéciales and Prestige. The pink wine below was a revelation at Red Squirrel’s Trade Tasting last year, and then again at the Real Wine Fair at London’s Tobacco Dock earlier this year. It’s a sensational wine. The best thing of all – I tracked it down in magnum at my old friends, Solent Cellar, in Lymington. And at around £40 for 150cl, it’s the same price as an ordinary bottle of Chateau Simone! Or just about £20 for a bottle. A bargain, sheer class. A few years ago you’d have been hard pushed to see those words written about a rosé!
Cibonne Tibouren – it comes in magnums!
There is just one more wine to mention before I go. Andrew Nielsen has got a pretty good name already for his hand crafted Burgundy, and in recent vintages he’s been branching out, sourcing grapes in Beaujolais and Macon. With an eye to being ecologically sensitive (up to 80% less of a carbon footprint than glass), whilst at the same time grabbing the attention of the picnic and festival market, he started putting decent wine in bags as part of his and wife Emma’s Du Grappin range. Hence the 1.5 litre bagnum. The rosé is a Beaujolais-Villages, just 12% alcohol, and the bag will keep the wine fresh for up to two weeks if you need it to. There’s one in my fridge right now, just the thing for the beach.
Du vin, Du Grappin #bagnum – all you need for the picnic