Time to Go Pink

With temperatures hitting twenty-seven degrees here yesterday, it has focused the mind on the pinker hues as a source of vinous pleasure. I hesitate to focus just on rosé here. The first hurdle to overcome is the connotation of that label, that it’s a drink for girls, as it undoubtedly is in some minds. But secondly, and more importantly, we should not forget that today there are many lighter coloured “reds” with low alcohols, especially in the realm of natural wines, which sort of fulfil the same function as a rosé. Benefiting from chilling a little, they are fresh and fruity.

I actually look forward to bringing out these wines, and to making the most of whatever sunshine we get. There’s nothing worse than realising summer has passed you by, and there’s still a dozen bottles of pink in the cellar…unless you buy the ones that will age.

I remember in the early 1980s, judging at the International Wine Challenge. I think one of my first tables was the Rosés, which, along with “Spanish Whites” (yes, that one as well) was considered a very short straw (the big boys probably got Barossa Shiraz, Amarone and Napa Cabs). But quality has rocketed since then, and more than quality, diversity. Whilst the supermarkets will still be pushing Chileans, Provence or Navarras in the rosé category, independent merchants will have much more to offer for your garden table.

The baker’s dozen wines below are my usual eclectic mix. If we get a hot summer, these will be gone in no time. If you fancy a change from Whispering Angel, read on.

I’ve already drunk a couple of bottles of this first wine this year. Palmento Rosso 2015, Anna Martens (Vino di Anna), is a field blend (Nerello Mascalese plus others, including white varieties), which gets fermented on skins for just three or four days, so it’s a very pale red. At 13% abv it’s a bit more alcoholic than many of the bottles here, yet it tastes light and fruity. It’s truly delicious. The 2016 is coming soon, via Les Caves de Pyrène. I picked up a couple of bottles of the 2015 (retail) at Terroirs near Trafalgar Square.

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Another wine I’ve drunk up already is Czech, Forks & Knives Red, Milan Nestarec. This Moravian beauty is made from the Suché grape. There’s a little sparkle, juicy fruit and a soft yet refreshing finish. Fun too. Imported by Newcomer Wines. Of course, it also happens to have one of the most summery labels you’ll find.

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Moving south, the next wine I have to suggest is one of the most beguiling I’ve drunk this year. It also has something in common with the Rosé des Riceys I’m going to mention later – a haunting nose and floral freshness which will remind many of a rose hip tea. Cseresznyeérés 2014 is from that lovely Hungarian producer, Hegyikaló. This is really a pale red, and cloudy too, but the rose hip nose and the soft strawberry and cherry palate linger on as you sit in the shade on a scorching May afternoon. Slip over to Winemakers Club, grab a bottle (if they’ve any left), and serve it very lightly chilled.

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If, as it seems, we are focused in the east right now, we need to talk about Austria. Even when I was more fixated on the classic wines of the Wachau, I always enjoyed a pink Zweigelt, preferably sitting on the banks of the Danube. The two still wines I’d like to recommend are more modern, natural, wines, from around the Neusiedlersee. At Illmitz, Christian Tschida makes a very fine pink in his Himmel Auf Erden (Heaven on Earth) range. Okay, so this isn’t quite what you might expect…unless you know Christian. Cabernet Franc, skin contact, and unfiltered. Stand it up for several days, mine is full of small sediment balls. It will age, and it will go with food, a serious pink. Also from Newcomer Wines.

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The second Austrian pink I’m recommending, if you can beg some, is Rennersistas Waiting for Tom Rosé. With luck, some of this will be arriving at Newcomer Wines before long. The sample 2016 was one of the best wines from these young ladies at Raw Wine back in March. Based in Gols (Neusiedlersee’s northern end), this blend is Pinot Noir, Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch. The wine is fruity and zippy. The girls worked with both Tom Lubbe (South Africa and Roussillon) and Tom Shobbrook (Australia). I can’t remember which one they are waiting for.

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I can’t leave Austria without a fizzy one from The Klang! Meinklang Prosa comes from their vineyards near Pamhagen, south of the Neusiedlersee (on the Hungarian border). Strawberry flavours with a touch of cherry, off-dry but set beside good acidity. Billed as a “frizzante“, this really is a wine to seek out when you need a little fruity and uncomplicated sparkle. Light and simple (and sealed with a rather endearing tied cork – the look is rustic, yet the wine isn’t). Look at Vintage Roots for this wine, although I’ve bought it from Wholefoods Warehouse in London, where I found it on just a couple of occasions last year.

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Another natural home of the “pale red” is Jura. There are dozens of Poulsard/Ploussard wines which fulfil this description, so many that it seems pretty difficult to select just two or three. But I will try.

The non plus ultra of light Arbois reds comes from Domaine de La Tournelle, their L’Uva Arbosiana. Carbonic maceration, a month in vat, then moved to foudres and bottled the following spring without sulphur. This is a wine I have drunk every summer for some years, and would hate to be without. If you can, drink it in the Bistro de la Tournelle on the banks of the Cuisance in Arbois. If you bring it home, or buy it in the UK, keep it cool, and be prepared to use a carafe to shake off any reduction. Another hauntingly fruity wine. Find it either at Dynamic Vines, or from the retail shop at Antidote Wine Bar (Newburgh Street, near Carnaby Street in London).

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Domaine L’Octavin, in Arbois, make several delicious pale reds. These are all very “natural”, and their light fruit makes them perfect for drinking on the cool side. Ulm is certainly the first of such wines which comes to mind. This odd blend (for a still wine) of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (proportions vary from vintage to vintage, but check out the label below) sees all the grapes co-fermented as whole bunches. Dorabella (Ploussard) or even Commendatore (Trousseau) are equally exciting. I’ve not yet tasted a wine from Alice Bouvot which has not excited me, although the way she pushes the boundaries in search of purity and naturalness might just about scare a few people, for sure. Ulm has just 10.5% abv. It should be available from Tutto Wines (specialists in the unsulphured), possibly in magnums too (now there’s an idea!).

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It would be an error for me to leave Jura without recommending one of the region’s inimitable pét-nats, but which one? Patrice Hughes-Béguet’s Plouss’ Mousse would be a shoe-in, were it not for the fact that I don’t have any right now. I will therefore recommend my other current favourite Jura wine of this style, Domaine des Bodines Red Bulles (nice pun – “bulles” means bubbles and it is kind of red). Alexis and Emilie Porteret are a young couple whose vines and winery lie on the northern edge of Arbois. Red Bulles is another sparkling Ploussard which is just simple and fruity, but as such it does exactly what the label suggests, providing fun for uncomplicated summer drinking.

This is the one wine you won’t find in the UK, as far as I am aware. A visit to buy at the domaine, or perhaps to Fromagerie Vagne (aka Epicurea) in Poligny, is your best bet. North American readers can contact Selection Massale (Oakland, California, plus New York and Chicago).

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Head south from Jura and before you reach The Alps, you get to that odd pre-alpine enclave known in France as the Revermont. This is where you’ll find one of France’s up-and-coming wine regions, Bugey. Bugey-Cerdon is a cru of Bugey, making méthode ancestrale sparkling wines from Gamay and (often) a touch of Poulsard. These pink sparklers are off-dry, and low in alcohol (around 7-8%). Refreshing and frothy, the sweetness makes it perfect for light desserts, as well as simple sipping. Less grapey than a Moscato Rosa, or a Brachetto, these wines are just beginning to appear in the UK. The version which is currently my favourite, is from Philippe Balivet (now run by Cécile and Vincent Balivet), based in Mérignat.

This wine was purchased in the region, but keep an eye on the shelves. With Wink Lorch publishing a book on The Alpine Wines of France later this year, we are beginning to see a bit of a surge in availability (for both Savoie and Bugey). In the meantime, Christopher Keiller Fine Wines import excellent Bugey-Cerdon from Alain and Elie Renardat-Fâche (and other Bugey wines from the excellent Franck Peillot).

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So, three to go. I can’t leave France before mentioning a rather special Pinot Noir rosé. It doesn’t come from Burgundy, but rather Champagne’s Côte des Bar. I chanced upon Rosé des Riceys (from the cluster of villages which go under the name of Les Riceys) in the 1980s, and felt very geeky diverting from the Autoroute to grab a few bottles as often as I could. Then I discovered that Champagne producer Olivier Horiot makes small quantities of this unusual wine. It is unusual because it’s a rosé with tannins. And when it ages (which it does rather well, indeed it almost demands age) the red fruits which give that haunting “tea-like” quality are joined by gamey old Pinot notes.

The Sampler (Islington and South Kensington) bring over tiny quantities of this rather expensive pink, from two site-specific bottlings, “En Valingrain” and “En Barmont”. The former is slightly less structured than the latter cuvée, but expect complexity and length like (I hope) you have rarely found in a pink wine. Note that my last bottle of Valingrain is a 2006. The Sampler is, I think, listing 2010s right now (at around £40-a-pop, which may sound a lot, but this wine has a reputation in France which the British have so far missed).

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Spain is an enormous source of rosado wine, but the one I’m recommending here is the all time classic. I don’t have any right now, but Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva is undoubtedly one of the finest pink(ish) wines you can buy. It has a colour which in bottle hardly looks “pink” at all, more onion skin. It is characterised by its freshness, even when approaching twenty years old. Chateau Musar rosé can age magnificently as well, but Tondonia’s rosado usually has an ability to outlive it. It is not exactly widely available, but it does appear from time to time in shops like Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, and The Sampler.

Last, but by no means least, is my favourite rosé of last year, Clos Cibonne Tibouren. It’s a “Cru Classé” of the Côtes de Provence, from near to Le Pradet (between Toulon and the Îles d’Hyères). This old mediterranean variety also goes under the name “Rossese” in Liguria. It makes smoky, red fruited, slightly earthy, wine in this special cuvée from Cibonne. It’s really the antithesis to all those supermarket Provençals (though Simone, Tempier and a few other’s pinks shouldn’t be put in that category). I have one magnum left for a visit by Aussie friends in July. I hope the weather obliges. This wine is magnificent. Clos Cibonne wines are imported by Red Squirrel.

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Pink wine comes in all guises, and there are whole styles, and whole countries, I’ve left out of this case for summer drinking. As I’ve been scrolling through for photos I’ve come across many more wines I could have written about. There is still a lot of bland rosé out there, and I hope that if I have achieved one thing here, it is to have pointed out some less well known, yet characterful, choices. You’ll have no doubt gathered that I have a penchant for haunting, ethereal, versions, but I also like the simply fruity as well, especially if they come with bubbles.

The important thing is not to get hung up over drinking pink. It’s just another style of wine, and indeed it’s capable of complexity as well as being refreshing. Christian Tschida ended up almost reluctantly making the Himmel rosé (above) after his father claimed he could make a better one than his son. The result is far from the bland style we all came across two decades ago, and still do on the hypermarché shelves today. Compare something like the clean and fruity Bugey-Cerdon to the old style of semi-sweet fizzy pink you might have tasted from Portugal, or industrial Lambrusco, and the similarities are remote. But the idea of fun remains.

So, simple pleasures, or serious complexity (and an ability to improve with age). Two styles of pink. Try both this summer. And we didn’t even mention Champagne…

About dccrossley

Writing here and elsewhere mainly about the outer reaches of the wine universe and the availability of wonderful, characterful, wines from all over the globe. Very wide interests but a soft spot for Jura, Austria and Champagne, with a general preference for low intervention in vineyard and winery. Other passions include music (equally wide tastes) and travel. Co-organiser of the Oddities wine lunches.
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