Rose Wine - It's Not Just For Summer!
I’ve always been a fan of drinking Rose wines all year round – I don’t think they are just for Summer, I think they are terrific food wines, which wine drinkers just need to remember a little bit more through the winter months; in fact my top choices for spicy Indian dishes are invariably New World Rose wines. But of course, it’s at the height of Summer that these wines really come into their own, either to quench our thirst in the heat, or to conjur up visions of sunny beach days, to help banish the blues caused by the vagaries and unpredictability of British summer weather.
There are Roses and Roses; and with an entire spectrum of colours, styles and flavours available, it’s not easy to choose – the options range from the palest salmon to Barbie doll- neon pink in colour and differ equally in flavours, fullness and levels of dryness or sweetness…therefore choosing the right one, and knowing what it’s going to taste like is a minefield for many. Colour is normally an indicator, but not always; looking at the country of origin will normally provide a fair idea of the style of the wine in the bottle. Alcohol levels also vary wildly,- from the lower levels of 9 or 10%, produced specifically at these levels to appeal to those who want a lighter style of wine, and also to the female wine drinking population ; right up to whopping levels of 14% in some Australian and Chilean pink wines, which really pack a punch.
Rose is definitely a category of wine, where wine drinkers are specifically choosing by style, rather than by country; and whereas Rose used to be seen, to some degree, as an offshoot of red wine, or even, as an alternative for those who didn’t like red wine, it is now firmly established, as a category in its own right, which has grown faster in sales than white and red in the last 6 years.
The rise and rise of Rose has been nothing short of spectacular in recent years. until the mid noughties, sales of Rose in the UK, meandered along, accounting for about 4% of all wine sales. Yet a sudden growth spurt, fuelled partly by a couple of good summers, saw producers and winemakers sit up, take notice, and begin to give more focus, both in terms of winemaking and marketing, to this emerging category.
Today one bottle of wine sold in every 8, in supermarkets and off licences is Rose, and pink wine now accounts for 12% of total wine sales, up a massive 8% from 4% less than a decade ago. In the last year alone, and at a time when wine sales are pretty static, rose wine sales have increased by 10% in shops and supermarkets, and a staggering 20% in bars, pubs, restaurants and clubs, proving that customers are now buying this colour and these styles of wine, all year round.
What has caused this surge in popularity? It’s worth looking back at the recent history of Rose. Sales of Rose wine first came to prominence back in the 1970s, with arrival of the unique, flagon – bottled shaped, slightly sparkling, slightly sweet Portuguese Mateus Rose. This wine took the then emerging wine market by storm, and enchanted the novice wine drinker – be it for the sweet, frothy pink wine, or for the bottle, which became a standard for use as a lampstand in the same era!
The success of Mateus also had a negative impact, in that it set out the stall for Rose wine, as cheap, sweet, and at the low end of the wine spectrum. Rose wine sales pottered along, until the initial growth surge happened in the late 80s, with the arrival of the now world famous Californian Blush wines. Created by global wine giants, such as Gallo and Blossom Hill, who were almost unheard of until the mid 80s in the UK, this set a trend for a new style of sweet, still rose wine, which soon became the fashion drink for young, mainly female wine drinkers. It could be said that it was the success of this rose style that helped drive Blossom Hill and Gallo to the dizzy heights of global brand stardom that they occupy today.
Californian Blush wines now account for around half of all Rose sales in the UK, and are the initial reason for the strong growth in the sector. However, this has helped drive renewed interest in the whole category, with producers across the world focussing more on producing quality, food friendly pink wines, in a variety of drier styles. Increased travel, better marketing, a greater willingness to try new styles, and more shelf space and focus on shelf by supermarkets have also helped make these wines become more of a day to day choice for many wine drinkers.
Here’s a look at some of the styles on the market:
Sweet blush wines – these are ‘marmite’ wines, wine drinkers either love them or hate them; let’s not forget that they are an easy introduction to wine for many people, and whilst they are often dismissed as poor quality (which many of them are), if you accept the general style of the wine, there are some pretty fair ones out there. It’s a fine balance between sweet, red berry and grapey freshness, and over-sulphured, cloying chemical styles, but those that do have good balance, are a good foil for both fruity desserts, and Asian curries, as they have enough sweetness to cope with the heat – worth a try.
Cotes de Provence – almost the original home of Rose, the palest, most delicate of styles, wines, that most of us have enjoyed by a sundrenched pool, but which don’t taste quite the same back home. With improved technology, earlier picking and a greater focus on fruit character, there are some truly delicious wines making it onto our shelves over here, such as
Chateau Sainte Marguerite Cotes de Provence – the merest waft of wild strawberry aromas, and a glimpse of the palest, salmon pink colour is enough to transport you to a stylish beachside bar on the Riviera – we can but dream of the weather, but we can enjoy this enchantingly dreamy dry Rose, with its gentle flavours of wild rosehips and hedgerow fruits, enhanced by a delicate citrussy edge, and a crisp tang of rosy eating apples. Perfect for canapés, leafy salads, simply grilled salmon and chargrilled prawns.
Southern Europe has always been well known for pink wines, which suit the Mediterranean climate, from southern France, to the ripe, juicy dry Garnacha roses of Spain and a huge raft of roses from Italy. Italian Rose is becoming pretty synonymous with Pinot Grigio Rosato, which is a pity, as it means some of the glorious dry roses, especially from the south , are often overlooked. One of my favourites is Planeta Rose, Sicily 2012 - From arguably the top producer in Sicily, the pioneering Planeta family, this entrancing pink Syrah is a revelation. The grape responsible for the great blockbusting reds of Australia and the Rhone, combined with the searing heat of sultry Sicily should result in a vivid-coloured, powerful, flashy Rose – or so I thought, and I was so delighted to be proved wrong. I can’t believe the delicacy, subtlety, and restrained charm of this wine; firstly it’s almost as watermelon juice-pale as southern French Rose – secondly it whispers summer gently, wafting delicate aromas of wild strawberries and rosehips, with a hint of fresh herbs, and a bit of zippy red apple peel. It’s utterly delicious, and so endearingly subtle – lively, crisp, with lemon zest freshness, and rosehips and wild strawberries in abundance. If you love Provence style Rose wine, try this one. It’s a top choice for picnics, seared tuna, chargrilled prawns, and all manner of flavoursome, herby salads, and fish dishes.
Moving to the New World, and leaving aside Californian Blush wines, the increase in sales of dry Rose is coming largely from this sector, with rich, juicy, vibrant, sunshine pinks coming from most wine producing countries. Here the colour is often deeper, the alcohol levels frequently higher, and the flavours more intense, due to the climate and the ripeness of the grapes. Like the majority of New World wines, they are labelled by grape variety, with the predominant ones used being Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot,Pinot Noir, Cinsaut, Pinotage, Grenache from Australia, and Malbec from Argentina, with many dual blends.
Red wine drinkers have a love/hate relationship with Pinotage, but it makes some delicious crisp, cranberry-scented dry Rose, such as Fishhoek Pinotage Rose ; its fresh, tangy, and mouth-wateringly juicy, with lots of character, bursting with fresh white peach, nectarine, raspberry and lime flavours. Perfect with salmon steaks, chargrilled prawns and thai inspired marinades.
Another favourite is Casillero Shiraz Rose, from Chile, a bold, almost crimson pink rose, full of vibrancy, and a great food wine. The Shiraz grape gives it a rich, juicy, strawberry and redcurrant fruit intensity, with plum, ripe berry fruit character. this one is perfect with spicy food, so it’s the perfect wine for those Thai or Indian spice-infused marinades for the barbecue.