by Margaret Rand

Resonant Rosé

To be perfectly clear, I love rosé. On a hot summer’s day it’s all you want; on a cool drizzly summer’s day it reminds you that it is in fact still summer. But you know all that.

What I wonder about – and shoot me down by all means – is why there is no rosé of a level equivalent to that of, say, Latour. Or a Grand Cru Burgundy. Or a top-flight Austrian or German Riesling.

And then I have to wonder what I mean by that. Capable of ageing for 50 years? Or 20, anyway? I suspect that long ageing is only one element of greatness, so I’d be prepared to waive that. By ‘great’ I mean something compelling, resonant, memorable, complex.

And wondering that, as I was, I chucked the idea at a few people to see what they would say. Some of them made suggestions, and if I could I tasted them. One of the suggestions was from Provence, but oddly enough the ultra-hyped names did not appear in anyone’s suggestions.

But more of that later. The thing is, do we actually want rosé to be as good as Latour, or a Grosses Gewächs Riesling, or whatever? It would mean yet another wine we have to be serious about, and it’s really rather nice to have lots of wine identified primarily by its colour, about which we do not have to be particularly serious.

Rosé has been struggling for some years now to be seen as serious, yet mostly does so by being the same only better, and with much more expensive marketing. It still sells on its colour – just look at the shelf displays of umpteen wines in clear glass bottles, all apparently tweaked to about three almost identical Pantone shades. If colour is your primary object then something else will have to come second. And if you want it to look attractive in clear glass bottles – and it looks pretty murky in anything else – then you are prioritising colour over safety, because that’s what your consumers do. Which brings us back to the beginning.

All the grape varieties we use for wine – at least, all the ones I could think of if you gave me 120 seconds to reel off a list – have been historically selected for either red wine or white wine. None has been selected over the years for rosé. Many red wine grapes make very good rosé, but I can’t think of one for which rosé is the primary aim and red (or even white) the by-product. In Provence, of course, rosé is such a money-spinner that it is the main product for many people; vines are cultivated for rosé, and the grapes are ripened and picked and pressed for rosé and nothing else. Quality has improved enormously as a result. But that’s not quite what I mean. The vines are still red-wine vines. Perhaps somewhere in the world – maybe languishing unnoticed in some ancient plot, to be rediscovered one of these days by the Old Vine Conference – there is a vine that makes perfectly enjoyable red but absolutely stunningly incredible rosé.

But what might such a wine be like? Would it be in the Provençal oligarch mode, recognisably similar to lesser but very nice wines, and distinguished mostly by its absolutely stunningly incredible price? If so, we haven’t really gained anything. Would it be in the rosé Champagne mould? These latter are the main contenders, if you want rosé that is compelling, resonant, memorable, complex and all the rest of it.

The list of rosé Champagnes that meet those criteria, and which are, yes, as good as Latour etc etc, is pretty long. Cristal, DP, Billecart-Salmon Elizabeth Salmon, Bollinger Grande Année – I could go on, but it’s an open goal, isn’t it? Great rosé Champagne fits the bill. There we are: rosé as good as any red or white in the world.

Does it get disqualified because it is so dependent on process? No, but I’d still like to find a rosé that is a straight competitor in terms of élevage. One suggestion was Domaine Tempier, and it is very, very good: focused, profound, complex. Another was Viña Tondonia, and here we’re in a different, non-Provençal world. BBR sent me the 2012, which it’s not selling retail any more (sorry) and it’s remarkable: a nose of old books, old wood, old cellars, evocative and deeply savoury; a palate of miso, leather, cherries, herbs. Pretty damned good. Ripa Rosado, again from Rioja, is another contender: layered, precise, savoury, deep, with plenty of fruit and herbs. These are wines to take seriously. Ripa is even bottled in brownish glass, which does nothing whatever for its appearance on the shelf, but argues an almost Puritan seriousness of intent.

I am so fond of rosé that to get another opinion I had to go to the counsel for the prosecution, namely Brian Croser. A psychologist might say he was scarred by his early experiences: he says, ‘I can’t remember the last time I drank a rosé, but I did make rosés at Thomas Hardy and Sons back in the early to mid 1970s. They were made from overcropped and overwatered Grenache. Good examples were made by Geoff Merrill at Reynella from Shiraz and even Cabernet, despite the stalkiness. I think Grenache is a natural for rosé because of its low colour and tannin and its confection-like aromas and flavours. You could not accuse a Grenache rosé of being complex or profound.’

Okay. Moving on from that, ‘The five parameters that define most great wine are freshness (complies), intensity (sort of complies), complexity (fails), texture (some maybe) and length (fails).

‘I really like rosé Champagne because it complies where table wine rosé fails, especially complexity, texture and length. That’s because it’s made from the noble varieties Pinot and Chardonnay, grown in the right place, and is altered by the Champagne process. I can imagine a “great” Pinot Noir rosé made in Burgundy, but why would you do it when it could be the great complex, medium-bodied red wine which Burgundy is?

‘The second question is why would you want a “great wine” rosé  when its main purpose is refreshing drinking without being troubled by greatness?’

Which is true, and is where we came in. Rosé has a habit of bringing you back to your starting point. I haven’t seen Barbie the movie yet, but my more academic friends adore it for its subversiveness, among other qualities. And one has to remember that in the past pink was considered too masculine a colour for women to wear.

For a serious non-red or non-white, of course, one doesn’t have to look only at pink. There’s orange, too, which tends to take itself rather seriously; subversiveness here would be to regard orange wine with the frivolity associated with pink. Barbie dressed in orange? Why not?

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

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