But the markets are tanking and the summer is over!
Damn the reality1, full speed ahead! For the past few years rosé sales have power-sailed at a record pace. No one knows exactly why given their perpetual image problem due to (in no apparent order):
- White Zinfandel
- Rosé d'Anjou (the original White Zinfandel, a sweet simple pink quaffer)
- White Grenache (the new White Zinfandel)
- White Merlot (didn't the marketing department see Sideways?)
- Rosés are never great the way whites or reds can be
- They only taste good on vacation (like so many other wines)
- They all taste the same (like strawberries)
- Grandmothers tend to order cheap rosés
- Louche2, middle-aged playboys tend to order expensive rosés
- All of the above - it's just too tacky and embarrassing for words
But the image problem appears to be improving. Sales of more expensive rosés ($8+) are skyrocketing, which can only mean three things: 1. people are taking rose wines more seriously; 2. rose wine prices are going up; or 3. the population of louche middle-aged playboys is exploding. Personally, I think it's a combination of #1 and #2, so it seems like an opportune time to have an (double voice over, please) ICONS OF ROSÉ/THE MOST FORMIDABLE SELECTION OF ROSÉS EVER GATHERED IN ONE ROOM/WAR OF THE ROSÉS tasting before they're collected and traded on the Liv-ex exchange.
Before we get to the tasting, let's look at a few
- color (colour) A wide palette is found in rose wines from the palest pink to something that looks more like a light red wine. Almost all rosés are made from red or black grapes, with the color depth simply being a function of how much or little contact the juice has had with the dark skins.
- blending Mixing red and white juice or wine is not permitted to make a rosé in almost all regions. Ironically, the two exceptions are expensive pink champagne and very, very cheap blush wines.
- vin gris Literally, grey wine. It's made like a white wine but with black or red grapes. The only contact with the skins and transfer of pigment is during the pressing of the grapes, resulting in a very pale orange-pink. This color is traditionally referred to as onion skin or partridge eye, terms that might come in handy if you attended an English public school or live inside a 17th Century Flemish still life (chortle, chortle).
- saignée French for bled it refers to the "bleeding" of juice from freshly pressed dark grapes. It serves two purposes: concentrating the color and tannins of the red wine and producing a pale rose from the juice that's bled off. Because of minimal skin contact, roses made from this process are similar in color to a vin gris.
A few notes on this tasting:
- All of the rosés were dry still wines; there were no pink Champagnes or off-dry wines like White Zinfandel or Rosé d'Anjou.
- All wines were tasted blind.
- There was a wide range of skill and experience levels among the ten tasters, from beginning enthusiasts to hard-core wine geeks.
- Wines were scored from zero to five stars and totaled for the rankings below.
- There were no yacht owners and probably only one boat owner in the group.
Drum roll, please. In reverse order of preference:
14. 2006 Valentini Cerasuolo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo $75 (not available in the UK) Cerasuolo is Italian for cherry red which sounds rather festive, however, the dark brown bottle this wine came in is more indicative of its character. It's mysterious, it's brooding, it's slow. Gambero Rosso believes this is Italy’s best Rosé and has given it tre bicchieris – their highest award – for previous vintages. This is a wine that needs an introduction and a strong belief system. It's not going to hug you or smile at you. There are no primary fruit aromas. At first sniff, I thought it was off. There's high VA3 and reduction4 (was that a Pirelli tire?) as well as some oxidation5. Notable aromas include leathery marmalade and lichen moss. But it’s also a well crafted wine with lively acidity, good balance and a very long bitter finish. I’m all for funky wines (and stinky cheeses) but this one really made me question everything I know. I definitely suggest trying all the Valentini wines you can to experience their traditional extreme of Italian wine making. Unfortunately beard-tugging and introspection weren’t popular activities on our virtual Riviera so this baby - the most expensive in our tasting - found itself in last place.
13. 2005 Domaine Ott Château Romassan Cœur de Grain Rosé Bandol $35 £25 Domain Ott rhymes with yacht and is the original bling rosé. It comes in a beautiful version of the traditional skittle bottle but it's often thought to epitomize overpriced unremarkable Provençal rosé. That's the consensus here as well. "Subtle" would be too generous a description here as there are several better delicate rosés in this lineup - it just simply seems bland and dilute in comparison
12. 2006 Domaine De La Mordoree "La Dame Rousse" Tavel $27 £14 A little north of Provence is Tavel, another famous rosé region and another famous producer, Domaine De La Mordoree. Weighing in at 14.5% alcohol this one packs a punch, not a mere sissy slap but a real Hawaiian Punch! It's even bright reddish pink like Hawaiian Punch. Unfortunately, the alcohol tends to get in the way with a real fire-breathing aftertaste. Lovely herbal, fresh strawberry aroma, though.
11. 2007 Chapel Down English Rosé £9 (not available in the US) This is generally considered England's best rosé. OK, there's not a lot of competition here but Jamie Goode and Richard Bampfield MW have said nice things about it. It's a very pale salmon color, very light bodied and grassy like a Sauvignon Blanc. Personally, this was my least favorite one but it's generally well received.
10. 2005 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare $14 £10 Vin Gris de Cigare was the first serious US assault on the White Zinfandel Menace. It's in the Provençal style and has an amazing amount of personality for such a widely distributed wine. It's a slightly deeper pale copper than the other vin gris with a very slight sweetness and some funky herbal leather undertones.
9. 2007 Chateau d’Aqueria Tavel$18 £15 This is probably the best known and most highly acclaimed Tavel. It's a very bright deep pink like the Mordoree Tavel and bone dry but with strawberry and raspberry fruit that seems candy-like. Overall, a well-balanced and enjoyable wine but nothing to write home about.
8. 2006 Mastroberadino Lacrimarosa Campania IGT$17 £8 Is this really an icon? For what it's worth, Italian wine mavens David Lynch and Joseph Bastianich seem to like it and the Wine Spectator gives it 90 points - one of their highest rated rosés of all time. Off-dry, herbal and enjoyable the newbies in our group tended to really like this pale copper quaffer but the the geeks were skeptical.
7. 2007 Slowine Rosé Overberg$13 £8 Our only entry from South Africa and the only rosé mentioned in Gary Vaynerchuk's 101 Wines: Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight, and Bring Thunder to Your World. Did it bring thunder to our group? Not exactly but it was a very good, very well balanced earthy quaffer; bright pink as well.
6. 2006 Yering Station ED (Extra Dry) Yarra Valley $16 £12 This is one of Australian über expert James Haliday's favorite rosés. It's very very herbal, fresh berries and a little caramel on nose and palate; well balanced and clean.
5. 2007 Rosa del Golfo Salento IGT $14 £7 The great Italian wine expert Burton Anderson includes this wine in his favorites. It was one of the first roses in Italy to use cold fermentation, a modern wine in stark contrast to the Valentini. It's all about clean, refreshing strawberries. A bit too simple and alcoholic for my tastes but was well liked here.
4. 2006 Bodegas Muga Rioja Rosado £8 $13 Robert Parker believes that this is one of Spain's best rosés and it was well liked in our group as well. It's a very pale orange (partridge eye or onion skin) but very aromatic, flavorful, well balanced and well made. It could almost pass as a Provençal rose with its marked herbal flavors.
3. 2007 Domaine Vincent Delaporte Sancerre Rosé $20 £12 We had a few Sancerre rosé lovers who identified this wine's provenance fairly easily. The only Pinot Noir based rose on our list, this wine stood out with its grassy herbal, earthy character - a beautifully made elegant wine.
2. (tie) 2006 Charles Melton Rose of Virginia Barossa Valley $13 £13 This is considered by many to be Australia's finest rosé. Obviously the French man who sold it to me would strongly disagree and suggested several alternatives. Like the Tavels, it's Grenache based with a similar deep magenta pink color but with much less alcohol at just 12%. It's also very well balanced with earthy, herbal and strawberry aromas and just barely a hint of sweetness. According to the winemaker, the grapes are harvested early to retain acidity as well as to keep the alcohol level down. I hate to say it, but I think the Tavel producers could benefit from doing the same.
2. (tie) 2006 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé $40 £13 If I had to pick a favorite going into this match up, it would have been this wine. It's from a great producer and probably the first wine I think of when I think of a great rosé. Of course great wines usually don't do well in blind tastings like this one so it was a surprise to see it just barely missing top billing. It's intensely flavored but delicate with aromas of garrigue (the scruby plants that cover southern France), red fruits and a little leather. It sustains the intensity all the way through its very long finish, the mark of a great wine.
1. 1997 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Rosado $27 £14 The oldest wine here by nearly a decade and the surprise winner. When putting together this list, I really expected this one to bomb. Like the Valentini, it's an atypical rosé, but unlike the Valentini, it was very well received. It's intensely aromatic and complex and seems to keep evolving in the glass. There's scotch whiskey, dried cherries, orange and grapefruit, curry spice, leather, amontillado sherry. . . wow! Amazingly, there's a citrus freshness on the palate in this complex mix of flavors. The alpha tasters are going wild over it, the beta tasters are annoyed by the alpha tasters, babies are crying, strong men are fighting. . .
- Rosés don't all taste alike.
- Eccentric cult wines (Valentini and Lopez de Heredia) are either loved or hated.
- When in the expensive yacht juice aisle, go for the Domaine Tempier over the Domaine Ott. Dr. Vino recently came to the same conclusion in his own War of the Rosés.
- Our winner, Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Rosado, is probably more at home on a galleon than a yacht.
1reality seems to be in very short supply these days, perhaps that's why Time to Pretend was such a big hit this summer.
2louche [lōōsh] adj. Of questionable taste or morality; decadent: "The rebuilt [Moscow hotel] is home to the flashy, louche Western disco Manhattan Express" (Liesl Schillinger). [French, from Old French losche, squint-eyed, feminine of lois, from Latin luscus, blind in one eye.] From The American Heritage Dictionary
3volatile acidity ‘VA’ is mainly due to the presence of acetic acid, the key component of vinegar. Acetic acid is present in all wines and much of winemaking is about keeping it in control. Barely detectable levels can add a fruitiness to a wine but it can also turn into ethyl acetate, which smells like nail polish remover. telltale aromas: vinegar, sweet & sour sauce, nail polish remover
From the Wine Tasting Notebook
4reduction almost the opposite of oxidation. Modern winemaking techniques prevent oxygen from reaching the wine, thereby enhancing fruit flavours. But this process can produce volatile sulphur compounds. At low levels, these compounds can add desirable traits such as minerality, but at higher concentrations, the sulphurous aromas can be overpowering. telltale aromas: rotten eggs, burnt match, burnt rubber, cabbage, cat’s pee
From the Wine Tasting Notebook
5oxidation A little oxygen is necessary in making wine, but unless oxidation is intentional as in Sherry or Madeira, it needs to be controlled. Barrels and corks allow minute amounts of oxygen into the wine, mellowing it over time. Slightly oxidized wines are considered old world in style, but too much oxygen makes a wine flat and less fruity. Excessive oxidation can also be detected when brownish hues appear in young wines. telltale aromas: sherry-like, madeira-like
From the Wine Tasting Notebook
Shameless louche plug for a product which I import into Ontario – Chivite Gran Feudo Rosado. It does taste like strawberries (in a good way) and has a little herbacious edge. Dry with touch of fruitiness – it became my “Official Rosé of the 2008 Summer Grilling Season” and it gets on swimmingly with olives. It sells here for just over $10 at the provincial liquor monopoly.