Jacopo Mazzeo and his band of tasters find that there’s more to rosé than the famous regions. Is it time to go beyond Provence? Perhaps
Rosé wine is an odd drinks category. Apart from the ever present uber-pale expressions from Provence − so hyped among American celebrities − or démodé dark pinks from Navarra, other styles and regions never really come up in conversation. Let’s admit it, rosé is a bit like a mobile phone charger: as long as you’ve got one to hand, you’re happy.
Rosé wine though, is a complex and hugely diverse category, ranging widely in style, from residual sugar levels to colour, and from body strength to, of course, flavour profile. The prominence of Provençal wines − the most straightforward rosé sale in any restaurant, pub or bar − certainly plays a role in dumbing down the category, but as consumer demand steadily increases, and its public perception slowly moves away from a stereotypical ‘summer-pink’ equation, it’s surprising the degree to which rosé is being consistently overlooked.
So, we decided to gather rosé wines from all corners of the globe to explore new pink avenues, with the aim of providing sommeliers and wine buyers alike listing opportunities beyond traditional regions for a more unique, discerning rosé offering that can work throughout the year.
Tom Lakin, head sommelier at
Casamia Bristol; Jacopo Mazzeo,
Imbibe; Cliveden House team
(Zareh Mesrobyan, head sommelier;
Fanny Bachelard, assistant head
sommelier; Diego di Domenico,
sommelier de rang; Joseph Gregory,
Despite the significant growth that the category has been experiencing over the past few years, rosé is often a poorly investigated category by both professionals and consumers. On wine lists, it’s often dedicated the bare minimum amount of bins, with listings limited to well-known regions or brands.
Cliveden House’s Zareh Mesrobyan explains that his clientele is rarely adventurous enough to commit to unusual alternatives: ‘Our guests are very, very classic [across all categories], therefore we have to rely on classic rosés, too. In general, for our guests the paler the rosé the better,’ he says. He adds however, that the wines he sampled for this tasting showed excellent value and are ‘good alternatives to those traditional regions. Some of the higher end ones might be difficult to sell to guests who know little about the category, but if they get a chance to taste them, they would understand the value’.
Casamia’s Tom Lakin is instead less interested in crowd pleasers. ‘Provence rosé is a reference style, and fair play to that if you want to recreate it at £6 or £7. But you’re making wines that cost £20 a bottle, you want to taste the vineyard, the soil type, etc, as these are elements that people understand as being an intrinsic part of enjoying serious wine,’ he says.
Lakin points out that his guests are, on average, quite ‘risk-taking’: ‘They often tell me “oh, we need help, this is what I normally like but actually I want to drink something completely different, we trust you to find us something off the beaten track”. And rosé can be very exciting because it’s got so many interpretations within the category.’
Regardless of the guest’s initial attitude however, Lakin says that people need to be given the opportunity to explore new wines, even if they’re not familiar with alternative styles. ‘We believe that people are much more adventurous than the market gives them credit for, and if you keep serving them the wines they’ve been drinking since the 80s, then ultimately you’re going to miss out.’
A clear issue
As expected, most wines came in a clear bottle, with only a negligible number packaged in dark glass. Clear-glass critics often highlight that this packaging exposes wines to the risk of lightstrike, which occurs when blue and ultraviolet light reaches the wine, triggering a reaction that might either dull fruit aromas or even introduce off-flavours such as overcooked cabbage, damp cardboard and sewage.
Despite the damage that transparent glass might bring to the wine however, our tasters support its use, particularly for the lower-end of the price point. ‘At around £7-£10 [cost price] it’s crucial to have
lower costs,’ highlights Mesrobyan. ‘If you save on the bottle, you can have more budget for the wine itself, so if you are going to sell the vintage straight away, dark thick bottles are not necessary.’
Lakin agrees: ‘Yes it makes the wine much more vulnerable, but it’s that “behind the bar” context where guests can see the colour in the cabinet, because the colour of the wine is such a massive part of how you’re going to sell it.’ And although higher-end rosés ‘should come in darker bottles’, he doesn’t condemn the use of clear glass for wines designed to ‘fight against people’s expectations… You see, Kelley Fox Weber Pinot Gris has got a clear bottle and I think they are making a really off-the-grid kind of wine, something that people don’t expect; and a way to let people know that, is by having the colour on show. They’re trying to broadcast the fact that they’re doing something different and invite questions.’
Give it a break
With the rosé category offering such a wide spectrum of styles, our tasters pointed out that wine drinkers do not expect some rosés to get better with age. Although this might be true for most Provençal expressional and their imitations, some of this tasting’s best scoring wines showed that certain styles might in fact benefit from a bit of maturity. Those scoring 90 or above include four 2018s and one 2017.
‘It’s the producer that decides what style they want to make,’ says Mesrobyan. ‘They can make something with ageing potential, something that needs food or something that needs to be released and consumed young. If you take a wine like Château Ksara’s Sunset, with its almost meaty character, well that is something that will likely develop some more flavours with age.’
‘I had a wine that arguably you could call red, which could certainly age,’ adds Lakin. ‘Anything that has a good phenolic texture… those where you see a little more skin contact, I would definitely be more interested to see how they age. Tavel is not as unique as people think…’
From Lebanon to England
‘Rosé is really exciting at the moment, especially in the New World where it’s a style that they weren’t paying much attention to in terms of quality winemaking in the past,’ says Lakin to wrap up the tasting. ‘It was so good to see such a nice intensity of colour, a lot of the wines weren’t simply pale, Provence-style rosés. These wines showed that producers aren’t just trying to make simple, easy-drinking pink. There were some striking ones, where winemakers had clearly intended to make something quite individual.’
Lakin is particularly impressed by the North American samples: ‘My favourite of the bunch was Kelley Fox Weber Pinot Gris,’ which had such intense red berry flavours that, at first, he called it a Pinot Noir (and so did this writer). Lakin endorses Chile’s Adobe Reserva Rosé, too, which ‘for the price was great. If you’re doing a pub list and want a rosé by the glass, then that’s a fantastic wine to have. Countries such as Chile can offer a value that maybe we struggle to find in Europe these days.’
Meanwhile, Mesrobyan applauded the Lebanese, Greek and English expressions, especially Hattingley’s new Still Rosé, Château Ksara’s Sunset, and Alpha Estate’s Hedgehog Rosé (also some of this writer’s top picks), which he praised for their distinctive character. ‘The Hattingley showed really, really elegantly, not overpowering, it’s definitely what I would like from a light rosé; Alpha Estate was a spot-on example of what I would be looking to drink, especially on warm days, while Château Ksara’s Sunset was a very different one, definitely something you need some food to go with.’
HOW IT WORKS
We asked UK agents to submit examples of rosé wines from regions beyond classic rosé-producing areas such as Provence, Tavel or Navarra.
Due to the these uncertain times, we decided it was safer not to gather our tasters in one place, therefore the wines were sampled separately. We bagged and numbered all wines to make sure they could be tasted blind, boxed them, and shipped them to our tasters, who sampled and scored the wines (out of 100) only aware of vintage and price. We then averaged the marks to determine each wine’s final score.
Once all sampling was done, we virtually caught up to discuss the outcome. Wines are reported here in score-order first, and then alphabetically by producer.
85-94 Very good to outstanding
75-84 Good to very good
65-74 Mediocre to good
0-54 Not recommended
97 Alpha Estate Single Vineyard Hedgehog Rosé 2019, Amyndeo, Greece
‘A spot-on example of what I would be looking to drink, especially on warm days. Ripe cherry, strawberry, redcurrant, acacia, rhubarb, chalky minerality. On the palate, complex flavour profile of red fruit, rhubarb and floral characteristics all supported by a backbone of minerality. Long finish,’ CH.
£15.71, Hallgarten Wines, hnwines.co.uk
96 Hattingley Valley Still Rosé 2019, Kent & Berkshire, England
Pinot Noir/Pinot Noir Précoce
‘Really, really elegant, it’s definitely what I would like from a light rosé with all of those fresh cherry, raspberry, rhubarb, and redcurrant aromas, plus a nice floral character and stone minerality. Medium body with elegant structure and well-balanced acidity. Long finish. An outstanding expression,’ CH.
POA, Hattingley Valley, hattingleyvalley.com
94 Kelley Fox Weber Pinot Gris 2018, Dundee Hills, USA
‘A fruity, exuberant nose of crushed cherries and strawberries that screams New World. In the mouth it’s tart, spicy, with lots of minty, balsamic and wild herbs notes to it, plus a touch of grapefruit. Delicious,’ JM.
£21.35, Les Caves de Pyrene, lescaves.co.uk
93 Château Ksara Sunset 2018, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
‘A very different one, deep in colour but quite delicate on the palate, with notes of blackberry, boysenberry, clove, pepper, dried herbs, and garrigue. Rather than fruit-forward, it’s more savoury, almost meaty, with a sort of Southern Rhône feel to it, definitely something that needs food,’ CH.
£10.50, Berkmann, berkmann.co.uk
92 Castagna Allegro 2017, Victoria, Australia
‘A serious rosé with great ageing potential. Full mouthfeel, cream, marzipan, dried strawberries, and a bit of brett − but under control. A unique expression that unveils more and more interesting elements as it evolves in the glass,’ JM.
£19.55, Les Caves de Pyrene, lescaves.co.uk
90 Emiliana Adobe Reserva Rosé 2020, Rapel Valley, Chile
‘A pale pink rosé perfect to go by the glass. Peachy stone fruit on the nose, very pleasant aromas overall. Nice mouthfeel and texture. Juicy finish. Really strong for the price!’ TL.
£6.75, Boutinot, boutinot.com
90 Charles Melton Rose of Virginia 2018, Barossa, Australia
‘A pale red with creamy, yeasty notes and fruity aromas of plum and strawberry. The mouthfeel is quite rich but still with enough crispness and lots of sour cherry flavours. Could easily pass as a pale red,’ JM.
£15.27, Liberty Wines, libertywines.co.uk
90 Cramele Recas Solara 2019, Banat, Romania
Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Băbească Neagră/Nero d’Avola/Fetească Neagră
‘Pale pink with a narrow watery rim. On the nose − fresh cherry, raspberry, rhubarb and beetroot. Well balanced and round, with a complex character,’ CH.
£8.33, Cramele Recas, recaswine.ro
90 Groot Constantia Rosé 2018, Constantia, South Africa
Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Sémillon/Sauvignon Blanc
‘Attractive salmon colour. On the nose, there’s fresh Mediterranean fruit, especially melon and some pyrazine aroma − tomato leaf − but in an interesting way. Convincing palate with concentrated and intense flavours,’ TL.
£10.11, Hallgarten Wines, hnwines.co.uk
89 Charles & Charles Rosé 2017, Columbia Valley, USA
‘Copper. Pleasantly bright nose. Nicely complex fruit, yet still a straightforward and approachable style. Really juicy in a pleasant, summery way,’ TL.
POA, Lanchester Wines, lanchesterwines.co.uk
89 Château Ksara Gris de Gris 2018, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
‘A medium salmon pink with aromas of raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate and cherry. Definitely fruit-forward, but underlined by freshness and minerality,’ CH.
£10.70, Berkmann, berkmann.co.uk
88 Gaia Wines 4-6h Rosé 2019, Peloponnese, Greece
‘A summery pale rosé with character. Peach, grapefruit, lemon, melon, some wild herbs, thyme, bay leaf, then strawberry, green plums. Certainly a lot more satisfying than many Provençal expressions at a competitive price point,’ JM.
£11, Hallgarten Wines, hnwines.co.uk
87 Andeluna Blanc de Franc 2019, Tupungato, Argentina
‘Very pale. A good Provence imitation in colour and in style, balanced and well made. For this price however, it could deliver more,’ TL.
£23.68, Hallgarten Wines, hnwines.co.uk
87 Balfour Hush Heath Nannette’s Rosé 2019, Kent, England
Regent/Dornfelder/Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier/Chardonnay/Bacchus
‘Medium pink with a salmon hue. The nose has ripe forest berries, maraschino cherries, white pepper, dried thyme and a touch of smoked meat. Powerful style with intense alcohol and a round texture,’ CH.
£13.32, Liberty Wines, libertywines.co.uk
85 Blackbook Winery I’d Rather be a Rebel Rosé 2018, England
‘There’s a bit of reduction that disappears quickly. The palate is vibrant with very high acidity, sour berries and some spicy aromas of clove and black pepper. On the palate, it’s tart and sour, very high acidity. Refreshing,’ JM.
£18.50, Hallgarten Wines, hnwines.co.uk
87 Saint Clair Origin Pinot Gris Rosé 2019, Marlborough, New Zealand
Pinot Gris/Pinot Noir/Malbec
‘Pale copper. On the nose: fresh raspberry and strawberry. It’s driven by aromatic esters, cotton candy, liquorice and banana. Fresh but balanced style,’ CH.
£10.72, Hallgarten Wines, hnwines.co.uk
87 Three Thieves Rosé 2017, California, USA
‘Intense copper colour. Ripe-smelling fresh stone fruit with intense floral notes. Big flavours on the palate, and a savoury edge. Good finish,’ TL.
POA, Lanchester Wines, lanchesterwines.co.uk
86 Château Oumsiyat Soupir 2019, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
‘A pale copper rosé with aromas of liquorice, cranberry, pomegranate and a mineral touch.
Fresh with high acidity and steely finish,’ CH.
£8.76, Hallgarten Wines, hnwines.co.uk
85 Bodega Garzón Pinot Noir Rosé 2018, Maldonado, Uruguay
‘Fluorescent orange. A bit of dissolved CO2 but when this blows off it shows nice ripe stone fruit. A simple, refreshing aperitif style,’ TL.
£21.50/magnum, Liberty Wines, libertywines.co.uk
85 Cramele Recas Sanziana 2019, Banat, Romania
‘Light aromatic intensity, yet correct. There’s some peach, melon, strawberries, and red berries. A by the glass crowd pleaser,’ JM.
£6.88, Cramele Recas, recaswine.ro
85 Viña Echeverría Rosé Reserva 2018, Valle de Curicó, Chile
‘Copper colour. Fruit smells very ripe; generous apple-like fruit and citrus. A bit simple, though very nice acidity,’ TL.
£7.60, Hallgarten Wines, hnwines.co.uk
83 Nika Tiki Sauvignon Blanc Rosé NV, Marlborough, New Zealand
Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Noir
‘Onion skin. Intriguing yet simple nose of pink grapefruit, with a bit of gooseberries and green apple. Very fresh on the palate with mild flavours,’ JM.
POA, Lanchester Wines, lanchesterwines.co.uk
79 Gabriëlskloof Rosebud 2019, Bot River, South Africa
‘An unusual nose of brioche bun and strawberries leads to a more intriguing palate that shows good acidity, red berries, strawberries, red apple and a hint of floral flavours. Overall, could benefit from a little more intensity,’ JM.
£8.82, Liberty Wines, libertywines.co.uk
78 Oakwood Winery Soul Tree Rosé 2018, Nasik Valley, India
‘A clean, light rosé with delicate strawberry aromas. The palate is crisp, correct, with some light wild herbs and red apple flavours. A simple rosé perfect for a by-the-glass pub offering,’ JM.
POA, Kingsland Drinks, kingsland-drinks.com
This article was first published in the 2020 autumn issue of Imbibe.