Rose is on the up in the UK. More is being drunk and, although still the classic drink for a sunny summer terrace, more is also being drunk year round. This then is a quick guide to rose, how it’s made, where it comes from, what to buy.
Rose is pink. Pretty obvious I know, but to get that lovely colour it has to be made from red grapes. As I have said before, in most red grapes, the juice is clear and the colour (plus a lot of the flavour and all the tannin) is contained in the skins.
So, to make pink wine we need the juice from our red grape plus a little bit of the colour from its skin. This is done by crushing the grapes straight after harvest, then leaving the skins and the juice together to steep for a day or two. The nice pink juice is then drawn off before anything starts to ferment. This does bring a little bit of tannin and flavour too, so you get a wine that has a lot of white wine characteristics plus a bit of red flavour, plus a tiny bit of red wine tannin.
Many people think rose is made by adding a little bit of red wine to white. This is actually illegal in the EU, although I suspect it does happen from time to time. Perversely the EU rules do allow this for champagne. It is interesting to think about pinot grigio rose that one sees fairly often in the UK. Pinot grigio grapes are actually white, so where does that colour come from? Italians never did take much notice of the rule book did they?
Rose is essentially a European style, at least at the less mainstream commercial end of things. Some of the classic styles of rose are as follows.
Provence. This is perhaps the most classic of all rose. It is usually very pale pink and often arrives in a distinctive skittle shaped bottle. The wine is usually made from a combination of grapes; grenache, syrah, cinsaut and possible mourvedre and carignan. The flavours are delicately red fruited and it should be elegantly flavoured and distinctly crisp.
Loire. The Loire is another part of France famous for rose. The heartland is around the town of Anjou but the wine falls into two camps; Rose d’Anjou is a mass market sweet and frequently low quality style, Cabernet d’Anjou is the one to look for. This is sadly rare in the UK but will be made from cabernet sauvignon or more usually cabernet franc. These grapes keep very high acidity in the Loire and this means that this is one of the very few rose wines that will improve with age. It can be sweet or dry.
Cinsaut. This is a grape variety rather than a style, but, personally I find that rose from this grape in Southern French often has great fruit plus an extra tang of spice and perfume that I really like.
Rosado. Spain is famous for its pink rosado wines. Officially, rosado refers to lighter wines while darker ones are referred to as clarete. However, in the UK, we seem to use rosado for anything Spanish and pink. The Spaniards do not share our cultural tendency to think of rose as girly, quite the opposite in fact. Perhaps this explains why their rosado is often full throttle wine; high alcohol, intensely fruity, deeper in colour and possibly with a noticeable lick of tanin. The deeper colour is distinctly unfashionable in the UK at present but I love these wines, particularly those from Rioja and Navarra.
Zinfandel Blush. This is a hugely popular sweet or semi sweet style you see all over the place in the UK. Winemakers and wine insiders often deride it and personally I find it can be cloyingly sweet, often with flavours you find in red sweets rather than red grapes. Officially it is made from big, bold, red zinfandel in the USA but will often contain other grapes to fill it out.
To finish off, it is worth pointing out that all rose should be served well chilled and that nearly all of it should be drunk young.