Rosé is liquid Abba. Classic, yet enduringly entertaining with wide appeal and capable of endless reinterpretations to the delight of fans old and new. While summer is without question rosé’s greatest hit, from fizz to fortified, it seems to be on tour year-round these days – but sipping in a sunbeam is tough to beat.
More than any other wine style, rosé’s approachability and informality is peerless, and paired with foods it can tackle everything from curries to a simple salad. While pale, dry, powerful rosé is fantastic to partner with intensely flavoured dishes such as those heavily laden with garlic or reduced tomato sauces and pungent salads, rosés that have an even deeper colour can give a more faithful iteration of the local grapes they’re made from, and offer the chance to pursue even more specific food pairings.
Scroll down to see Olly Smith’s selection of rosés to celebrate summer
A good example is the lesser-known Greek grape of Mouhtaro, which I recently tasted for the first time on a visit to the Valley of the Muses about 90 minutes’ drive north of Athens in central Greece. The deeply coloured rosé I tasted from Samartzis with its pomegranate-strawberry tension and silken texture was nothing short of a revelation – sipped alongside pink, charred local lamb chops cooked over charcoal it was a pinpoint-perfect pairing with a salad of locally sourced wild leaves.
Rosé can even handle a good whack of spice in cooking – curries are well handled by bold, deeply coloured rosé from warmer climates, and I’ve also found Rioja rosado from northern Spain to be a fantastic all-rounder to match dishes laced with a kick of pimentón, such as a hearty seafood paella.
As the latest vintage of rosé breaks like a welcome summery wave across wine shops and restaurant and bar lists, I’m recommending a fair old spread of styles here, including the odd sparkler and even a non-alcoholic sparkling tea to cover all bases for every shade of weather the season brings.
Technique has a marked impact on style. Rosés from Provence deserve their place here as a key region with a clearly defined specialism in pale, crisp, scented blends, and I’ve found a number to recommend thanks to their specialised short maceration, which extracts just enough colour to evoke that classic poolside mood.
Elsewhere, red winemakers can bleed off a little juice from their tanks, using the saignée method to produce a handy pink wine that’s quickly ready to bottle for sale, while also lending concentration to the remaining red as it begins its more leisurely journey to bottling. In Champagne, producers famously blend white with a small percentage of red grapes, giving a lacing of structure which, for a summertime treat, is absolutely sublime with simply prepared lobster or a fresh prawn salad. And these are also bottles to consider ageing, in order to draw out a more ethereal uncoiling of savoury complexity – great fun to experiment with mild gamey flavours or cheeses with moderate intensity and evolution.
Ageing still rosé is also well worth considering. The tiny, lesser-known French appellation of Palette is one to seek out; Château Simone, which is stocked by Yapp Bros [at about £48 per bottle], is an occasional treat I pluck from my cellar. Blended from Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and obscure varieties such as Manoscan, it’s powerful stuff, unlike any other. My wish is for this adventurous example of unique blends to flourish across the world of rosés – more creativity and invention, with blends delivering every shade of colour, flavour and design, from vineyards that perhaps wouldn’t be obvious candidates for rosé. Whistler’s Dry as a Bone from Barossa in South Australia, is one of these, a Mataro-Grenache fusion with fruit purity and a nimble 11.8% alcohol – I love its drinkability.
Considering the success of pink wine from Provence, a hot place which has made rosé its emblematic style, I’d love to see further warm areas such as Barossa having even more fun with developing fresh takes on rosé.
From elsewhere in Australia, perhaps the most adventurous rosé in this line-up is also the most playful. Tim Wildman MW’s Piggy Pop Pét-Nat is as bonkers as it is brilliant. Blended from white and red from different regions (Mataro and Nero d’Avola from McLaren Vale, Lagrein and Arneis from Adelaide Hills with Zibibbo from the Riverland), it is sustainably sourced and bottled under a crown cap while undergoing its first fermentation with wild yeast. I found it entertaining and wild in the very best sense of the word. Liquid creativity – more of this level of playfulness and experimentation in the world of rosé would be a dramatic as well as delicious development to the canon.
Fads and fashions
From choosing the saignée method to using a light or heavy maceration of grape skins, to blending single varietal wines, blends of different grapes, or even mixing red and white grapes together, technique’s role in rosé is only part of the story. What consumers actually want to drink can often deliver a surge in popularity for styles which can come and go as rosé’s appeal continues to rise and widen.
White Zinfandel from California, with its candy floss-like confectionery sweetness, has historically been dominant. Rosé d’Anjou from the Loire, once a hit, is often overlooked these days. I’m a fan of its fruity style harnessing Grolleau Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pineau d’Aunis, Grolleau Gris, Gamay and Côt – an underrated style for those who enjoy the flavour of a sun-ripened strawberry, lovely for a picnic and a triumph paired with a bacon roll. Cabernet d’Anjou, blending Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon, is similarly fruit-fuelled.
I’ll even give a shout-out to the impact Mateus rosé has had on the world of wine. An enduring brand and characterful bottle; last time I was in Portugal, I was served a glass with some peri-peri chicken and, for an informal lunchtime sip, it did the job. Six quid in Asda, Morrisons or Tesco if you’re in need of a trip down memory lane. Hit the spice on the peri-peri and mind how you go.
Recipe for success
Limiting my choices to these wines – and trying to balance classical rosés with some more affordable options, a fizz or two and some new discoveries – was a challenging, if fascinating, exercise. I’m proud of the diverse line-up, though in truth, I’ve realised I could have written a book on rosé. I’m sticking to my guns on the Abba analogy. While rosé has a distinctive style, it also has real breadth – and while some are more frivolous than others, there’s plenty of seriousness for devoted wine fans to explore more deeply.
One of the most exciting categories and one I believe we’ll see a lot more of is English sparkling rosé. There are specialists such as Coolhurst already devoted to the cause, as well as plenty of excellent producers of pink such as Busi Jacobsohn, Chapel Down, Greyfriars, Gusbourne, Harrow & Hope, Langham, Roebuck and Wyfold all worth following. My one caveat: avoid drinking the English sparkling rosés too young. With their frisky acidity, such gems are built for the long haul and experience with my own cellar has taught me that a decade will transform these wines into more mature and intriguing iterations. As trends evolve in rosé, there will be reinvention, reinterpretation and reappraisal as the years go by. Just like Abba.
An alcohol-free option
Real Drinks Co. Peony Blush Alcohol Free Rosé, Naturally Fermented Sparkling Tea, England
Hold the phone! This is terrific, and a welcome grown-up addition to the ranks of booze-free bubbly. There’s a peachy marmalade aroma with a hint of fresh strawberry scent that feels proportionate and classy rather than over the top. Impressive finesse – think raspberry sorbet with a whisper of sharp appley bite. Crisp and sherbet-like. A peachiness weaves through the finish; it’s got a dazzling and defined sense of flair as the flavours recede. Intriguingly good with decent complexity.
Drink 2023 Alc 0.0%