Bordeaux Bertie’s Letter From America…
I ran my first half marathon on Saturday, and rather wish I hadn’t. What’s happening to me? Am I succumbing to the LA lifestyle already? Mind you, the race was up in the California wine country in Santa Ynez, and it is incredibly pretty up there. Plus there was the incentive of a wine festival at the finish line. So, after a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, Sunday morning found me in a truly idyllic spot, sitting in the courtyard of a beautiful little vineyard. Demetria is a few miles inland from the coast and Santa Barbara, set amongst the gentle green rolling hills and cattle ranches of Foxen Canyon. Through two sets of gates and along a couple of miles of winding private drive, the winery resembles a small Tuscan villa perched on a hill, surrounded by olive trees and sprawling beds of rosemary and lavender. The vineyards are all small steep affairs, manually worked and draped across the best bits of slopes in the valleys on either side. It all feels far more European than Californian, and sitting surveying the land while tasting the wines and chatting to the wine maker, you could easily be mistaken. While most of their wines are based on Rhone varietals and blends, a relatively new and increasingly successful trend in this region, they have just released a rosé which they claim to be made in the Provence style, and it was truly delicious. Yet mention Californian rosé in England, and it instantly conjures the thought of sickly sweet, garishly coloured plonk.
It’s still spring here and it just makes me think of sitting in the garden with a nice glass of dry rosé. Who knows what summer will bring, but let’s make sure it includes large amounts of delicious wine outdoors, or if the sun is misbehaving and it’s raining, looking at the outside from the comfort of the inside with the sun shining out of your glass. I think of all wine styles, rosé seems to capture that sense of summer and sunshine the best. Just think of warm evenings with a bbq, or picnicking on a river bank – it should be de rigueur for such occasions! Yet it can be so much more versatile.
Rosé is one of the fastest growing wines in terms of popularity in the UK for a number of reasons. Many people new to drinking wine start off with simple, sweet wine, and only over time do they develop their palates and get a taste for drier, more sophisticated wines. So, much of the boom in rosés popularity has been with new wine drinkers buying vast amounts of cheap Californian pinks, including the mis-named ‘white zinfandels’ – which tend to be sweet, sugary mass-produced wines that fill up the bottom three shelves of supermarket displays. These are a far cry from the clean, bright, zesty and above all dry rosé wines that are fuelling the other end of the rosé market, for those who appreciate those clean refreshing flavours of a Provencal summer captured in a bottle…there, I said it again – Provence. Overlooked for so long, the rosés of Provence have captured the hearts of so many, and are now seen as the ultimate rosé, and for good reason. They were created and developed over the years to suit the climate and local cuisine where they are grown – in the south of France. Optimised to suit warm summer days, to be drunk as an aperitif or with healthy Mediterranean foods and light salads. There’s enough zippy acidity to cut through olive oil, or refresh the exhausted commuter as they step off the Tube, while being light enough not to overpower a perfectly cooked environmentally caught piece of tuna.
Why am I suggesting rosé over white? To start with, they’re pink, and aside from being colour coordinated with the shirt of any self respecting young man about Fulham, pink is, well, pink, isn’t it? However, there’s far more to it than just a bright and thoroughly sophisticated colour. Rosé wines get their colour because they are made from red wine grapes. All grapes, at least all traditional varieties, have white juice, and the colour comes purely from the skin. To make red wine, the grapes are crushed and the skins left in the juice for many days or even weeks. To make pink wine, red grapes are crushed and the skins left in for only a few hours. Yet it’s not just a bit of colour that escapes into the juice – you also get some of the tannins and other flavours from the red wine grape, the polyphenols, of which many people claim great health giving properties. So there’s a bit more flavour and tannin, but what does this mean? It means that the wines can be paired against a wider range of foods and meats – hence rosé is perfectly acceptable with a nicely barbecued banger, but most importantly, they are a bit softer and kinder to drink over long periods than an acidic white. While a couple of glasses of sauvignon blanc or an ubiquitous pinot grigio can refresh and cheer, the lunch that accidentally extends into a lazy afternoon or the dozenth bottle opened after a prolonged bbq of a summer evening can start to argue with the most stalwart of constitutions. A touch of tannin in your wine can temper the acidity, and can allow you to quaff as much bright zingy wine as the mood takes you. What’s more, while white wines can exhibit so many wonderful fruit flavours from apricot and peach through to scintillating gooseberry, rosé can introduce red summer fruits in a cool refreshing context, such as strawberry and raspberry – forget strawberries and Champagne, go for strawberries and pink Bubbly!
Now there’s a thing. Pink bubbles. Aren’t they glorious? Contrary to what you might think, they’re not at all girly, and chaps even prefer them – they’re vaguely reminiscent of red wine, while having all the fun of Champoo.
Don’t miss Bertie’s buying guide to rosés next week…
[Picture credits: MichaL Sänger; RDV; Oliver Haja; Adrianhancu/dreamstime.com]