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A rosé revolution: the five styles of pink wine

Rosé may have a reputation of being a fun drink with little sophistication but a new wave of winemakers are bucking the trend by using various methods to add complexity to the wine. We consider the five styles on the market today. By Elizabeth Gabay MW

Rosé wine is always fresh, crisp, with little complexity and lots of fun appeal – right? Dismissed as a non-serious wine, it has nevertheless soared ahead in sales because it is so easily appreciated by a younger, less-knowledgeable market, with gimmicks such as Frosé and Brosé keeping it fun.

Up until now, any move to make this wine more serious has hit a few marketing challenges, but, the time is right to look at different rosé styles.

A small quantity of interesting and complex range of rosés are emerging, as the need for a gastronomic or ‘wine-rosé’ to accompany a meal, rather than an aperitif-style, has encouraged producers to try different styles.

This is not simply ageing a rosé in oak, which has often resulted in a rosé that is out of balance, with the oak dominating the attractive fruity charm, and given oaked rosés a bad reputation, but looking afresh from the beginning at making rosé. The key is to have a wine-rosé with the weight, complexity and ageing potential to deal with the oak.

This is often achieved by using older vines, lower yields and vinification methods, resulting in more complex wines. When these wine-rosés are introduced to oak, we start to see exciting new styles emerge. Paul Chevalier, of Shaw-Ross, American distributor for Château d’Esclans, says the key to marketing oaked rosés is to recognise that the wine is different in style and quality to most commercial rosés, and has a unique identity.

Nicholas Paris MW and sommelier, says he looks for the, “red fruits and freshness normally found in unoaked versions, but with a little more spice and exotic aromas on the nose and greater body, structure and complexity on the palate. Oaked rosés can stand up to, and complement, well-seasoned or spicier dishes.” He is not alone, and feels sommeliers on the whole get more, “excited about oaked rosés, not excessively oaky rosés, but those with greater complexity, broader characteristics and tertiary notes too”.

These rosés also show an ability to age better and to develop even more complex characters. It becomes apparent with tastings of rosés that are vinified and/or aged in oak, that there is no single oaked rosé style.

Winemaking is important, but there is plenty of variation and experimentation with old or young barrels, type of wood, size, fermentation, lees stirring or just ageing.

Five general styles emerge:
• Rosés with invisible oak
• Rosé with overt oak character
• Rosés in a light red-wine style
• Traditional rosés
• Modern rosés in a traditional style

Randall Grahm. Photo credit: Sara Remington

The use of old neutral barrels, foudres, or new neutral oak barrels, such as Stockinger, for vinification can result in the oak being barely visible. Using fruit with naturally good weight and extract, a broader mouthfeel and rounder texture is achieved without diminishing the fresh fruit, acidity and elegance of the wines.

Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon in California, in making his Vin Gris is looking, “not so much for the oak flavour” as the effect of, “the size/dimension/geometry of the vessel, allowing for a greater surface area for the lees to get absorbed into the wine”.

Mourvèdre rosé from Bandol has a more established tradition of time in oak and a reputation for more structural styles of rosé, but the oak is rarely noticeable other than contributing creamy smooth weight and structure. Eric de Saint Victor at Pibarnon says he will eat his hat if you can spot the use of Stockinger barrels in his rosé. Waterkloof in South Africa has been making its Cape Coral Mourvèdre since 2005.

Winemaker Nadia Barnard chose to use wood, partially because: “Mourvèdre can be a little reductive, and fermenting in old French wood fermenters, which are too old to give any oak character, are great to give a slow oxygen ingress during the fermentation, which works well with the Mourvèdre”. Tasted at six months old, the oak was barely evident, other than in providing a firm structure behind vibrant blackcurrant fruit.

In Provence, some of the most well known, obviously oaked rosés come from Château d’Esclans. Since 2006, winemaker Patrick Léon has made a range of Grenache-based rosés, focusing on the fruit and structure of the base wine using old, low-yielding vines, making Garrus from 80-year-old vines grown at altitude. From Rock Angel, with partial ageing for six months in French oak, to Les Clans and Garrus, both fermented in a mix of new and second-year 600l demimuids, followed by 10 months ageing in barrel with lees stirring twice a week. Garrus develops greater complexity, with the oak flavours integrating with the fruit to create more spice, nuts and red fruit notes. Bordeaux and Burgundy have examples of oaked rosés. Jean-Christophe Mau at Château Brown in Bordeaux made his first oaked rosé in 2012 to show that a premium rosé could be made that would be complex and good with food. The wine is vinified in new and one-year old lightly toasted barriques, with the aim to produce a smooth, round mouthfeel, rather than imparting oak character, allowing the fresh and vibrant Cabernet fruit to shine. Lees stirring during ageing increases the richness. Fleur de Pinot from Domaine Sylvain Pataille in Marsannay (Burgundy’s only appellation for rosé) is aged for 18 months in old 500l barrels. Again, the oak (although powerful when young) does not dominate the fruit, and serves to provide depth, concentration, and the structure and potential to age.

Lorincz György of St Andrea in Eger, Hungary, produced the vineyard’s first oaked rosé, ‘Rósza’ in 2015 using Pinot Noir, Merlot and Kékfrankos.

Using 500l barrels, the Merlot and Kékfrankos were both fermented in oak, while the Pinot was fermented in tank to retain the freshfruit character.

One third of the Merlot was aged in new, heavy-toasted Kalina oak, for roundness and complexity, the rest in old oak for eight months. Almost a light red wine, it is full of red fruit, a hint of tannic structure, spice, orange peel and salty acidity.

In Provence, a slightly darker colour is often a visual statement, indicating that the wine is not a classic Provence-style rosé. This is quite a rare style, but seems to be gaining favour.

In Côteaux d’Aix, two winemakers, Matthias Wimmer at Domaine d’Eole and Ivan Khougazian at Château Pigoudet, have been playing with this style.

Eole’s aptly named Caprice has fresh red fruit and mineral acidity with subtle oak structure from fermentation and ageing in oak for six months. Pigoudet’s Cuvée Le Grand Pigoudet is made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, using saignée to give enough black-fruit structure to support the oak from vinification and ageing in new oak barriques.

These rosés have a unique taste, with beautifully nuanced and complex flavours with a delightful sweet-savoury taste profile.

They are difficult to appreciate and sell when compared with the majority of rosés available on the market, so in the commercial struggle, they are beginning to disappear in favour of the more modern style.

Bodegas Muga in Rioja makes a Rosado, from Grenache, Viura and Tempranillo from north-facing slopes to gain fresh fruit and acidity.

A long maceration of 12 hours is followed by fermentation in 2,000l wooden vats, giving extra richness and complexity, with notes of toast and rich apricots. In the Duoro, Niepoort’s Redoma is made primarily from local grapes Tinta Amarela and Touriga Franca, from old vines grown at altitudes of between 200m and 400m, fermented in new French oak barrels followed by malolactic fermentation and aged six months in stainless steel.

The wellintegrated oak gives hints of nuts, toast and ripe creamy weight, apricot and peach fruit and an orange-peel savoury finish. Lebanon’s Château Musar’s rosé is made primarily with indigenous grapes Obiadeh and Merwah, on their own rootstocks, from low-yielding, old vines, planted at around 1,400m. Fermented and aged for six to nine months in French (Nevers) oak barrels, the wine is bottled a year later and aged for a further two years before sale.

Christy Canterbury MW noted the wine’s complex flavours of: “Withering strawberries… dry earth, garrigue and dried rose petals” and that it was more of, “a gastronomic wine instead of a patio sipper”. Some new-world winemakers are working with the complex flavours of this style. Jason Lett at Eyrie Vineyard, Williamette Valley, Oregon, made his first oak-fermented Pinot Noir rosé in 2011.

Using old barrels with indigenous yeasts, which work well in barrel, followed by malolactic fermentation, the Pinot cherry fruit has complex, savoury, umami notes and a weighty structure. Pike & Joyce, Adelaide Hills, South Australia has been making its saignée Pinot Noir rosé since 2006. Fermented in 228l old French oak barrels, using indigenous yeast. The natural acidity from vines grown over 500m is retained with no malolactic fermentation.

The wine is aged on the lees in barrels for two to three months. According to winemaker Neil Pike, the wine has, “complexity, slight richness and roundness coming from the barrel ferment and the slightly funky notes that come from the warm ferment and the underlying strawberry, cherry fruit that ultimately drive the wine. Its complexity and low residual makes it a terrific food wine.” The wine was originally called ‘The Bleedings’ but after negative comments from the trade, was changed to ‘Les Saignées’.

Should rosés that have been in wood be better indicated on the label to indicate this different style?

A common theme for all these rosés is their attractive complex range of flavours, making them suitable to accompany food. Paul Chevalier, from Château d’Esclans, said: “D’Esclans wines always show well at consumer events and especially at winemaker dinners when paired with food.” Pike & Joyce sells about half its small Les Saignées production through the estate’s restaurant, showcasing how its complex flavours suit food.

The rest is sold to selected restaurants in Australia. Brown’s small production is largely sold to high-end restaurants in France and London. Eole, Pigoudet and Lett all have small productions of these wines, again sold locally and in specialist outlets.

Musar only makes the rosé when there are sufficient grapes of suitable quality. These small quantities make these a niche product that few people know – yet.

The emphasis on all of these styles has been their compatibility with food, moving them into a different market sector. Wine connoisseurs have often ignored rosé wines because of their simplicity, but as the younger generation, for whom rosé represents fun and glamour, grow older, these complex and different rosés are becoming more attractive.

Rachel Arthur on recently said rosé producers could expand their market further if they looked to older drinkers by ‘carefully presenting rosé as a more premium, artisanal product’.

Education is essential to introduce these different flavours. Chris Wisson of market-research giant Mintel believes: “Rosé brands should look at appealing to older consumers more effectively by communicating premium messages. Emphasising production processes… could help to resonate more effectively with older drinkers.’

There are exciting opportunities to reach out to the more curious wine consumer with these oaked rosés, which should be finding a place on restaurant wine lists.

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