Being pink

Friday, 11 February, 2011
Nikki Lordan, WINE.CO.ZA
The thing with rosé is that it's like a badly publicised celebrity; whether you love it or loathe it; it still is one of the most discussed topics in publications and conversations around the world. In fact, it's probably getting more publicity than any other wine and is fast becoming one of the top-sellers world-wide.
Two different methods can be used in producing rosé wine, either by blending red wine and white wine together for a pink wine or taking red grapes, leaving little or no skin contact and “bleeding” the juice from the tank at regular intervals (aka the saignée method). The latter is traditionally used in France and is also known as blanc de noir, literally meaning “white from black”. Rosé made by this method tends to be much more complex and integrated, compared to one made by simply blending red and white wine together.

The question wine tasting panels are asking and some winemakers are fighting for is this: How serious can rosé be? A good rosé, they say, should be fruity (predominantly red fruit such as cherries and strawberries), fresh, youthful with a lively acidity. The Wine Opus describes the perfect rosé as “crisp, juicy and dry as a bone”. Its attractive colour, ranging from salmon to bright pink, makes it a summer wine, just like Sauvignon blanc, drunk in most cases on picnics or at lazy lunches. So, quickly assembled a line-up of rosé wines to see whether South Africa is on par with the world’s brightest pinks to the most subtle of salmon.

The one great thing about rosé is the vastly different styles that can be produced, which is all dependable on the grapes the winemakers choose to use. While Pinot noir, Mourvedre and Grenache are considered to produce more fruit variations, varieties such as Cabernet franc, Petit Verdot and Cinsaut result in far too tannic variations, leaving a slightly bitter taste on the back palate. Shiraz and Pinotage is by far the most popular variety to use for rosé wines in South Africa and produce mild styles that can swing to either side of the pendulum, depending on the level of extraction.

Standard rosés made in the south of France are predominantly produced from Grenache and sometimes Mourvedre. Grenache, being a variety that lacks colour but surprises with abundant fruit, makes for the most refreshing, fruity rosé wines. Yet it does sometimes happen that varieties used are not suitable for the delicate disposition of rosé.

Another problem with rosé tends to be alcohol levels. The riper the grapes, the less you’ll struggle with sharp tannins, though light in style and colour, rosé should not have the same tannic structure and alcohol levels as a red wine. Aiming to be a fresh and fruity style and sometimes even described as a wine “bursting with romance and passion”, burning alcohol is a definite no-go when producing rosé. No point in a picnic if you’re going to have trouble finding your car again.

While rosé is devoured on the Mediterranean coast, it is far from a favourite variety at home. Most dry, saignée style rosé wines have only popped up in the last decade with naturally sweet styles still the most popular among South African drinkers. The Waterkloof Circumstance Cape Coral 2009, however, is made in Mediterranean style with 100% Mourvedre as base wine. It’s fruity, refreshing on the palate and dry as a bone.

A wine that differs completely in style is the Peter Falke Blanc de Noir 2009. Based on 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, this rosé is a very light salmon to brown onion skin colour. A serious wine, compared to the Waterkloof, and it shows more palate weight and texture and an elegant finish.

Another to take note of is the Jordan Chameleon Rosé 2010, made from 55% Shiraz and 45% Merlot grapes. Flavours of red berries dominate this style thanks to the majority of Shiraz while the Merlot lends its elegance and weight to the palate.

Since fruit is the imperative factor in rosé, variety and terroir is central in the production of this style. While bitterness and stark tannic structures can relate to the extraction method, egg white finings are done to reduce any tannic harshness that may result in the end product.

The choice of variety is always an interesting one when working with rosé. Cabernet Sauvignon provides fruit and elegance, Mourvedre and Shiraz increases the risk of a reductive wine, while with Pinotage, colour extraction is optimal. Local rosé producers prefer, on average, to use Pinotage as choice of variety and, providing great care is taken during extraction, it should produce a wine rich in colour and fruit. The Leopard’s Leap Lookout Rosé 2009, 100% Pinotage based was a favourite amongst tasters as a very easy-drinking, fruit-bomb style wine with a dry, lingering finish.

Like any middle child, rosé is a wine of delicate nature. It can blossom as a superlative quaffer or crash down in complete disaster. Though it still struggles to get the same recognition as other more “serious” styles, let’s hope this unique wine will grow into something more than just a Valentine’s wine.