Sat 16 May 2009
So, I opened a bottle of the Montes Cherub Rosé of Syrah 2008, from Chile’s Colchagua Valley. We remarked on the bright cherry-ruby hue of the wine, noting that it seemed pretty dark to be considered a rosé color; rosé, after all, means pink in French. And while the wine tasted pleasant enough, it conveyed neither a rosé character nor anything particularly syrah-like. The wine seemed to have sacrificed everything that makes rosé wines important to our lives — the delicacy, the immediacy, the minerality, the refreshing and thirst-quenching qualities — for a robust, blockbusterish New World statement that we did not find compelling or even attractive.
It’s the Rosé on Steroids Syndrome.
The natural home of rosé wines is Provence, where the pale, fresh, dry wines are perfect for drinking during the hot, windy summers. The method involves crushing red grapes, such as grenache and cinsault, and letting the juice stay in contact with the skins long enough to derive a little color. (Remember that grape juice is clear or “white”; the color of red wine comes from the skins.) The maceration may last anywhere from a eight hours, for the darkest grapes, to two days, for the lightest. After the maceration, the juice is drained or bled off (saignee) and fermentation continues. The palest rosés of all, called vin gris, or “gray wine,” receives no skin contact. The vin gris color is sometimes described as “onion skin” or, more poetically, “eye of the partridge.”
It seems to me that so-called rosé wines so completely macerated or extracted that they defy the pleasures we normally associate with such wines — and we see “rosé” made in this fashion from Australia and South America and to some extent from the West Coast of the U.S. — should be called something else. “Rosé: The Miss California Version” or “Rosé: The Terminator Selection.”
As I’m writing this post, I’ll inform you, I am sipping from a glass of the pale copper/onion skin-colored Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2008, which carries a California designation. This rosé wine offers all of the nervosity and verve, the delicacy and subtlety of a true rosé; its elements of dried strawberries and raspberries and apple blossom touched with melon, orange rind and a hint of dried thyme, its dry, almost chalky minerality and the austerity of its finish testify to a producer who is serious about the archetypal models of rosé wines. (Very Good+. About $15, a Great Value)
Vin Gris de Cigare 2008 is a blended wine. The components are 58 percent grenache, 18 percent cinsault, 10 percent roussanne, 7 percent mourvèdre, 4 percent syrah and 3 percent grenache blanc. Hold on a sec, you’re thinking, roussanne and grenache blanc are white grapes; what are they doing in a pink wine? Well, it’s O.K., in the United States of American there are no prohibitions against blending whatever the hell grapes you want. I mention this concept because it brings up another issue having to do with rosés.
The pragmatic New World attitude of blending red and white wines is not allowed in making rosés wines in France, however, except in the case of rosé Champagne. In Provence and elsewhere in the South of France, in the Loire Valley, where roses are increasingly important, and in other winemaking regions in the country, rosés must be made from all red grapes. (Please understand that I’m well aware that many “New World” producers of rosé wines employ the traditional method.)
That tradition may change, though, if the powers of the EU have their way. In January, the Brussels-based bureaucracy assayed the concept that producers of rosé wines in France should be allowed to blend red and white wines instead of adhering to the old ways. Wow, wouldn’t that be easy! Lots easier than the traditional method! And producers could get rid of their surplus red and white wines just by — yes! — blending them to make rosés! And French producers could compete with Australia and South America and California on their own terms! Watch out, white zinfandel!
This proposal raised such a storm of protest from producers in Provence and elsewhere in France, that the government, which was initially right in line with Brussels, back-tracked a bit and indulged in a lot of placating throat-clearing and harumphing. A final vote at the EU has been postponed until June.
You, my readers, will have no trouble estimating which side I take on this issue. Go ahead, I say, let every damned maker of rosé wines in the world make the stuff any way they want to, as long as they indicate the method on the back-label. (Well, that would be hard to enforce.) As for wine producers in Europe, please enforce the old traditions. Allow them the integrity and authenticity of their heritage, because with a few exceptions, the best rosé wines still come from France.
Top image by LL. The order of the wines (left to right, palest to darkest) is Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2008; Maison Bouachon “La Rouvière” Tavel 2008; Montes Cherub Rose of Syrah 2008.
Second image by FK. The order of the wines is reversed, with the Vin Gris de Cigare on the right.