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Once maligned, roses now toast of wine world

Shanghai Daily by 23/06/2016  

WAY back during my formative years of wine drinking I greatly enjoyed sipping local rose wines with my father on the dock cafes of Juan-les-Pins, a seaside commune in Antibes, Provence. The rose wines, alone or preferably with a bucket of frog’s legs, were the perfect summer quenchers. Except in this exclusive southern French enclave of quality rose wines, pink wines were widely disparaged at the time.

Wine aficionados proclaimed them fragile, hollow, shallow, one dimensional and undistinguished. No wine snob worth his inflated self-esteem would champion these supposedly inferior wines. My, how times have changed! This formerly maligned style of wine is now all the rage in chic Paris, London and New York wine venues. Today in France more rose wine is sold than white wine.

While the China wine market still hasn’t fully embraced rose wines, the embers of a pink blaze are burning in the taste buds of young drinkers, particularly females. Considering that the numbers of female wine drinkers are growing faster than their male counterparts and now comprise approximately 50 percent of wine drinkers, the future of rose wines in China appears bright indeed.

Most still rose wines are made using the limited maceration process. Don’t worry about the wine lingo, all this really means is that the skins are left in contact with the fruit of the grapes for a limited period of several hours to a few days. The longer this period of skin contact the darker the color. The type of varietal used will also influence the color with Grenache and Sangiovese grapes generally imbuing a lighter color while Carignan and Syrah grapes make wines of a deeper color.

A less common method of making rose wines is the Saignee or “bleeding” method where about ten percent of the juice while making red wine is bled off and used to make comparatively robust rose wines. Winemakers do this to make their red wines darker and bolder flavored and the by-product of this method results in some nice rose wines. The third way to make rose wines is to simply blend red and white wines. Few quality still rose wines are made this way, but in Champagne blending up to 15 percent Pinot Noir grapes results in some very nice rose sparklers.

There are valid reasons why wine connoisseurs formerly looked down on rose wines. At about the same time I started drinking the quality roses of Provence, the US and European markets were saturated with cloyingly sweet and insipid rose wines from Portugal. Shortly thereafter came the equally wretched white Zinfandels from California. The best we can say about these wines is that they helped introduce wines to the baby palates of new drinkers. Think of a bicycle with training wheels. Wine consumers today are more sophisticated so its hardly surprising that they’ve discovered higher quality rose wines. Among the best are the pink wonders of Provence.

While other regions in Italy and Spain made rose wines earlier, Provence in the south of France may lay claim to being the spiritual home of rose wines. Ancient Greeks started making wines in Southern France about 600 BC. When the Romans arrived in 125 BC the rose wines of Provence were already famous.

In the 20th century the railway and the popularity of tourism in the Cote d’Azur introduced the resplendent rose wines of Provence to upscale European and US consumers. Today the pink wines of Provence are the most prized and expensive rose wines in the world. The special Mediterranean climate and semi arid land of this region holds the secret to the quality of its wines.

The main appellations in Provence are Cote de Provence, Bandol, D’Aix-en-Provence, Les Baux de Provence, Palette, Cassis and Bellet. The most popular varieties used to make Provence rose wines are the local grapes Carignan, Cinsaut, Grenache, Mourvedre along with Syrah and to a lesser extent the Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

The Provence region offers some of the world’s most dazzling and vivid colors, aromas and tastes. Lush fields of wild berries, lavender, herbs and flowers cover the rolling hills. Not by coincidence you may also experience many of these sensations in a glass of local rose wine. In general the rose wines of Provence are bright, fresh and dry. They commonly have a light peach color with elegantly subtle fruit and floral qualities. There’s always a pleasingly fresh acidic finish.

Because of their dry and vibrant nature the rose wines of Provence are very food friendly pairing well with a wide variety of foods from light appetizers, cheeses, seafood, pastas and pizzas to more substantial white and red meat dishes. They even go quite nicely with many of the Chinese pastries as featured in this week’s iDeal section. Recommended producers with rose wines you can find in Shanghai include Domaine de Triennes, Chateau de Pibarnon, Chateau Paradis and Gabriel Meffre. Less renowned but more affordable are the rose wines of neighboring Languedoc.