How rosé captured the imagination of wine drinkers around the world
Just the other day I saw four heavily tattooed Australian blokes, all wearing high-viz jackets, sharing a bottle of rosé over lunch.
Rosé has undergone a complete image transformation over the past decade, emerging as a favourite for summer refreshment, and for matching with a wide range of cuisines. It's hip and happening.
Known as rosé in France, rosado in Spain, rosato in Italy and blush wine in the United States, there is now wide consensus among the drinkers that pink wine is a lot more than just pretty, fun and fresh.
While rosé wines used to be regarded as sweet and inconsequential, many of the new wave are made in a drier style, and are regarded as among the most food-friendly wines around.
Visit a truck stop in the south of France and you'll find burly drivers matching a carafe of dry Provencal rosé with a salad Nicoise, or a bowl of steaming bouillabaisse.
Head into a traditional Lebanese restaurant and you'll find rosé the chosen wine-pairing for not only dips like hummus and baba ganoush, but also grilled meats, flatbreads and pickles.
In Indian eateries you'll discover sweeter styles of rosé match well with spicy curries, or vegetarian appetisers like onion bhajis or samosas.
And, finally, Australia is catching up with the rest of the world in matching rosé with food. The drier, savoury styles of rosé (which are finding favour in Australia) pair brilliantly with a wide range of salads, grilled seafood (particularly salmon) and shellfish, and are best enjoyed chilled.
More substantial rosés pair brilliantly with Mediterranean flavours like olives, anchovies, garlic, and hard cheeses; and dishes likes savoury pasta, pizza and paella. Rosé is also a perfect choice with finger food and small plate dishes like tapas and mezzes.
Sweeter varieties are often brighter in colour, but from hot pink to pale and savoury, most of the popular styles are dry or off-dry (containing only mild sweetness), with the majority extremely dry.
Rosé is not a blend of red and white grapes, as many drinkers believe. While there are several methods used, it is usually made entirely from red grapes by letting the juice have only very short contact with the grape skins. All colour and tannin comes from the skin of the grape.
Both the ancient Romans and the Greeks made wines in a rosé style but it was not until the 1950s when Portuguese producers released sweet, slightly sparkling rosés in Europe and the US that the style really took off — these styles match well with oily dishes like sardines and spicy Chinese and Thai cuisine. The Americans followed with sweet, pink "White Zinfandel".
Rosé can be made using a number of grape varieties. Pinot noir, shiraz and grenache are among the most common in Australia, but a blend of varieties can also be used successfully depending on what the winemaker is looking for. Merlot, malbec, sangiovese, tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel are also widely used.
Rosé advocate Steve Webber, from De Bortoli Wines in the Yarra Valley, said he was inspired by drinking savoury Bandol rosé wines, which originate in the south of France.
"The Australian climate is so suited to drink dry, pale, textural rosé wines that are well chilled and slightly savoury," Webber says. "I see a huge future for that style of rosé here as more and more Australians become interested in matching wine and food styles." And sales of French rosés like Aix from Provence into Australia are booming.