The Rosé Renaissance

  • Howard Park,
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So, do you fancy yourself as a winemaker or master-blender? Well you too can make your very own rosé in the comfort of your home, or may have already done so at the end of an “interesting” party, when the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dregs might just be combined in the same glass to form an attractive shade of pink and a new flavour sensation…! Sure, it sounds unadvisable, but this is essentially how the versatile and ever-increasingly popular wine style of rosé came into existence many centuries ago.

Much of the appeal of rosé, both now and in times gone by, derives from its extreme drinkability. The best examples convey an ethereal lightness without sacrificing flavour, texture or interest. In ancient Greece it was considered preferable to water-down wines in the interest of maintaining sobriety and civility in the populace, and as many wines produced at the time were field blends of white and red varieties, a pink drink was the inevitable outcome. 

The style migrated to the settlement of Massalia in Gaul, which is now the city of Marseille in Southern France. Its surrounding region is Provence, where rosé held sway even as the European palate moved towards darker, full-bodied reds, and is now considered the spiritual home of the style, with Provencal rosé inspiring the technique of many Australian producers. It’s worth noting here that through the millennia methods of rosé-making evolved, and the blending of red and white wine described above is now only practiced in the production of rosé Champagne.

Fast forward to the 21st century and the appreciation of rosé is at an all-time high. Adventurous drinkers are seeking out not only classic French examples but also the exciting regional and varietal variations to be found in Italian Rosatos and Spanish Rosadas

Australian winemakers have responded to this noticeable change in drinking and buying habits, and are embracing the challenge of crafting “serious” or “intentional” rosé that is born in the vineyard and not pieced together as an afterthought in the cellar. The hallmarks of a modern, exciting Australian rosé: pink of course – but more blush or salmon than fuchsia or hot – full-flavoured but still delicate and eminently drinkable, textural, and refreshingly dry to finish.  It’s the perfect recipe for a lifestyle wine that can shine with or without food, and be shared with friends or followers alike.

The diversity in varieties that can comprise a good rosé is also undoubtedly liberating for winemakers, and often the style provides a showcase for alternative varieties that can be ideally suitable. At Howard Park over the years we have seen “exotics” like Sangiovese pop up in our rosés, and currently we’re exploring the exciting possibilities that Grenache and Pinot Gris have to offer. Shiraz and Pinot Noir have long been the backbone of many blends, and our winemaker Janice McDonald is refining her methods with each vintage to restrain the overt fruitiness of the grapes and develop a pleasing harmony of colour, flavour, texture and delicacy in the finished wines.

There are several methods of rosé production, the one most commonly employed is the skin contact method, where the red grape skins macerate in the juice for a short period of time, generally between 2 hours and 1 day but sometimes even less, and during this time impart a faint tinge of colour to the otherwise clear juice. After maceration the wine is drawn off the skins and transferred into fermentation vessels, sometimes stainless steel tanks but increasingly older oak barrels are being preferred as they help to bring texture and mouthfeel to the finished wine.  Our 2018 Marchand & Burch Rosé is an example of this style, and Janice calls the extraction period “gentle and short”, showing a typical winemaker’s reluctance to specify the exact length of maceration, which can change each vintage depending on the ripeness of the grapes.

With a thicker skinned grape like Shiraz, which is used in our 2018 Howard Park Miamup Rosé, there is danger of colour saturation occurring quickly, so the grapes are pressed immediately and the skin contact is essentially reduced to the time that they are mingling with the juice in the press, a method known as Vin Gris. Texture and flavour in the finished wine is boosted by the addition of white wine lees into the fermenting barrels, and the stirring of these solids through the juice. 

This reduced contact with flavour compounds contained in the skins, along with picking the grapes earlier to retain acidity, are the reason that rosé wines made from red grape varieties typically display some of the attractive characteristics of white varieties such as citrus fruits, while the more expected red berry overtones are tarter and lighter. 

For sparkling and rosé Champagne, where the fruit must be picked even earlier to maintain acidity during the secondary fermentation in the bottle, it is common to use the blending method where a darker red wine made from Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier is blended with a larger volume of white wine.  Our imported rosé from Champagne Franck Bonville is a sublime example of this, with 10% Pinot Noir from the Grand Cru village of Ambonnay being combined with 90% Chardonnay from the Grand Cru village of Avize to produce a stylish rosé with poise and balance, a complex mouthfeel and a gently crisp finish.

While the thoughtful technique and varietal diversity so well employed in rosé production can be interesting to ponder, this knowledge is in no way essential to enhance the enjoyment of this unfussy wine, created simply to surprise and delight. There is visual appeal in the colour and packaging, and more rosés than ever are being offered in striking bespoke bottles to capture the buyer’s attention. Whatever the innovations in winemaking or marketing, thoughtful grape growing or real or faux celebrity endorsement, it’s all working, as rosé sales in Australia and worldwide continue to grow and drinkers embrace its unpretentious charm for all the right reasons.