Did I mention that my wife is a trend-setter ? I could start an embarrassing list of things Liz has been the first to spot (see November 8th post) or wear, but it would be a little too long. But I can write a post about stuff she drinks. Well, we drink. Because we started the boom for rosé wines.
You may remember when rosé wine was only drunk by people whose taste-buds, in the words of Tom Lehrer, were shot off in the war. The big seller was Mateus, a Portuguese rosé that was, well, vaguely drinkable, and had the bonus of providing a candle holder for student flats after use. But it was not a serious tipple. Determined wine-lovers – and there were few more determined than us – stuck to red or white. But then we found that red wine, even in moderate quantities, could lead to very unpleasant hangovers: this seems to be a sign of ageing, as it has been reported by friends too. Even the lightest Beaujolais was a route to migraine central.
So, if dining out, rosé it had to be. There we were, ten years ago, sitting in a Breton restaurant and sadly ordering the Rosé d’Anjou. We knew it was a bit like pop, but there we were. At this point, however, the owner – podgy, moustachioed, with that acquired air of grumpiness that is compulsory for all French restaurateurs – looked at us pityingly, and so we asked his advice. “Tavel” he said.
And, boy, he was right. Tavel is the only appellation controlée which is restricted to rosé alone. It is a Rhône valley wine – if you get a low-cost flight to Nîmes and then drive towards Avignon, you pass through it. You probably know that it’s a pretty formidable wine area for peppery reds, the Côtes du Rhône. In a matter of minutes you are passing through Châteauneuf du Pape, Costieres de Nîmes, Gigondas, Vacqueras and Lirac. There are some lovely rosés there – such as Luberon. But Tavel is top of the heap – amber and vanilla, bone dry and full-bodied. It’s not easy to get in the UK – Waitrose sometimes stock it, and there is a good brand available from Le Bon Vin.
Give it a try, and you’ll never touch Anjou or Touraine pinks again. Or maybe you will. A friend who knows about such things tells me that good Loire valley rosé can be found in small producers. Coteaux du vendomois is a favourite (costs about €4 a bottle in France), and Fresnau, though a tiny producer, is consistently good. I’m told that Garnier – another small producer – is a favourite of those in the know.
Bordeaux rosé wines may not be as celebrated as the claret, but can be really good. But go down the Dordogne a bit, and to the east, and try the wines of the Bergerac area. There is an eccentric wine maker and poet called Pierre Sadoux who we think makes a cracking Bergerac rosé called Château Petite Borie. We’ve been there, and a château it isn’t, but we weren’t there for the architecture. He also makes some interesting dry and sweet whites, but that’s for another day. Waitrose also do a decent Bergerac rosé called Le Bois du Rubis.
Generally, if, like us, you like your rosé a little dry and muscular, Southern French rosé wines are good and increasingly available. Try the Hérault, for example. And then there are the rosés from round Avignon and Aix-en-Provence. Wander down to the Med, and taste Bandol, which is wonderful. And if you pop over the Pyrenees, you’ll find that Rioja rosé (yep, sounds odd I know, but it exists) is part of that movement to non-poppy rosé. Even the Portuguese are exorcising the ghost of Mateus with some good value wines from the Alentejo region (sounds mysterious, but just means “over the Tagus”).
Anyway, back to trend-setting. Sales of rosé are now the fastest growing wine, making up about 12% of the off-licence sales. It would be nice to think that this was because of the growing excellence and subtlety of the product, but I am afraid the evidence is against us on that. Much of the rosé sales are to new wine drinkers. Half the pink wines in this country come from California, including the execrable Zinfandel Blush. I have been on a wine tour in California, and even they are embarrassed about it. As are the people who bring the bloody stuff to our parties, because it is always left unopened at the end. Paul Masson is still a big seller, as is Blossom Hill. And on this side of the pond, Mateus still does good business. Oh, well. More of the good stuff for us, I guess.