Cape Rosé, the Joy of Fresh Pink

No other season steers the wine-lover to a particular style than when the call for rosé comes in late spring. Yes, the days of mid-October onwards can still offer a slight tug of chill morning air and the heavens shall, for a moment, darken with cloud before opening to emit a sheet of soft rain, inoffensive in its cooling dampness.

But in the light of day, spring is upon us and summer beckons. In the fields and on the mountainside, the soils and plant growth are drying as the last remnants of another winter gone-by disappear into the halls of memory. As the flowers dazzle on an iridescent palette sent by the gods, the world smells new and brimming with life and vigour.

In Provence, the home of rosé wine, we would be drinking the pink stuff from 10.00 on the little square in the village of Ansouis. After the papers have been read and the boules scores taken-in, lunch will be had at home, the eating of which shall – no negotiating here – be accompanied by another bottle of rosé. It is a wine called for by the light of dusk and dawn, by the shrills of cicadas, and it is demanded by the fresh produce that finds its way onto the market and into our kitchens: warm, purple egg-plants the size of the thighs of a well-fed infant; bloody red ripe tomatoes that explode under the teeth with the taste of sun, clay-soil and the sweetness of the morning’s first kiss. Fresh fish, crystal-eyed, that will head for the bouillabaisse pot, the prince of all seafood dishes that cannot, may not, be consumed with any wine other than rosé.

My late friend, the writer AA Gill, often came over to Abingdon Villas, where I lived in London, to partake of my sister Gina’s legendary bouillabaisse. I only met Gill after he had gone teetotal. But after that first spoon of bouillabaisse eaten on my porch, so sea-tasting you could hear waves crashing as you ate it, the great man said he “was missing a glass of rosé like a monk missing his prayer-book upon finding out his room-mate had died in his sleep”.

Here in the Cape, rosé wine has caught on swimmingly, although good bouillabaisse is hard to find. Christophe Dehosse’s Vine Bistro on Glenelly Estate is an exception – should you wonder.

But the local rosé wines are brilliant, winemakers having access to an abundance of riches in the grape variety department. In the cellar, the vignerons are bleeding the juice off immediately. Some whole-bunch pressing is done, and judicious timing and monitoring ensure that crisp, fresh and subtly hued rosés are here – in droves – to slake the thirsts of summer wine-drinkers.

Allow me to mention a couple, the first being the Florence Rosé from Vergelegen. This is a first release of pink wine from this venerable estate, and the wine is delicious and clever, and far politer than its belligerent winemaker André van Rensburg. According to the gospel of Van Rensburg, Stellenbosch farmers mainly make rosé by draining a portion of juice off from red grapes to concentrate their virus-infected fruit and “hopefully make better wine”. Obviously a superior winemaker, Van Rensburg cools and stabilises his juice and wine – something he cribbed from rosé specialists Pink Valley on the other side of the Helderberg.

Whatever, the Florence Rosé from Vergelegen leads with Malbec, and is an astute rosé despite the label, which looks like something out of a 1950s magazine article advising on ideal decorations for a tea party of widowed house-wives.

Copper and salmon in colour, this rosé has a zesty, stony aroma that entices the palate and builds the expectation. On the mouth the wine has soft edges of strawberry and persimmon before a lovely lip-smacking sour-cherry note takes over. The trick with rosé is to have it fragile and delicate, while presenting suitable grip and verve to cause one to repeat the sipping experience as frequently as possible. This the wine has in droves, and is a welcome addition to the Cape rosé culture.

Also out Helderberg way is the lovely Waterkloof Estate and its Circumstance Cape Coral Rosé made from Mourvédre grapes and a wine that has garnered a reputation for being one of the finest Cape pink wines. For a good reason. The packaging is stylishly elegant and minimalistic, allowing the wine’s classic onion-skin and Paul Cezanne sunset colour to glow, to appeal to the person fortunate to be drinking its beautness.

The Coral might refer to the colour, but the wine has a Jacques Cousteau, maritime allure to it as notes of detached mussel and sea-spray accompany the super array of textural fruit nuances. Raspberry compote is present, as is some ripe plum, but it rides a wave of pebbly ocean briskness, with a hit of savoury at the end. If there is one rosé that will have you longing for the sunsets of Provence, the sound of boules clacking through the aromatic wisps of Gauloises smoke and the fragrance of pastis, it is this rosé.

The season has broken.

  • Lafras Huguenet

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