All wines are, obviously, not created equal. Especially not rosé, the floral-hued style of wine associated with summer and all its related partners of sun and play and al fresco dining, preferably where an expanse of water is involved – ideally ocean, lake or a wide river.
Until the beginning of the previous decade, most South Africans associated rosé wine with a semi-sweet, alcopop-style characterised by a shade of deep pink resembling candy-floss, eye-shadow or lingerie, depending on your particular mind-set. This association was a remainder of one specific wine, Mateus Rosé from Portugal. Released into the world after World War II, Mateus became one of the biggest selling wines of all time, peaking at sales of 36m bottles a year. For decades, rosé globally was associated with Mateus and the Mateus-style, namely sweetish, fleshy pink and with a slight petillant zing.
But, of course, things had always been different in France. Southern France, particularly the Provence region, had been consuming and making rosé long before the Mateus boom. And in style, this Provencal rosé was about as far removed from the candy-cooler offering of Mateus as a peri-peri Chicken is from Burgundian Coq au vin.
The French wine is lighter in colour, drier in taste and over-all more delicate and refreshing than the semi-sweet pink stuff. Yet barring a few exceptions, until ten years ago most of the South Africa rosé made and consumed here was of the latter style, ensuring this name rosé suffered from a one-dimensional association.
Thus, the recent evolution of rosé wine in South Africa has been as refreshing as an ice-cold glass of the pink wine sipped in a cloud of Atlantic sea-spray. More producers introduced dry, classical rosés into their portfolios. Consumers latched on, and subsequently, volumes grew. As did the number of wineries adding rosé to their portfolios.
For me, the old school semi-sweet rosé is not to be eschewed. A bottle of Mateus still goes down a storm, even if it is just for a bit of nostalgia. But the dry, Provencal styles from the Cape have not only added an excellent category to the local wine offering, but have also helped in introducing many consumers to wine. Especially those consumers of the fashionable kind.
For creating this traditional French style, red grapes are lightly pressed. The juice is allowed to run-off before the skin can impart most of its colour and tannic grip onto the wine. But the slight, ever so slight, whisper of the red skins gives the juice a brush of berry-taste as well as the all-important colour that makes rosé, well rosé. From pale pink, to a lighter shade of salmon to onion skin.
Top rosé picks:
L’Avenir GlenRosé: The name is a play on the Glenrosa soil found on this Simonsberg estate, and the wine is part of winemaker Dirk Coetzee’s journey to create greatness from the Pinotage grape – as he has done with L’Avenir’s robustly elegant red wines. The rosé was inspired by a visit to Provence where the reverence with which this style is approached and the enjoyment with which the wine is consumed, convinced him that L’Avenir required such a wine in its stable.
Arguably South Africa’s leading example of a premium rosé, the wine originates from Pinotage grapes grown on a single vineyard. Only free-run juice is captured, and the time on skin determined in different batches. To add complexity, a portion of the rosé is given a few months in used oak.
Show-stopping packaging includes a classy bottle with floral design on the punt and a Vinolok glass capsule closure, through which the wine seduces with a colour combining onion-skin and desert dusk. To taste, the wine is life-affirming in refreshment, the evocative colour brought to life with notes of dry flowers, sour cherry and an intriguing marine note of just-shucked oyster-shell.
Waterkloof Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdre Rosé: The punchy Mourvèdre grape from Southern France is known for its meaty juice which, when given a brief run over its ink-purple skins, is a superb base for a rosé wine. The grapes are whole-bunch pressed – trés gently – without any further skin-contact required to give the juice a light salmon hue. Fermentation occurred through indigenous wild yeasts and took place in wooden fermenters, allowing just the required degree of oxidation to layer the final wine with character.
It all ends brilliantly with a rosé showing texture on the palate, permitting the playful flavours of berry and potpourri to carry through to a crisp, dry finish. Like the L’Avenir, the wine has a slight ocean-spray saltiness that only adds to the overall and intriguing pleasure of a fantastic rosé.
Pink Valley Rosé: This Helderberg winery is the only South African cellar committed to making rosé wine, so the meticulous approach in the cellar is to be expected. The wine is a blend of Sangiovese, Grenache and Shiraz and the final product is characterised by being exceptionally light in colour with just the slightest shade of onion-skin, leading you to actually believe the label depicting it is rosé.
The slightness of colour is achieved by keeping the vinification as cool as possible. Harvested grapes are cooled to 4 ̊C before being destemmed and crushed. Prior to fermentation the juice was kept at 2.5 ̊C for a month before fermentation began.
Light in colour, but heavy on taste and presence. The wine runs with bright flavours ranging from tropical to mineral, exuding an extreme degree of freshness that makes for alarming drinkability. A two-bottle lunch-time wine with all the character and finesse of classical rosé.
Babylonstoren Mourvèdre Rosé: Of course, a farm with such a reputation for gardens, flowers and all things representing a manicured country life-style must surely have a rosé among its wine offerings. Using the Mourvédre grape from the northern side of Simonsberg is a great choice, as with plenty of sun and warm harvest temperatures this Mediterranean grape shows its best side. Especially when vinified as rosé where an attractive copper-salmon colour meets the eye, and floral-berry notes bounce on the palate. Deliciously austere, there is enough delightful vibrance in this wine to offer the true heart of rosé, while an intriguing salty-savour character lingers on the finish. Superb wine.
Delheim Pinotage Rosé: Nothing fancy here in one of the Cape’s stalwart rosé offerings from a venerable Simonsberg estate. But it is pink, it is cold, it is fresh and the wine gives lots of gluggable pleasure. Pinotage shows itself as a fine foundation for rosé, as L’Avenir also shows, perhaps because the grape’s one-half is a Cinsaut DNA, Cinsaut being a formidable part of Southern France’s vineyard offering.
Delheim presses lightly and uses free-run juice which is inoculated with different yeast strains to attain the style of the final wine. Which is bracing in its dryness, the initial austerity leading to notes of strawberry, black olive and ocean kelp. Fun to drink, as all rosé should be, this is sound proof that the pink wines are a celebration of life and have what it takes to make for an everlasting summer.
Almenkerk Wine Estate Lace Rosé: Elgin, home of Almenkerk, is known for Pinot Noir on the red grape variety side, so it is a surprise to find this estate’s rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon – a rare vine-find in this neck of the woods. Cabernet Sauvignon, grown in this area’s cool climate, makes for a wonderful rosé, especially for those – like me – who like a rosé to have a bit more engine under the bonnet, a bit more vooma. The bled-off juice gives the wine an onion-skin and sunrise colour, with a lovely herbaceous and sea-breeze whiff on the nose. Hugely satisfying in the mouth, the wine oozes sour cherry and plums with an invigorating hint of ocean mist. For a rosé this wine has a kiss-me, lingering grip as one would expect from a Cabernet-offspring, yet it still maintains the energetic thrust of a drinkable and satisfying pink wine.
Glenelly le Rosé de May: A full-on Shiraz rosé, and another pink wine not shy to show some curves and a fleeting glimpse of cleavage. The colour is a bit darker than the modern rosé pundits prescribe it must be, but this truly does not matter as the wine looks as shimmering and deliciously ruby as it tastes. Brilliant berry flavours ranging from cranberry to strawberry snuggle onto the palate, while there is a crisp, crunchy effect from the umami-like taste of pomegranate. Dry, but not austere and meagrely lean, this rosé is lip-smacking and delicious with one bottle not being enough.
Chamonix Pinot Noir Rosé: This Franschhoek Estate, known for its fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines, launched a charming rosé this year without any wild and gregarious fan-fare. A 100% Pinot Noir rosé, the wine shows the flirtatiously fruity and disarmingly decadent side of Pinot, something you do not find when the grape is used to its brooding splendour in its incarnation as a red wine. The rosé from Chamonix invigorates with a citrus-zest and green-plum succulence before presenting an array of floral and candy-floss notes. Chilled to the bone, this is a dry and exuberant bottle of wine with which to live the life of the rosé drinker, which is now.
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