Cape Rosé: Showing a Blushed for Life

The drier version of that delicious blush wine known as rosé has been one of the success stories in the Cape wine industry, with more quality rosé’s than ever being on offer, and consumer uptake making sales thereof increasing year-by-year. I for one am not surprised, as South Africa’s climate and our get-up-and-go outdoors’ lifestyle make rosé a perfect wine for quenching the national thirst and cultivating home-grown wine appreciation for this beloved product of our winelands.

Provence, the southern part of France where sea, olive groves, lavender and seafood define its being, is the world’s central point for rosé. Over there the stuff is made by the hundreds of millions of litres, and from May to September a glass of rosé is found on every table, picnic spot and al fresco restaurant.

This is also the region where the making of rosé has been perfected. Red Mediterranean grape varieties such as Grenache, Cinsaut and Shiraz are picked and the juice immediately bled from the coloured skins, allowing just a slight blush colour liquid to make its way to the fermentation tank. Ferment, keep it on lees for a few months, and voilà, you have a dry wine bearing a subtle hue ranging from pale onion skin to salmon pink to one of the gorgeous light pink lipstick-shades that were so in vogue among 1960s actresses.

For long, South African rosés were made sweet and sticky, the colour more candy-floss than the blossom duskiness of the classics. But over the past 15 years more-and-more wineries have gone the classic Provençal route of offering dry rosés showing a more refined colour. It is not just about colour, though. Remember, these wines are made from red grapes and even if the time the wine spends on the colour-enhancing skins is brief, the wines do grasp some lovely berry flavours and a hint of tannin to give them a presence in the mouth.

What local producers also have going for them, is the national red grape of South Africa, namely Pinotage. This has shown to make brilliant rosés, therefore giving our rosé-offering an edge on what can be expected from the French stuff.

Delheim Estate in Stellenbosch was one of the pioneers of Pinotage rosé, and due to its success continues to be one of the leaders in Cape rosé production.

The Delheim Pinotage Rosé has a cherry-blossom colour and what stands-out for me is its bracing dryness. As a rampant enjoyer of all things cold and refreshing – including beer and gin-and-tonic – the Delheim Rosé can be found in my fridge for most of the summer months. And I have no qualms about adding an ice-cube or two to the glass to increase the pleasure, as this is the kind of wine for drinking with wanton abandon.

Bone-dry, the wine has subtle notes of plums and crunchy berries with a bracing finish full of zest and accompanied by that moreish calling. It is the ideal partner to sushi, especially if you like to go heavy on the wasabi, and is truly summer in a glass.

The world-famous Kanonkop Estate, like Delheim situated on Stellenbosch’s Simonsberg, is known for robust red wines, including the Paul Sauer Bordeaux-style that is arguably the country’s finest offering. But this iconic farm could, too, not let the opportunity pass of tapping into the lucrative rosé market, and its Kanonkop Pinotage Rosé has become one of the most popular wines in this category.

Sourcing the finest Pinotage grapes, the wine is oozed off the skins, the ferment and other winemaking stages presided over by Kanonkop’s wizard winemaker Abrie Beeslaar. The result is an astounding rosé that I would like to see in a line-up of the best the world has to offer. For besides being a most charming pink wine, this has a true taste of the Cape.

Sure, being of local DNA, Pinotage does give the wine a wow factor with the vivid, bright berry profile and an underlying savoury character. But along with this elegant cool freshness comes a brisk note of herbaceous fynbos together with a saline, maritime thread.

Even served ice-cold and merrily glugged, there is a discernible refinement in the wine, true polished  class showing that despite its glitzy fashionable image, rosé does manage to get an edge on the porch of wine greatness.

For something completely different, there is the Diemersdal Sauvignon Rosé. Diemersdal proprietor and winemaker Thys Louw is a classically orientated winemaker, but now and again he goes off-kilter, following his nose and with successful results.

So, Diemersdal Sauvignon Rosé eschews the conventional route in the winemaking process. Two Sauvignon grape varieties are used: The red Cabernet Sauvignon and its white partner Sauvignon Blanc. (Incidentally, Cabernet Sauvignon as a variety resulted in France as a cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc, making the weighty Cabernet the offspring of the fresh white Blanc.)

Sauvignon Blanc forms the foundations of the Diemersdal Sauvignon Rosé, and the pale garnet hue results from Thys simply adding a dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon to the white wine.

The result is a fullish rosé, dry, but oozing black-current and cherry riding the characteristic wave of nettle and gooseberry freshness Sauvignon Blanc is known for. Invigorating and juicy, this wine is brilliant with fish just-off the braai-coals or a spicy curry.

But as we rosé-lovers know, one does not need guidance or parameters to live this style of wine, as a rosé of any name remains just as delightful and enjoyable.  

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2 thoughts on “Cape Rosé: Showing a Blushed for Life

  1. All great examples of the SA dry rosé genre, a most under-rated style that we – well, our winemakers – are doing really well. Blaauwklippen Blush Rosé made from Zinfandel and Malbec is also worth a look for a really interesting, and also really enjoyable, dry pink with flavour and complexity. But if I see ONE MORE winery press release promising “summer in a glass” (whether for Rosé or for Sauvignon Blanc, because both seem to warrant the description, for different reasons), I may have to declare permanent winter and drink only Shiraz in future!

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