Just this week, Jancis Robinson, the wine virtuoso, proudly released the new edition of her Oxford Companion to Wine. This is must-have book for any wine lover, of course.
In her announcement was something new and unusual: she talks about orange wine. Not made from that fruit, but orange in color. For a while now I have enjoyed wines the color of pink salmon, and this focused my attention on the small group of wines that are in the pink to orange range, called Rose.
Pink wines, and pink salmon orange wines, are in the minority, are misunderstood, and are even controversial. This is puzzling, as the better examples are delightful, and the rest just good beverages on a hot day. So why the 3rd rate treatment?
To answer we must look at the present-day stronghold of traditional rose, Provence, and the other areas they are attempted, especially California. The popularity of California White Zinfandel, actually a rose, polarized the world of wine lovers: traditionalists were con, new drinkers where pro.
Provence and the southern Rhone area of France, around Marseille, is a truly ancient area of vine growing, continuous since at least 600 BC. Pink wines were probably were made in ancient times, we just don’t have much evidence of them.
It is red grapes that are the source of pink wine. The traditional method leaves the juice on the skins at the crush, for various amounts of time. That is the key: the winemaker has some quick decisions to make, within hours, depending on the color desired.
In Provence, the grapes of choice for rose are Grenache and Cinsault. And the time of harvest is important. An early harvest is preferred if the winemaker has rose in mind, because a bracing tartness will be preserved, and the sugars lower. This results in a fruity, refreshing, and low alcohol thirst-quencher.
Because these grapes are well-tested for generations, and the results are good, this is the standard. But in California, as usual, some sort of tampering just had to happen. And so now we have so-called rose of Cabernet, of Syrah, of Tempranillo, of Sangiovese, you name it, any red grape is called upon to make a pink wine.
Except they are not up to the Provencal standard. Sure, some are good, but from start to finish, the wine is different, more like a light red version of the red.
And that brings us back to the orange tint that the Provencal vintners achieve. Not sure exactly how they do it, because it’s a chef’s secret, but it might be due to a slight, controlled, exposure to air. Adds a bit of complexity to what otherwise might be a simple wine.
So be a little adventurous and try one of those real roses, meaning from Provence. They match so well with the indigenous spices, rosemary and thyme, with roast chicken, or cheese omelets, and especially fresh figs and goat cheese.