Rise of once-humble rose evidence of changing tastes
IN the upcoming 2008 edition of my wine companion, there are tasting notes for 166 roses that scored 87 points or more, leaving a similar number that scored less. Five years ago it was hard work to find 50 and, in any event, no one was very interested in the category.
I doggedly chose the best rose for my annual top 100, as often as not commenting that I knew no one would buy it but I refused to ignore a wine style so suited to the Australian climate, and made so well.
The surge of interest in, and consumption of, roses occurred almost overnight in Britain, the US, Australia and just about everywhere wine is drunk. Southern France (that is, Tavel) and Spain (Navarro), traditional producers of roses, benefited greatly, but so did the New World. Which poses the seemingly simple questions: What should a good rose taste like? How do you define its style?
It remains a witch’s brew (see right). The more complicated and bizarre the blend, the more likely it is that the rose was an unplanned child.
Bizarre is the keyword: a rose made from the tried and true Rhone varieties of grenache, cinsaut, mourvedre and shiraz was quite possibly planned from the word go.
What about single varieties? There could not be three more different candidates than shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir.
Here the question is whether the rose was simply a discard, juice run-off after a given number of hours, the object being to concentrate the remaining must and thus enrich the ultimate wine. The run-off juice will be fermented in stainless steel at low temperatures exactly as a riesling or a semillon would be, and bottled at about the same time: as quickly as possible, hence their more or less simultaneous arrival on the market with young riesling, semillon or other unwooded whites.
On the other hand, the grapes may have been selected specifically to make a rose and a far more complicated winemaking path followed. De Bortoli and Yering Station are two particularly serious Yarra Valley makers of pinot noir rose but there are others spread across the country using other varieties or blends.
The grapes are either whole-bunch pressed or crushed and, after a day or two on skins, are pressed and the juice is taken to three or four-year-old barriques and fermentation initiated with wild yeast.
The wine will receive a period of lees contact (typically one to three months) before being bottled. Rather than bright-crimson-puce, the colour has a distinct salmon tinge and the wine is bone dry.
Here is another point of contention where the customer is left to find out (often by trial and error) whether the wine is dry, slightly sweet (with crisp acidity to provide balance) or uncompromisingly sweet, largely created for the cellar-door trade.
Some of the stand-out wines from ’ 06 were the De Bortoli Yarra Valley (94 points, $22), Yering Station ED (94 points, $17.50), Angove’s Nine Vines Grenache (94 points, $15 and a gold medal winner), Arrivo Adelaide Hills Nebbiolo (94 points, $22), Brookland Valley Verse 1 (94 points, $17, three gold medals), Peter Lehmann Barossa (94 points, $15, gold medal National Wine Show) and Yalumba Limited Release Sangiovese (93 points, $12).
There is a final question: Will the roses bloom briefly, fading quickly as the novelty wears off and wine surpluses disappear? I have little doubt the number and amount of roses will decrease but, hopefully, the category will prove to be a lasting one.