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The joy of indigenous rosé

The prowess of Provence rosé has led to a wash of pale-pink, Grenache-led rosés released from all corners of the world. But Elizabeth Gabay MW explores how winemakers keen to experiment with grape varieties closer to home are producing some standout rosé wines

Words by Elizabeth Gabay MW

Indigenous rose

Until recently, rosé has largely been produced using Grenache and Cinsault in the south of France and Zinfandel in California, leading some critics to comment that the variety did not matter so long as the wine was pale.

For many, the qualities of the classic varieties of southern France have come to epitomise what makes a great rosé, and with Provence cornering the fine rosé sector for some time, perhaps this was a fair assessment. Both Sacha Lichine of Château d’Esclans and Gerard Bertrand of Clos du Temple have claimed Grenache to be the king of grapes when it comes to making rosé. Grenache does indeed have much to offer. Even if harvested early for freshness and lighter colour, it still has good sugar levels and ripe fruit, giving characteristic peach and redcurrant flavours, and a ripe roundness.

With such prolific production around the world, it is easy to forget that Grenache is an indigenous variety of southern Europe. In Tavel, it must make up 70% of the blend (although, it can be black, grey or white Grenache). It is also the major variety of the Navarre rosés in northern Spain and in nearby Rioja, where it is often blended with Tempranillo and the white variety Viura. It even surfaces in Umbria where it is historically known as Gamay di Trasimeno.

Thymiopoulos
Vineyards at Thymiopoulos, a producer that makes a rosé from Xinomavro in northern Greece

So what can be said of the indigenous grapes that form the backbone of rosé in other parts of the world? The best rosés made with indigenous varieties are creating exciting new styles for the wine category, expressing varietal character rather than trying to be a Provence imitation. With varieties better known for their red wines, such as Sangiovese, it can be an exploration of discovery to find out how these grapes express themselves as a rosé.

The best rosés made with indigenous varieties are creating exciting new styles for the category, expressing varietal character rather than trying to be a Provence imitation

For many winemakers, it’s not just an activity of experimentation, though. The impact of changing climate patterns has led some producers to shift their grapes from red to rosé winemaking. Lake Garda in northern Italy has battled with the erratic weather conditions of the nearby mountains, producing reds only in good years. As a result, the fresher climate has proven to be perfect for Chiaretto rosés. Gropello, the main variety of Chiaretto of Valtenesi, gives a soft red fruit or strawberry character. The region’s Costaripa Winery also includes the rarer Marzemino grape (praised by Mozart in his opera Don Giovanni), which contributes some darker structure. Meanwhile, Chiaretto di Bardolino is made on the eastern shore and is based on Corvina with its sour-cherry crunchiness. Aglianico, known for its big powerful reds, is also proving to make some interesting rosés, many being full-bodied and gutsy in style – but higher altitude plantings of the variety lead to a fresher wine.

For some, the voyage into indigenous rosé is more a case of showing pride in the local varieties

Similarly, in the Douro, grapes from cooler vineyards were the least sought-after by port winemakers, but producers have discovered that local varieties Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Cao from these fresher sites make beautifully elegant and fresh mineral rosés. Or there’s Xinomavro in northern Greece, which has all the finesse of a fine Pinot Noir, and is also producing elegant rosés from cooler sites.

For others, though, this voyage into indigenous rosé is more a case of showing pride in the local varieties – from Obaideh and Merwah in Lebanon to Croatina in northern Italy and Ramisco in Portugal – with producers keen to create unique, modern interpretations from historic grapes, albeit in tiny volumes. When compiling The Rosé Wine Report, those wines that showed unique varietal character certainly stood out from a crowd of pale-pink homogeneity.

Chateau Musar
Château Musar's rosé is predominantly made from Obaideh and Merwah, two Lebanese grape varieties

15 rosés showcasing the appeal of indigenous varieties

Producer Name Vintage Region Subregion
Chai Julip, Rosie 2022
Languedoc-Roussillon , Languedoc AOP
Chai Julip Rosie 2022 Languedoc-Roussillon Languedoc AOP
Château Paquette, Thémis 2022
Provence-Côte d'Azur , Côtes de Provence AOP
Château Paquette Thémis 2022 Provence-Côte d'Azur Côtes de Provence AOP
Tenuta Donna Elvira, Kaysara 2019
Campania , Irpinia DOC
Tenuta Donna Elvira Kaysara 2019 Campania Irpinia DOC
Quinta Da Lapa, Clarete 2020
Tejo VR
Quinta Da Lapa Clarete 2020 Tejo VR N/A
Quinta da Gaivosa, Rosa Celeste 2021
Douro DOC
Quinta da Gaivosa Rosa Celeste 2021 Douro DOC N/A
Thymiopoulos Vineyards, Rosé de Xinomavro 2020
Macedonia , Naoussa OPAP
Thymiopoulos Vineyards Rosé de Xinomavro 2020 Macedonia Naoussa OPAP
Domaine Foivos, Undersea 47 2017
Ionian Islands , Ionian Sea TO
Domaine Foivos Undersea 47 2017 Ionian Islands Ionian Sea TO
Ramilo Wines, Ramilo Ramisco Rosé 2022
Lisboa VR
Ramilo Wines Ramilo Ramisco Rosé 2022 Lisboa VR N/A
Château Musar, Rosé 2018
Bekaa Valley
Château Musar Rosé 2018 Bekaa Valley N/A
Nikolou, Mandilaria Rosé 2022
Central Greece , Attica
Nikolou Mandilaria Rosé 2022 Central Greece Attica
Costaripa, Molmenti 2018
Lombardia , Riviera del Garda Bresciano DOC
Costaripa Molmenti 2018 Lombardia Riviera del Garda Bresciano DOC
Ekhô, Rosé 2021
Aegean Islands , Aegean Sea TO
Ekhô Rosé 2021 Aegean Islands Aegean Sea TO
Domaine Castell-Reynoard, For My Dad 2019
Provence-Côte d'Azur , Bandol AOP
Domaine Castell-Reynoard For My Dad 2019 Provence-Côte d'Azur Bandol AOP
Domaine Maby, Libiamo 2022
Rhône , Southern Rhône
Domaine Maby Libiamo 2022 Rhône Southern Rhône
Domaine Vico, Clos Venturi Rosé 2022
Corsica , Corse AOP
Domaine Vico Clos Venturi Rosé 2022 Corsica Corse AOP