The clocks change this weekend, the nights are drawing in, the leaves are on the turn and the first frosts have already nibbled at my nasturtiums. Winter is upon us, so my thoughts naturally turn to… rosé. Yes, that’s right, though seemingly synonymous with summer, those delicate salmon pink hues are just as suited to the depths of winter.
I am, I confess, a broken record on this particular subject – and it still causes consternation in certain quarters – but I’m genuinely at a loss to know why anyone wouldn’t welcome a light, bright pièce de Provence on a dark, cold night. After all, we don’t squirrel away the Chablis until spring, just because it should be served with a chill, so why must we rest the rosé?
First and foremost, rosé is the most convivial of wines: a delicate, fruity Côtes de Provence is the perfect easy-sipping seasonal soirée starter, beating a glass of plonky Prosecco into a cocked party hat. Come Christmas, my festive lunch will always feature a smoked salmon starter, with a dollop of horseradish creme fraiche, served with a glass of steely Provence rosé, ideally from the Coteaux Varois, an appellation celebrated for its altitude freshness and lick of minerality.
A rosé is not just for Christmas, however, for it is also a serious year-round gastronomic wine. Often thought suitable merely for poolside sessioning, its pairing potential is therefore woefully neglected; great rosé is a gift, with a versatility that extends from its traditional Mediterranean partners, through to Asian-inspired dishes such as Thai green curry or katsu chicken.
Though Provençal cuisine has always been served alongside rosé, whatever the weather, it was arguably Sacha Lichine of Chateau d’Esclans, the father of ‘Whispering Angel’, who brought our attention to rosé’s pairing prowess. His thrilling top cuvée, ‘Garrus’, sells for north of a hundred pounds a bottle (retail – a lot more in a restaurant) and is worth every penny: barrel fermented, it is perfectly framed for fine dining with its ethereal aromas, firm structure, fantastic breadth of fruit and seemingly eternal mineral finish. At around half the price, its sister wine, ‘Les Clans’, might be even more tempting: smoother and more supple, it offers a seductive charm more akin to a decent Burgundy.
Some sommeliers seem to think rosé needs to hibernate, like a tortoise
Such is the success of Provence rosé that, nowadays, it sits comfortably alongside the top cuvées of Champagne in the glass-fronted fridges of fashionable beachfront bars but it is also gently taking the piste too: I have been a keen skier and an even more enthusiastic aprés-skier for three decades but ‘snowsé’ really feels like a recent phenomenon. Come lunchtime, the red run turns to a pink one, as it’s now what everyone seems to be drinking in those chi-chi chalet restaurants and bars.
Though no doctor in their right mind would prescribe an alcoholic beverage these days, I do think rosé, in moderation, can help banish the blues. On a dark night, a glass or two can really lift the spirits, while also triggering memories of summer nights spent somewhere sunny and warm.
Despite the category now accounting for well over ten percent of the wine market in the UK (while in France, it has actually overtaken sales of white), there’s still some serious sniffiness about rosé and it continues to be underrepresented on a typical wine list. Worse still, some sommeliers seem to think it needs to hibernate, like a tortoise, as they remove rosé altogether until the spring.
So let us move with the times and acknowledge that two things can be true: rosé is a summer staple, for sure, but it is also a wonderful wine to enjoy as we embrace winter’s icy chill.
WHAT DAVID HAS BEEN DRINKING THIS MONTH:
- Chateau Galoupet, Côtes de Provence Rosé 2022 (£46.50, Clos 19) – Representing the fruits of an ambitious sustainability experiment by owners Möet Hennessy, this premium rosé comes stylishly packaged in lightweight brown glass (clear bottles require virgin glass, so should be discouraged). Ripe apricot, blood orange and raw hazelnut aromas lead into a gastronomic rosé that’s complex and intense, with a delicious herbal note courtesy of Tibouren (a relatively rare and really rather capricious grape variety, indigenous to Provence).
- Porte Noire, Petite Porte Rosé Champagne NV (£54.99, Harvey Nichols) – From the actor, DJ and all round polymath Idris Elba, whose previous forays into Champagne have won acclaim, this fresh, fruit-driven rosé, 90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir, offers bags of charm (as does he, in this coming Friday’s edition of the Drinking Hour podcast), elegance and finesse. This is no ‘grab it and grin’ celebrity offering but, rather, a serious addition to a modest but well-judged portfolio.
- Génot Boulanger ‘En Sazenay’ Premier Cru, Mercurey 2018 (£35, Justerini & Brooks) – From a fourth-generation producer, an enticing nose of tart cherry and roasted fig, lifted by hibiscus notes leads into a delicious, delicate, juicy and faintly chalky wine with a subtle herbal undertow and an abundant freshness that persists through to the tangy finish.