For many wine fans the first glass of rosé marks the beginning of summer. For the rest of the year they forget about it, and it’s rarely matched with food beyond the odd picnic. But rosé deserves more respect than to be treated as a mere sunshine drink. It covers a broad range of styles, many of which can partner superbly with different foods throughout the year, including warming winter fare, and can be particularly successful with dishes that conventional red and white choices struggle to match.
Rosé has enjoyed a boom in recent years and accounts for more than one in every 10 bottles of wine sold in the UK. The massive rise of white zinfandel has a large part to play here, but decent wine merchants are stocking an increasing range of alternatives. Likewise, the rosé section of many restaurants’ wine lists has expanded, as sommeliers begin to recognise its quality and versatility.
“Our sales of rosé double during summer,” says Liz Donnelly, buyer at Alliance Wine, which supplies many leading restaurants and independent wine merchants. “The reputation of producers such as Francois Crochet of Sancerre is really growing – we only receive an allocation of five cases of his Sancerre rosé each year and they sell out instantly,” she says.
Rosé comes in many hues but they are often treated as if they are all the same. Provence rosés tend to be very pale and bone dry. Their crisp style means they work brilliantly with dishes based around anchovies or tomatoes. These are the most famous ‘serious’ rosés. At The Royal Garden Hotel in London, sommelier Kenny Chan serves Domaine Ott’s Clos Mireille Rosé with a dumpling platter. He feels the stone fruit and citrus flavours particularly enhance the taste of vegetable and seafood dumplings.
“If it’s big enough to handle the pepper and meat, then rosé with haggis is a winner in my book” – Will Bain
Alternatives to Provence rosé can be found across the south of France. If you enjoy rosé with a little more edge, try something from Collioure down by the Pyrenees. Winemaker Andy Cook of Tramontane Wines suggests the touch of tannin and salinity in its rosés make them the perfect match for the local snack of anchovies on tomato bread.
In Sancerre rosés are made from Pinot Noir. Just as red Pinot Noir is famous for its suitability with game and mushrooms, the rosé version can partner autumnal dishes – especially more delicate game such as guinea fowl. Donnelly says they also suit lightly spiced foods, such as Thai or fusion cuisine.
Deeper and richer wines are best enjoyed with barbecued foods. Charles Melton’s Rose of Virginia is something of a cult classic from Australia’s Barossa Valley. Shiraz-based, it is a deep pink colour with flavours of sweet berries and spice. Wines like this can partner the slightly sweet flavour of barbecued meats and even work well with the complex flavours of Korean food, which can be notoriously difficult to match with red or white wines.
Even white Zinfandel can find a place on the dinner table. Or at least with the Friday night takeaway. Zinfandel’s sweetness means it copes with sweeter Chinese dishes, such as sweet and sour or plum sauce, that would leave a dry wine tasting bitter.
“The reputation of producers such as Francois Crochet of Sancerre is really growing – we only receive an allocation of five cases of his Sancerre rosé each year and they sell out instantly” – Liz Donnelly
When matching food, rosé can offer the freshness of light white wines, with the ripe berry fruit flavours of reds. They rarely have excessive alcohol, tannins or the overly intense flavours that can overpower food. Many rosés have a touch of sweetness; either from residual sugar or implied by their ripe fruit flavours. This lets them cope with both sweet and spicy flavours. On the other hand, very dry rosés such as those from Provence can provide a fresh contrast to oil-based dishes.
Matching food and wine from the same region is as successful a strategy with rosé as it is with red and white wines. Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo partnered with the salami and sheep’s milk cheeses of southern Italy’s Abruzzo region is one match recommended by Will Bain, manager of Earthy deli, wine store and restaurant in Edinburgh.
He also suggests a robust rosé from southern France or Australia as an alternative to whisky when partnered with Scotland’s national dish: “If it’s big enough to handle the pepper and meat, then rosé with haggis is a winner in my book,” says Will. “Fresh, sweet red fruit is a nice counterpoint to sheep innards!”
By all means, enjoy your glass of rosé in the summer sun, but respect the rosé, and allow it to brighten up the winter months too.
Getting the right rosé
Tomatoes, anchovies or garlic– Crisp, dry rosés such as those from Provence, or similarly styled but less expensive wines from elsewhere in the south of France or Spain.
Sweet or spicy dishes – Fruity rosés either with some sweetness, as in white Zinfandel, or the intense fruit flavours found in many Chilean bottles.
Delicately spiced food – Dry but perfumed wines such as Sancerre rosé.
Barbeque – Full-bodied, fruity rosés such as Australian Shiraz, Cabernet or Grenache.
Seared tuna or duck – Medium-bodied fruity rosés such as Bordeaux or new world Pinot Noir.
Tapas/Mezze – The combination of freshness and fruitiness in the Navarra rosés make them the perfect choice when there are a number of different dishes and flavours.
Game – For simple, delicate game birds try a Sancerre rosé. For more robust flavours, look to the fuller bodied but dry wines from the Rhone Valley or Australia.