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Time for a rosť revival?

Rosť wines may be horribly unfashionable, but they make great summer wines and are a surprisingly good food match, reports Jamie Goode.

Rosť currently has a terrible image problem. In most of middle England, it would be considered to be a horrible social gaffe to take a bottle of rosť to a dinner party. But this has not always been the case. Back in the 1970s, before we all became sophisticated foodies, when Lloyd Grossman was but a lad and Jamie Oliver hadn't even been conceived, a pebble-shaped bottle of Mateus Rosť could be found in just about every middle class home. But over the last couple of decades the supermarket shelf space allotted to Rosť wines has diminished rapidly, and although Mateus and its brethren are still on the shelves, putting a bottle of rosť in your supermarket trolley instantly marks you out as being horribly unsophisticated and embarrassingly out-of-date.

Yet this is not the case in the South of France. There, they drink rosť by the tanker-load. And, by and large, they are more fashionable, chic and 'foodie' than most of us in middle England. Wander past the bistros in trendy Cannes, St Tropez or Cassis, and you'll see what they drink with their Bouillabaisse: probably not white, not red, but pink.

So why don't we touch the stuff? I decided to break with fashion, and seek out some rose for summer drinking. My conclusions? I think it is time for a rosť revival. Well chilled on a summer's day (or even on a warm evening), roses make a surprisingly good food match. They are not wines to dwell over too long, but are best glugged joyfully. And they look so good in the glass, too: after all, aesthetics is an important but often underestimated part of the dining experience. In this sense, they are not 'geek' wines, but 'commodity' or 'situation' wines. You wouldn't want to write a long tasting note on them, but none the less they serve a useful function on the table, and in my house, there is always a need for wines of this kind along with the more serious wines that I cellar. It's fair to say that I enjoyed the wines I tried, without falling in love with any of them.

The qualities I'd look for in a good rosť would therefore probably be crispness and freshness (buy the most recent vintage), fruitiness, good balance (they need acidity to provide food compatibility, since they don't have tannin), and low cost (they are glugging wines).

Just a note on how rosť wines are made. Red grapes are crushed and only brief contact is allowed between the skins (which contain the coloured pigments and tannins) and the juice (which comes from the colourless flesh of the grape). [I should add here, that there are some rare red grapes which have pigmented flesh, called teinturier varieties, but this is the exception. These cannot by definition be used to make rose.] It is the degree of the contact between the skins and the juice that determines the final colour of the wine. Thus rosť wines lack both the deep colour and the tannic structure of red wines made from the same grape varieties, and in this sense are more like white wines, and are best served very cold. It is also rare to find rose wines subjected to oak treatment.

Tasting notes

1999 Les Clos de Paulilles Rosť, Coillure AOC
Syrah-based, this is quite deep coloured for a rose, with sweet cherry and pepper flavours. Deep, fruity and dry, it is a good food wine with a nice texture, but is probably pushing the limit a bit on value for money. (£5.99, Oddbins).

La Gravette 1999 Rosť, AOC Coteaux du Languedoc
A delicious rosť in a modern style: fresh, crisp and dry with strawberry laced sweet fruits and good acidity. Delicate and nicely made. (£4.10 winesoc.co.uk)

Ch‚teau de Lascours 1998, Coteaux du Languedoc Pic Saint-Loup, Rosť
Rosť wines are relatively neglected in the UK, but are drunk by the pitcher-full in the South of France. Attractive Amber/pink colour. Lovely fresh, fruity wine with good acidity, full flavour and a peppery edge. Clean and delicious well chilled. On a warm summer's evening, this is the ideal wine, good with food. (£4.45, winesoc.co.uk)

Valdivieso Malbec Rosť 1999, Central Valley, Chile
Deep orange/red colour. Soft red fruit flavours make it very approachable. Quite alcoholic for a rose (13.5%), but a good glugger none the less. (£4.49 Tesco) 7/00

JYT Wines, NV 'Pink', Hunter Valley, Australia
Semillon with a touch of an undisclosed red variety. Very light pink in colour. Lovely fruity wine in a refreshing, easy-drinking rosť style, to be glugged well chilled. Perhaps a touch pricey for this carefree style? (Cellar door, A$16)

Tamburlaine Petite Fleur 1999, Hunter Valley, Australia
This fruity rose wine is a blend of Pinot Noir, Durif, Chambourcin and Muscadelle. Bright pink colour with a huge nose of sweet strawberry fruit. Very distinctive: the intense palate it is dominated by juicy cherry fruit. Nice summer glugger. (Cellar door, A$14)