The assumption that pink has a feminine hue, that women naturally love its soft, skin-coloured permutations while men turn away in distaste, is both recent and untrue: it is merely a matter of fashion. Roman senators wore purple because the dye, from sea snails, was expensive; Louis XIV’s shoes had scarlet heels.
The notion that pink wine is for girls has everything to do with modern mores and nothing to do with gender, colour or drink. After all, if we ladies are now permitted to apply our feeble muscles to the lifting of a pint, should a gentleman hankering after a cool glass of wine be limited to white, lest outdated aspersions be cast on his masculinity?
The idea of gendered tastes
is based on the notion that men are strong, dark and decisive, while women are pallid and foolish and have a fondness for sweets. This is only marginally sillier than the idea that a given colour has a gender.
Rosé wine, sashaying across the palette from pale salmon to deep carmine, is frequently beautiful and sometimes delicious. I love the herbaceous rosés of Provence, made mainly from Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre, and as gentle in colour as their native landscape is brash. I usually avoid darker rosés – dyed by longer contact with red grape skins – as too forceful. Instead, I’ll drink Cinsault-based Lebanese wine or tawny Australian by Spinifex, in the Barossa Valley.
I have tempered the feel-good sensation of sun salutations on a Moroccan yoga retreat with a local wine the colour of sunset; and soothed the pain of regular working hours, back when I still laced myself into that particular corset, with gallons of Lombardian Cà dei Frati.
Last week, I ate John Dory and celeriac purée with Pinot Noir from Albourne Estate in Sussex, a delicately savoury wine called white but glowing a lovely pink-orange.
Why not call it rosé, I asked Albourne’s owner, Alison Nightingale. Because, she said, the grapes are removed very promptly from the skins, so the colour varies according to the vintage – the 2015, which I tried, is pinker than most. Also, “We’re funny about rosé in this country: we only drink it in summer and only want the current vintage. So, as a small vineyard, we’d have to have it ready by May and all sold by August, or we’d be stuck with it.” She didn’t add that the marketing of this wine is generally limited to the 51 per cent of the population that has cerise balloons in place of brain cells, but she could have.
It’s odd to drink according to the season, particularly in Britain; still, I like the idea of a wine whose colour changes to reflect the year’s weather. The oddity is that long ago, before the technological knowledge to keep the juice of red grapes clear of the skins, most good wines would have been pink. That is why red Bordeaux is known as claret: clairet meant “clear” or “pale”, until the wines and the English adjective darkened to maroon.
Meanings change just as styles do, and surely the time has come for rosé to cast off antiquated associations. Men should indulge the sensuality and, yes, vulnerability signalled by a wine the colour of skin. As for women, I leave them with the wonderfully barbed advice of Kay Thompson’s fashion magazine editor in Funny Face, a film that also hides a great deal behind frivolous colour and seeming transparency: “Now I wouldn’t presume to tell a woman what a woman ought to think, but tell her – if she’s gotta think, think pink!” l
Next week: John Burnside on nature
This article appears in the 17 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies