Drinking pink: why rosé is more than an insipid pastel prop

Maybe it's the reluctance to slide towards winter, but I'm staying in spring by sipping on a liquid the colour of sunrise.  

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Here we are in the season of umber and vermilion, and all I want to drink is pink. Never mind that it’s the colour of spring, of lambs’ ears, vulnerable and translucent, and of budding roses. Maybe it’s a reluctance to slide towards winter, in this strangest of years. Or a gloomy understanding that vulnerability, in 2020, is not seasonal. Whatever the reason may be, that’s what I crave: all kinds of pink, from mild embarrassment to raspberry. 

And the more of it I drink, the less sure I am that rosé is quite the pastel prop we tend to assume. The dried thyme and rosemary rosés of Provence, so pale they are barely a tint, have inspired a belief that the more insipid the colour, the better the contents. This is as ridiculous as the idea that blondes have more fun. The most common way to make a pink wine is to press red grapes without immediately removing the skins, so that they colour and flavour the juice: that is, you take something pallid and add substance.

A rarer method is simply to blend red and white grapes, which is how Jonatan García Lima of Suertes del Marques winery, in northern Tenerife, makes his Sortevera Clarete. These sturdy century-old vines, indigenous varieties with musical names (Marmajuelo, Negramoll) all jumbled together on the same mist-wrapped patch of volcanic slope, have seen a lot, and have survived to make this raspberry-coloured, exuberant wine. Never underestimate a centenarian.

I was there in January, unaware that our own eruption was imminent. In February I drank my last Domaine de la Mordorée La Dame Rousse from Tavel, the all-rosé appellation across the Rhône from Châteauneuf-du-Pape: a luminous, cerise wine that’s about as insipid as a lava flow.

By March, locked down in Burgundy, I was drinking my way around France: amber, insistently aromatic Richoux Pinot Noir rosé from Irancy, near Chablis; La Gourmandise, a Gamay-Merlot blend made by the Côteaux de Glanes cooperative in the Dordogne Valley. Seven winemakers in one village, working in harmony: if that wasn’t inspiration, for a family of six squeezed into a small house, then the crimson wine was at least consolation for the adults. As summer came, I travelled farther, to South Africa via Babylonstoren, a ballet-pink, rose petal-flavoured Mourvèdre, and to Australia’s King Valley, and vines planted by mid-century Italian immigrants who had fled war and farmed tobacco, only to see that market falter. Holly’s Garden Pinot Ramato, Pinot Grigio left on its skins to turn copper-coloured, is a full-bodied, almost chewy rosé that has the tang of survival. Maybe we could all drink it as a vaccine.

Wine symbolises renewal: plucked grapes are resurrected as nectar, their vinegary fate postponed. Looking at a liquid the colour of sunrise, I can believe that spring will come again. Perhaps that’s why, back in London at last, I returned to the place I had just left.

Bruno Clair has vineyards in some of the most admired, and expensive, parts of the Côte de Nuits – Bonnes Mares, Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée – but he also makes an elegant, savoury and much cheaper Marsannay rosé. As the sun set and the colour drained from the bottle, Clair’s hard work buoyed my faltering positivity. As long as so little in the world is black and white, I will persist in longing for pink.

Nina Caplan is the 2018 and 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and the 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman, and the author of The Wandering Vine: Wine, The Romans and Me, published by Bloomsbury. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

 

This article appears in the 25 September 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The autumn of discontent

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