A Rosé by any other name

EMILE JOUBERT welcomes the return of rosé wines to South African wineries in a guise very different from the semi-sweet Portuguese version that held sway for so long.

All wines are, obviously, not created equal. Especially not rosé, the floral-hued style of wine associated with summer and its related partners of sun and play and alfresco dining, preferably where an expanse of water is involved.

Until the beginning of the previous decade, most South Africans thought of rosé wine as a semi-sweet, alcopop style characterised by a shade of deep pink resembling candyfloss, eye shadow or lingerie, depending on your particular mindset. This association was prompted by one particular wine, Mateus Rosé from Portugal. Released to the world after the Second World War, Mateus became one of the biggest-selling wines of all time, peaking at sales of 36 million bottles a year. For decades, rosé was associated with Mateus and the Mateus style: sweetish, fleshy pink and with a slightly pétillant zing.

But in France, of course, things have always been different. Southern France, particularly the Provence region, had been making and consuming rosé long before the Mateus boom. And the Provençal rosé was about as far removed in style from the candy-cooler offering of Mateus as peri-peri chicken is from Burgundian coq au vin.

The French wine is lighter in colour, drier in taste and overall more delicate and refreshing than the semi-sweet pink rosé. Yet barring a few exceptions, until 10 years ago most of the local rosé made and consumed was of the latter style, ensuring that the name rosé suffered from a one-dimensional association.

So the evolution of rosé wine in South Africa has been as refreshing as an ice-cold glass of the pink wine sipped in a cloud of Atlantic sea spray. More producers introduced dry, classical rosés into their portfolios. Consumers latched on and volumes grew, as did the number of wineries producing rosé.

For me, the old school semi-sweet rosé is not to be eschewed. A bottle of Mateus still goes down a storm, even if it is just for a bit of nostalgia. But the dry, Provençal styles from the Cape have not only added an excellent category to the local wine offering, but also helped in introducing many consumers to wine.

To create this traditional French style, red grapes are lightly pressed. The juice is allowed to run off before the skin can impart most of its colour and tannic grip into the wine. But the slight, ever so slight, whisper of the red skins gives the juice a brush of berry taste as well as the all-important colour that makes rosé, well, rosé – from pale pink to a lighter shade of salmon to onion skin.

L’Avenir Glenrosé

The name is a play on the Glenrosa soil found on this Simonsberg estate and the wine is part of winemaker Dirk Coetzee’s journey to create greatness from the Pinotage grape, as he has done with L’Avenir’s robustly elegant red wines. The rosé was inspired by a visit to Provence, where the reverence with which this style is approached and the enjoyment with which the wine is consumed convinced him that L’Avenir required such a wine in its stable. Arguably South Africa’s leading example of a premium rosé, the wine originates from Pinotage grapes grown in a single vineyard. Only free-run juice is captured and the time on skin is determined in different batches. To add complexity, a portion of the rosé is given a few months in used oak.

Show-stopping packaging includes a classy bottle with floral design on the punt: (bottom) and a Vinolok glass capsule closure through which the wine seduces with a colour combining onion skin and desert dusk. To taste, this rosé is life-affirming in re- freshment, the evocative colour brought to life with notes of dry flowers, sour cherry and an intriguing marine note of just-shucked oyster shell.

Waterkloof Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdre Rosé

The punchy Mourvèdre grape from southern France is known for its meaty juice which, when given a brief run over its ink-purple skins, is a superb base for a rosé wine. The grapes are whole-bunch pressed – very gently – without any further skin contact required to give the juice a light salmon hue. Fermentation occurs through indigenous wild yeasts and takes place in wooden fermenters, allowing just the required degree of oxidation to layer the final wine with character.

It all ends brilliantly with a rosé that shows texture on the palate and permits the playful flavours of berry and potpourri to carry through to a crisp, dry finish. Like the L’Avenir, the wine has a slight ocean-spray saltiness that only adds to the overall and intriguing pleasure of a fantastic rosé.

Pink Valley Rosé

This Helderberg winery is the only South African cellar committed solely to making rosé wine, so the meticulous approach in the cellar is to be expected. The
wine is a blend of Sangiovese, Grenache and Shiraz and the final product is exceptionally light in colour, with just the slightest shade of onion skin leading you to believe the label that depicts it as a rosé. The slightness of colour is achieved by keeping the vinification process as cool as possible. Harvested grapes are cooled to 4°C before being destemmed and crushed, and the juice is kept at 2.5oC for a month before fermentation begins.

Light in colour but heavy on taste and presence, the wine runs with bright flavours that range from tropical to mineral and exudes an extreme degree of freshness that makes for alarming drinkability. This is a two-bottle lunch-time wine with all the character and finesse of classical rosé.

Vergelegen Florence Rosé

The latest offering from this blue-blooded Cape estate is made predominantly from Malbec grapes with a bit of Shiraz, both of which are grown on the Helderberg farm. Winemaker André van Rensburg is as serious about making rosé as he is about making any other Vergelegen wine and believes in whole-bunch pressing to limit colour and the extraction of phenols. Like his neighbours at Pink Valley, he likes to keep things cool and insists on the grape juice be- ing stored for 24 hours at 10 ̊C to further lower the phenolic content and to allow the colour to reach the perfect hue. Cold fermentation and storage for two weeks follow before the wine is stabilised and bottled, resulting in a fruit-forward rosé that shows energy and charm in its mélange of berry flavours, floral perfume and tangy, citrus zest.

Babylonstoren Mourvèdre Rosé

Of course, a farm with such a reputation for gardens, flowers and all things representing a manicured country lifestyle must surely have a rosé among its wine offerings. Using Mourvèdre grapes from the northern side of Simonsberg is a great choice, as the abundance of sun and the warm harvest temperatures enable this Mediterranean variety to show its best side, especially when vinified as rosé. Delicious- ly austere, this wine has an attractive copper-salmon colour and floral-berry notes that bounce on the pal- ate; its delightful vibrancy epitomises the true heart of rosé, while an intriguing salty-savoury character lingers on the finish. It’s superb.

Delheim Pinotage Rosé

There’s nothing fancy in one of the Cape’s stalwart rosé offerings from a venerable Simonsberg estate, but it is pink, it is fresh and it gives lots of gluggable pleasure. Pinotage is a fine foundation for rosé, as L’Avenir also shows, perhaps because one half of the grape’s DNA is Cinsaut and Cinsaut is a formidable part of southern France’s vineyard offering. Delheim presses lightly and uses free-run juice that is inoculated with differ- ent yeast strains to attain the style of the final product. Bracing in its dryness, the wine’s initial austerity leads to notes of strawberry, black olive and ocean kelp. Fun to drink.

Almenkerk Lace Rosé

Elgin, home of Almenkerk, is known for Pinot Noir on the red grape side, so it is a surprise to find this estate’s rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon, a rare find in this neck of the woods. Cabernet Sauvignon grown in this area’s cool climate makes for a wonderful rosé, especially for those, like me, who prefer a rosé to have a bit more ‘vooma’. The bled-off juice gives the wine an onion-skin and sunrise colour, with a lovely herbaceous and sea-breeze whiff on the nose. Hugely satisfying in the mouth, the wine oozes sour cherry and plum, with an invigorating hint of ocean mist. For a rosé, this wine has a kiss-
me, lingering grip as one would expect from a Cabernet offspring, yet it still maintains the energetic thrust of a drinkable and satisfying pink wine.

Waterford Rose-Mary

This venerable Stellenbosch estate will push the envelope when given free rein and with its rosé, the Waterford team offers a palette of red grapes from which the juice is bled off to craft the pink wine in question. The wine is a heady blend of Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, Cinsaut and Sangiovese, which makes for an exciting rosé. Tempranillo and Sangiovese give the rosé quite a whack of structure in thin threads of tannins and a firm minerality. The other three varieties, all French, offer plushness, aroma and berryesque body splashed with blueberry, black- currant and lavender. Dry as a buried bone, the wine is delicate and elegant, while at the same time exuding a moreish freshness.

La Motte Vin Joie Rosé

Appropriately for a farm named after a village in the south of France, this rosé is made from Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah: (Shiraz). Lightly onion skin in colour, this has all the hallmarks of a well-crafted, classic rosé. Fairly neutral on the nose, it’s all about freshness, the one non-negotiable feature any rosé
worth its salt should have. As it races through the mouth, you pick up darts of strawberry, a wisp of candyfloss and a succulence that could derive from a nectarine.

Glenelly le Rosé de May 

A full-on Shiraz rosé, this is another pink wine not shy to show some curves and a fleeting glimpse of cleavage. The colour is a bit darker than the modern rosé pundits prescribe, but it doesn’t matter as the wine looks as shimmeringly and deliciously ruby as it tastes. Brilliant berry flavours ranging from cranberry to strawberry snuggle onto the palate, while there is a crisp, crunchy effect from the umami-like taste of pomegranate. Dry, but not austere and meagrely lean, this rosé is lip-smacking and delicious.

Delaire Graff Cabernet Franc Rosé

With its head in the clouds and arms hug- ging a heavenly floral garden, Delaire Graff, atop the Banghoek Valley, leads one to expect an elegant and classy rosé. Cellar mas- ter Morné Vrey uses Cabernet Franc and bleeds off the juice after the grape skins have given the wine a gorgeous onion-skin and coral tint. The wine is then fermented to a bone-dry state in which the quality of the fruit allows for darting flavours. Red berries plus a smidgen of sour cherry make for a delightfully perfumed rosé. This is a high day in summer bottled by a terrific winemaker.

Chamonix pinot Noir Rosé 

Known for its fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines, Chamonix launched a charm- ing rosé this year with no wild, gregarious fanfare. A 100% Pinot Noir rosé, the wine shows the flirtatiously fruity and disarming- ly decadent side of Pinot that is not experienced when the grape is used to its brooding splendour as a red wine. The rosé from this Franschhoek estate invigorates with a citrus-zest and green-plum succulence before presenting an array of floral and candyfloss notes. Chilled to the bone, this is a dry and exuberant wine with which to live the life of the rosé drinker, namely anytime is the right time. Like now.