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Rosé-tinted specs…

It would be true to say that there are many things that divide opinion amongst wine consumers. Oaked or un-oaked, ‘malo’ or single ferment, cork or screwcap.

Mixed triviality weightings in the wider context perhaps, but each is important in understanding the nuances of the wine in bottle. An understanding of how a wine is made, and indeed caring about the differences in practice, often informs our wine-buying choices.

We rely on quality levels and appellations to guarantee authenticity, and by learning the rules, the wine-buying game becomes one of strategy, rather than one of chance.

Of course, there are many laws and rules that can be relied upon – but what if the rules changed and nobody told you?

As concerns rosé wines, with exception of rosé Champagne, EU quality status rosé wine cannot be a blend of white wine and red wine. Thus you cannot make rosé if you have simply masked poor white wine by adding a splash of red and vice-versa.

The upshot of this is that each rosé wine is an EU-wide quality guarantee – the rosé colour comes from gently extracting pigment from approved black -skinned grapes. You can mix black and white grapes, and indeed some EU rosé wines contain a majority of white grapes, but they must be crushed and fermented together.

The trouble is, this quality guarantee is about to be overturned by an EU vote in the coming weeks – lifting the restriction on red and white blending.

Understandably, many French and Spanish producers are strongly opposed to the move, citing years of tradition and expertise as having created an international benchmark for rosé, whilst many experimental producers are keen for the move to happen, and quickly.

New World winemakers can blend rosé as they see fit. Indeed, like much so much of the New World winemaking, rosé blending is seen as progressive step from the archaic clutches of the European wine dinosaurs.

The resultant rosés can be a mixture of several different wines and the relaxed rules on sugar addition via chaptalisation make for an increasing number of, in the words of one customer, ‘one-size fits all’ roses.

There is no doubting the popularity of them. The comparatively quick assembly of the product is more cost-effective and ensures that there is maximum grape juice to wine conversion – resulting in much lower costs all round. It’s the stuff 3-for-a-fiver dreams are made off.

The question remains, is the current EU policy really a quality guarantee of well made wines, or is it merely an out-of-touch restriction that is pushing the Old World further behind its counterparts in term of raw output volume?

No-one can deny that Domaine Ott’s fantastic Bandol rosé would not be the same wine if it had a high proportion of low-grade Sauvignon in it. You really do get a sense of the non-intrusive and careful winemaking that have contributed to making it the delightfully delicate masterpiece it is.

Without the restriction, smaller EU producers would surely be tempted to cross-blend when an unkind vintage left the single-varietal output lacking any real quality.

This said, there are plenty of fantastic New World rosés, so the lack of restriction can’t be so bad, can it? Santa Rita make a fantastic rosé – much richer in colour that the typical Provence offering, but not nearly as sugary as so many bland New World examples.

Is heritage being wiped away under a flex of legislative muscle or, with the demise of the sanguine method, is it first blood to a customer-conscious New World focussed on giving consumerism a recession-soothing boost?

Presently black and white, the rules on EU rosé look set to become a new haze of red and white, sweetened with carefully measured economic promise.

Here’s to a comfortable resolution – roll the dice please…

My Wine of the Week

Château Sainte Marguerite Organic Rosé 2008 Côtes de Provence, Cru Classé – £9.99

A recent boom in the UK’s consumption of rosé has caused the market to be flooded with a sizeable amount of patchy examples. Not this one though…

Delightfully fresh and light on it’s toes, it has the mid-palate texture that is missing from so many of its competitors.

Ripe apricot, tangerine and peach are interweaved with a light acidity that presents the fruit to your palate, then bows away so as not to impede the main event.

Pale it may be, bland it is certainly not.

Be careful not to over-chill it though – an extra couple of degrees will reveal a complexity that is both surprising and overwhelmingly appealing.

Oh, and it’s organic too.

  • Brian Thompson

    Thought this was a fascinating article. You can see the pros and cons for both sides but if it works at the moment why change it? I like the idea of buying wine being like a game, it’s so true!

  • Pedro Domingues

    Hi really nice blog,

    We are 4 students of the School of Economics and Management (UCP Lisbon) conducting our MSc. Dissertation.
    An important part of our work will be based on a Survey involving 400 UK consumers. In it, we ask questions about wine, in particular about Port Wine.
    This is the survey address:

    http://www.questionpro.com/akira/TakeSurvey?id=1243620