Rosé, is often regarded as a frivolous tipple. The wine may even make some people shiver in revulsion, especially if they've had a bad experience with one (think Gallo's White Zinfandel - a cloyingly sweet concoction from California).
Despite questionable forebears, today's rosés should be taken seriously.
Rosé is produced in three ways. In its most basic form, it is made from red wine grapes with just enough colour to turn it pink. Ranging from a pale salmon orangey pink to a bright almost pinky purple, the intensity of the colour depends on how long the juice of the grapes were in contact with the skins after being crushed (one to three days on average).
The second method is called saignée (French for "bleeding"), in which rosé is created as a by-product of red wine fermentation. In order to increase the tannins and colour of the red wine, some of the juice is removed. As the volume in the vat decreases the remaining must (the juice and pulp from the skins and stems) becomes more concentrated. The juice that is removed (the future rosé) is fermented separately and treated as a white wine. I recently tried a wine that was made using this method - Margan Shiraz Saignée Rosé - and was struck by its juicy berry and cherry aromas with white pepper.
The third method for making rosé is blending, which is discouraged (and sometimes prohibited by law) in most winemaking regions, except Champagne, France, where champagne houses may blend in a bit of still red wine to make rosé. However, most reputable champagne houses prefer to use the saignée method as they believe it imparts more character and flavour to the final product.
How can you tell which method was used? Go by the colour - if the rosé champagne is a more subtle salmon pink (Louis Roederer Rosé is a classic, and it also makes the top-notch Cristal Rosé), it was produced using the saignée method. If it is a bright pink (almost fuchsia), chances are it was made by blending red wine into it (Piper-Heidsieck Rosé, for example).
One man who takes his rosés seriously is Sacha Lichine, owner of Château d'Esclans in Provence. His father, Alexis Lichine, who was known as the "Pope of Wine", authored the books Wines of France (1952) and Encyclopedia of Wines & Spirits (1967), which evolved into Alexis Lichine's New Encyclopedia of Wines and Spirits (1988). The Lichines also owned Château Prieuré Lichine (sold in 1999) and Château Lascombes (sold in 1971), both in Bordeaux.
I was fortunate to share with the younger Lichine a glass of his pink wine and ask him why he was so interested in rosé. I was also rather curious to know why he went from being a chateau owner in Bordeaux to making rosé in Provence. "Bordeaux is so boring now," he said. "There's no innovation there anymore. My goal with my rosés is to give them the same status as top-end Burgundies, which is why I only use grapes from old vines."
Lichine's old vines average in age from 60 to 80 or more years and he uses Burgundian winemaking techniques, such as hand-picking the grapes in small lots and collecting them in baskets containing dry ice; and a cool fermentation method that involves placing cooling tubes in Burgundy barrels - rather than steel vats - to slow fermentation, thereby adding aromas and complexity to the wine.
The supply of Garrus, his top single-vineyard rosé (priced at HK$1,000 a bottle, and available only by allocation), is limited to just six barrels a year. Lichine built up demand for this wine by personally selling his first vintage in 2006 to yacht owners docked in St Tropez and Monaco, who wanted something no one else had.
Rosé wine can be enjoyed with almost anything - it has more "oomph" than a white, without the tannins that come with a red. It pairs well with seafood and red meat - perfect for barbecues.
Plus, of course, rosé is consumed chilled, which makes it even more tempting when it's hot outside.