Do rose wine and oak-aged Chardonnay deserve a second chance?
Drinking the unthinkable: Why it's time for a rethink on pink and to give Chardonnay a chance
Surely real men don't drink rosé wine? And aren't some white wines a bit Footballer's Wives? Tom Bruce-Gardyne contemplates drinking the unthinkable.
With four daughters, three of whom were heavily into Barbie, various shades of pink were for years a major feature in my house. From baby clothes to bedroom walls it imposed itself pretty much from day one, and I can tell you it felt pretty girlie to me. It certainly coloured my attitude to the colour pink. As a wine writer, it inevitably led to a certain amount of introspection. Could a real man ever drink rosé?
Sales of pink wine have been growing strongly in the last ten years and today over one in eight bottles consumed in the UK is now rosé. Somehow it seems unlikely that it's all drunk by women. There are as many shades of rosé as there are of lipstick and they vary from wines with a translucent pallor to those with an almost scarlet hue, whose intensity rivals red wines like Beaujolais and Burgundy. In the middle, and not exactly promoting the wine’s manly credentials, sit the so-called blush wines that originated in California and are now widely copied. There are instantly recognisable by their lurid, neon pink colour.
That saccharine, candy-coated pink fest known as Valentine’s Day, when the supermarkets are awash with heart-shaped helium balloons and special offers on pink wines, sparkling or still, hardly furthers the cause for well-made rosé. And this has a knock-on effect among wine producers, plenty of whom view pink wine as a none-too-serious side-line.
Outside Europe you can make a rosé by simply taking a white and blending in a bit of red, which is what happens with many of the big volume brands out there, and, it should be noted, with Rose Champagne. Any remotely serious still rosé, however, will follow the classic method of crushing black grapes, letting the juice and skins soak together for anything up to 24 hours, before removing the skins and fermenting it like a white wine. As the colour bleeds into the juice, so do some of the tannins to give rosé just a bit more structure and body.
As with everything colour is skin deep yet it can give a crude indication to the style of rosé. Anything so pale it could have been tinted with a single drop of blood, like a classic Rosé de Provence, will tend to be dry, if not bone dry, though it's worth remembering that the depth of colour depends on the grape variety and the length of time spent soaking on the skins. However, anything that looks the slightest bit artificial – as though it might glow in the dark – will tend to be sweet, if not sickly sweet, especially if it includes the words ‘Blush’, ‘Blossom Hill’ or 'Zinfandel'. In my view, they taste like liquid bubble gum, are not so much ‘girlie’ as adolescent, and grown-ups should avoid them whatever their sex.
Having cleared that one up – the other urban myth I’d like to expose concerns chardonnay and whether it is still OK to like a white wine that has been topping the charts for decades. Back in the eighties we simply couldn’t get enough Aussie chardonnay which stormed the shelves, bursting with tropical fruit flavours and framed in sweet, vanilla-scented oak. At the height of its fame it was even serenaded by Australia’s cultural attaché, Sir Les Patterson. 'Shar - don - aaaay …. shar – don - aaaay. It's the up-market drink of today,' he crooned in a drinking song of deliciously bad taste.
Boy did we love the stuff. It was richer and more full-bodied than most of us had ever tasted in a white wine. Compared to mass-market muscadet or soave, it was like coming off rationing and gorging on sweets. The whites of the Old World suddenly seemed thin and insipid compared to the exuberance of the New World.
But barely had it achieved mass-market status, than wine’s chattering classes deemed it to be a bit naff. It was with a bottle of chardonnay that pyjama-clad Bridget Jones would snuggle up having been dumped again by some smooth-talking lothario.
Worse was to come with Chardonnay Lane-Pascoe in ITV's Footballer's Wives. Having famously set her silicone breasts on fire with a candelabra, she died at the start of the third series. Seeing her name writ large in a wreath at her funeral, some viewers probably concluded it really was Chardonnay RIP – and have been drinking pinot grigio ever since.
It is their loss, for the ubiquitous Italian cannot match chardonnay for its depth and breadth of flavour from brittle, bone dry Chablis which has not seen a splinter of oak, to the most voluptuous, barrel-fermented beauty from California’s Napa valley. In between you can expect every shade of oak ageing and a spectrum of fruit flavours from crisp apple to mango, banana and pineapple.
Of course too much chardonnay is grown in the wrong place with producers chasing the market rather than planting what really suits their vineyards, yet there is plenty that is well-matched from a wider range of wine regions than almost any other grape. No, chardonnay’s biggest crime is merely it’s popularity. Of course familiarity breeds contempt, but that is just with one perceived style. It may be fashionable to dismiss the grape, but when people say they hate chardonnay, they usually mean the flaccid, over-oaked examples of the past, most of which are long gone, thank goodness.
Having worked in the wine trade, Tom Bruce-Gardyne has been writing about his favourite subject for over a decade, and now has an award-winning drinks column in The Herald