The North Americans call it ‘blush’. To the Italians the wine is referred to as rosato and in Spain, it is Rosado. They are all pink wines. But until a few years ago I used to shun them. How could one ever take a wine, with a frivolous colour such as pink, seriously?
Pink wines are not even a blend of white or red. They are wines that may have been destined to be red but somehow they missed the boat; or to be precise, they do not go through the maceration process. Rosés, as the French call them, are usually made by siphoning off the juice of red grapes after a brief contact with the color-bearing grape skins. Longer contact, known as maceration would turn the wine red.
Not white, not red, the wine must have been an embarrassment for Californian winemakers. During the Gold Rush, the object was to make lots of white wine to quench the thirst of sweaty miners. The red Zinfandel grape was used but somehow, the wine took on a crimson tinge, making many a winemaker blush because he failed to produce a wine of pure clarity. By the late sixties the jug wines in California were mainly blush – alcoholic and cheap.
In those carefree days, there was no wine snobbism. Anyone hosting a backyard BBQ would have bottles of pink chilling in a bucket. Those were also the days when I tasted my first wine, a Mateus rose that came in an oversized perfume bottle, which I promptly turned into a candle holder.
One day, at the buffet table, an influential male banker took me aside and whispered, “Pink wines are for women and effeminate men!” Immediately, my full glass of pink disappeared behind a huge platter of chicken wings. Thereafter, I was initiated into the world of big heavy reds. I began drinking classified growths and getting on the mailing lists of rare cult wines which conferred kudos on the drinker. It was the era of see and be seen. Like most men in Singapore, I believed I would never want to be caught holding a glass of pink wine in public – it would be akin to wearing leopard-spotted leotards to a black-tie gala.
It was when I visited the French Riviera that I noticed that everybody enjoyed rosé wines with their grilled Dorade Royale, or cold lobster, or Bouillabaisse or even spicy mutton Cous Cous. The most brutish of men did not bat even an eyelid on ordering the wine. “Vin de rosé, s’il vous plait,” they would say in low reverberating voices to the sommeliers who would always nod approvingly.
With seafood, red wines interact badly, throwing off a metallic taste in the mouth. Pink wines are the perfect accompaniment to seafoods, especially those served up with sauces whose flavours often overcome the delicate nature of white wines. After France, my days as a closet rosé wine drinker came to an end.
The true wine connoisseur has been known to remark that pink wines can be more appealing than either white or red wines. The colours of rosé wine range from the palest pink to light cherry with a copper tints. And if you tilt the glass and look into them, some even have onion skin hues with purple grey edges – the hallmark of a fine wine. It is no wonder that some pink wines have taken names such as “vin gris” (“gray wine”) or “oeil de perdrix” (“partridge eye”). In fact, one can colour-coordinate pink wines to many foods. Rosé Champagne is the perfect partner for salmon even in taste.
Taste wise, pink wines combine the cool refreshment of a white wine with ripe berry flavours and textures of light red wine. This means you can not only drink them at lunch but also enjoy them on a sweltering tropical evening when the alternative, a red wine would send you to sleep.
French rosé is generally made from grape varieties such as Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvedre although you could get pink wines from any red grape. The Italians might make pink wines from Sangiovese to go with their antipasti, whilst the Spanish Garnacha-based or Tempranillo-based rosados are quite delicious. If the Australian versions are similar to the European wines, the American ‘white zinfandel’ or blush is often sweeter.
These days, Californians too, drink blush without turning red. In fact, the dryer Californian rosés have moved from the BBQ-patio to cooler places, appearing in cocktails called “Sex on the Beach” or “Moon Light Swim.” I have only gone so far as to serve pink wine on the rocks. But I always have rosé on Valentine’s Day (it matches the roses) but most of all, it is the perfect wine for pepper crab!