David 3 November 2016
Rosé. At last it seems this wonderful style has found a place at the Australian table.
For years there was very little rosé available in Australia and what was here was pretty ordinary. I wondered if no one appreciated rosé in Australia because the quality was so poor or vice versa. Either way, there’s no doubt it had an image problem here for many years. But as Australian tastes have evolved, we’ve realised just how suited it is to our climate and the way we entertain.
In France rosé has outsold white wine since 2008 and I wouldn’t be surprised if we follow suit. One industry report suggests sales of rosé were up 16% last year in Australia.
The juice of nearly all grapes is white, so how is rosé made? Well, the colour comes from the skin of the grapes and winemakers do this in a number of ways:
1. Red grapes are fermented in contact with the skins. After 6-48 hours the partially fermented juice is squeezed out. Because contact with the skins is limited, the partially fermented juice is pink rather than red. Ferment is completed without the skins.
2. Some winemakers bleed off (saignée) some of the juice from their red ferments at an early stage, when the juice is just pink, and use this to make rosé. This increases the skin to juice ratio in the remaining red ferment - the aim being greater depth of colour and tannins. In this case rosé is a by-product rather than the primary aim.
3. Red grapes are crushed and pressed before fermentation takes place. The juice has just the lightest touch of pink and is then fermented like a white wine (ie. not on skins). This technique is sometimes referred to as ‘Vin Gris’.
4. Finally, but not often done, a winemaker may simply blend red and white wine.
Enough of the technical stuff, here are a few drops I’ll be enjoying over summer - two from Australia and two from France.
Yves Cuilleron is one of the leading winemakers of the northern Rhône and I’ve offered his red and white wines before. He’s not a household name like Guigal but still a “superstar of the Northern Rhône,”The Wine Doctor.
Wine Spectator said Cuilleron “continues to assert himself as one of the northern Rhône’s most dynamic vignerons… the leader of Condrieu's new generation of winemakers.”
“In the space of a decade, Yves Cuilleron has established himself as one of the leading lights of France’s northern Rhône.” The Wine Anorak.
Cuilleron is based in the village of Chavanay, just south of the town of Condrieu. It’s also the most northern village in the St Joseph appellation. The 59ha estate is spread across some of the most prestigious appellations of the Northern Rhône, with vineyards in Condrieu, Saint-Joseph (red), Saint-Joseph (white), Côte-Rôtie, Croze-Hermitage, Cornas and Saint-Péray. Yves also has a substantial holding of vineyards (15ha) in and around the town of Chavanay.
Yves has farmed sustainably, for over 20 years and in the winery prefers to use natural yeasts and avoid additions.
This rosé is made from 100% Shiraz, with the handpicked fruit sourced from non AOC parts of Chavanay. Sybel is not a district name, rather a derivation of “belle Syrah.” The wine is made by bleeding off juice after just a few hours maceration with the Shiraz grapes. It’s then fermented using native yeasts in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. After ferment it’s given a further 6 months in tank.
The wine is clear and a very attractive light vermillion. A certain graphic designer tells me that when you see the colour of this rosé… that’s vermillion (otherwise known as orangey red). On the nose there’s a decidedly savoury element, with aromas of spice, pomegranate and cherry. More pomegranate, turkish delight and strawberries greet you on the palate with liquorice, cedar and spice unfolding on the finish. This might sound strange for an unoaked wine, but I’ve come across these seemingly contradictory ‘woody’ flavours in unoaked Rhône wines before. Fresh, crisp and dry, and with fine tannins and a nice astringency. Totally different to any Australian rosé you’ll come across.
“Spicy raspberry and cherry aromas. Textured and lively on the palate, bitter cherry and berry skin flavours. Closes with a touch of spiciness and good length.” James Johnston, World Wine Estates.
“Expressive and charming wine. Acidulous red fruits nose (strawberry, currant and sweet spices). Gourmand on the palate with a nice freshness finish.” Winemaker’s notes, expertly translated.
You’ll find it at the très French, Felix restaurant for $75 a bottle.
I can offer it for $24 a bottle. SOLD OUT
Provence is the home of rosé and Riotor is textbook Provençal rosé. It’s an old favourite of mine and here's why: "Had a blind tasting last year with over 40 rosés at all price points. And not only was this (Riotor) the best in show, it was also the least expensive.”Michael Madrigale, Head Sommelier, Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud (acclaimed New York restaurant group).
Riotor is one of the best Provence rosés for the price.
Château Riotor is located in the magnificent mountains west of Saint-Tropez, within the Côtes de Provence appellation. This beautiful estate has been owned for four generations by the Abeille family, who also own the famed Château Mont-Redon in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (southern Rhône). Since 1988 they’ve worked to extensively renovate the vineyard, winery and chateau, paying off handsomely in the quality of their wines.
The blend is pretty much the same every year: 40% Grenache, 50% Cinsault, 7% Syrah and 3% Vermentino (white). I’m told there’s always been a bit of Vermentino in the blend but they’ve only started declaring it in the last few years.
The wine is a pale rose gold. Crisp, dry and aromatic, you’ll find white peach and cranberries, mingling with melon and musk. On the finish it’s clean and slightly savoury with hints of white pepper and plenty of fresh sherbety acidity. Elegant and delicious.
“Sometimes the rosé from Provence can be so dry it borders on bland but the good ones like Riotor have good texture with lots of crunchy red fruit plus crisp acidity, which keeps them interesting and refreshing.” Sebastian Crowther, sommelier Rockpool. SMH Good Food, 20th October 2015.
“Pale pink. Strawberry, orange zest and white pepper aromas and flavors, joined by a subtle floral nuance in the glass. Minerally and taut in the mouth, loosening up with air and showing good energy. Finishes with good, stony lift and vivacity, leaving a red berry note behind.” Josh Raynolds, 89 points, Vinous Media June 2016.
Hard to beat for the money. You’ll find it at all the best places around town, but I reckon you can’t go past a bottle for $55 at the oh-so-summery Coogee Pavilion.
I can offer it for $25 a bottle. Click here to order new vintage.
Onannon (On-ann-on) is a relatively recent venture between Sam Middleton, Kaspar Hermann and Will Byron - the unusual name is a combination of their surnames. The three young men met while working at Coldstream Hills winery in the Yarra Valley several years ago and combine some great talent. Sam Middleton is third generation winemaker at the iconic Mount Mary winery. Kaspar Hermann has been working at Mount Mary since 2011. Will Byron is currently the winemaker at Stonier Wines in the Mornington. Between them, they've also done a few vintages in Burgundy.
Onannon is a winery headed for great things. Despite only releasing their first wine in 2008, they’re already rated 5 stars by James Halliday’s Wine Companion: “You would have to go a long way to find three more open-hearted and utterly committed winemakers; the world is their oyster, their ambitions unlimited.”
The trio have made a name for themselves with their top Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (from the Mornington Peninsula and Gippsland), receiving rave reviews and scores as high as 97 from top critics, including Halliday.
In 2015 they decided to make a rosé for the first time and, liking the results so much, made one again in 2016.
The wine is a 50:50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Yarra Valley. The fruit was handpicked, gently pressed and the resulting juice lightly fined to clean it up and minimise tannins. While these fellows usually rely on wild yeasts to add an extra dimension to their Pinot and Chardonnay, with this wine they used cultured yeast to ensure the ferment was as clean, pure and fresh as possible. It was fermented in a combination of stainless steel and old oak, after which it was filtered and bottled with minimal SO2.
I had an interesting chat with Will the other day and he mentioned that he thinks Australian rosé made from Pinot (with its flavours of strawberry and raspberry) has the potential to be tutti-frutti. He prefers a dry, savoury style, more akin to those from Bandol, and sees Cabernet and Merlot more suited to such wines.
The wine is clear, bright and a light rose gold colour. Subtle and delicious flavours of honeysuckle, melon and peach greet you on the nose and palate. As the wine opens up you’ll find more exotic flavours of guava, pomegranate and red fruits. Loads of fresh acidity to keep it clean and crisp. Dry and delicious.
Even though the wine has only just been released, I’m told you’ll find it at Eleven Bridge (Rockpool) and Monster Kitchen at Hotel Hotel in Canberra.
Watch out for these guys, you’re going to hear more of them.
I can offer it for $25 a bottle. SOLD OUT
I visited this impressive estate last year - it’s a study in how to do things properly. Medhurst Wines was founded by Ross Wilson who made his fortune as the former CEO of Southcorp and Tabcorp. Ross has a long association with the wine industry, in particular the Yarra Valley, and it was here he acquired a wonderfully positioned property in the mid-1990s. With astute planning and admirable patience, the ensuing two decades saw Ross plant vineyards, build an amazing winery and most recently hire talented young winemaker Simon Steele (ex Brokenwood). Ross’s strategy of putting pieces into place for long-term success is starting to pay off, with the winery receiving some serious recognition.
While the reputation of Medhurst has been built on the back of excellent Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet and Shiraz, Ross is also a major fan of rosé. In fact, he’s such a fan that he had a dedicated rosé vineyard of Shiraz and Cabernet planted in 2000, which is extraordinary given that most estates treat rosé as an afterthought. When Simon was hired a few years ago, it was made clear he was “not to stuff up the rosé!”
I had a chat with Simon last week and he told me the 2016 rosé is
60% Cabernet and 40% Shiraz. The low yielding vines were handpicked (about a week earlier than the non-rosé Shiraz and Cab), with the fruit left overnight in a coolroom to ensure it was cold when pressed the next morning, minimising both oxidation and colour development. Only 500L of juice was obtained per tonne of grapes pressed. Usual rates are around 700L/tonne, indicating just how softly the fruit is squeezed. The harder pressings are sold off to other rosé producers. The gentle pressing not only explains the pale colour, but also means this wine is more expensive to make.
As the two varieties ripen about 2 weeks apart, they were fermented separately, both using cultured champagne yeasts to ensure a clean ferment. Five percent of the ferment took place in old French oak, the rest in stainless steel. Interestingly Simon told me he also chucked a bucket of Chardonnay lees into the ferment to add texture.
Unlike many rosé winemakers, Simon didn’t add any acid to this wine. When winemakers do add acid, they usually end up adding sugar to balance it. Simon reckons this tends to make you feel not so good the next day and is very proud of the fact that this wine has no such additions. He then fermented it to dryness. Simon told me the wine has high ph, ie. low acid, which tends to make it “slippery” (winemaker speak for smooth or drinkable). After light filtering and minimal sulphur, the wine was bottled. Simon’s very happy with it, as is everyone else - each vintage sells out quickly.
The wine is clear, bright and a very pale copper. On the palate it’s clean and bone dry, with subtle notes of strawberry, musk, honeydew and coconut finishing with delicate toasty notes. Its depth, weight and smooth mouthfeel belie its pale colour. Simon has balanced the acid in this wine so well it gives it freshness and vitality without being tart or linear. Its beautiful structure and integration set this wine apart and make it so generous and drinkable.
Gold Medal and Trophy for Best Rosé at the 2016 Yarra Valley Wine Show.
“Very pale copper pink with bright salmon hue. Deliciously elusive fresh fruits including strawberry and raspberry, are supported by hints of fennel and white blossom of jasmine. The palate is savoury and refined with a supple creamy texture. The finish to the wine is superb, fresh fruits and a long chalky delicate phenolic edge that is the trademark of this single vineyard wine.” Randall Pollard, Heart and Soil.
“Dry and herbal but not in a challenging way. Savoury but gluggable. Good way for a rosé to be. Acid, spice and cranberried/cherried/raspberried fruit slings through the finish. This has its skates on - it’s a racy style - but it’s well dressed with flavour. Perfect for the lunch table. Thumbs up.” 92 points, Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front.
Only just released so you won’t find it around town… yet.
I can offer it for $25 a bottle. SOLD OUT