Rosé wines

Yes, Bordeaux makes rosé wines also... even if they have only just realised that it can be more than a by-product of their reds.   In fact, the Bordelais have been making this style of wine for almost 1,000 years. The original wine that was exported to England back in the 12th century was a version of today’s rosé. Known as clairet, (yes, the origin of claret) it was a light red wine that would most likely have been undrinkable within about six months of production, because there was no clever technology at the time for preserving wines in ways that allowed them to age. With the addition of sulphur and other anti-oxidising tricks, this of course is no longer a problem, but the Bordelais still make both clairet and rosé wines.  

Traditionally, it is made in Bordeaux largely by ‘bleeding’ off some liquid from the red wine barrels at the start of fermentation in order to concentrate what remains behind. Rather than just chucking it out, they bottle and sell it, but there is rarely the idea of treating the grapes differently to specifically make a quality rosé.   This is changing, however, as the market for this style of wine increases (although in appellations such as Saint Emilion or most of the Medoc, you are probably always going to get saignées, or bleeded-off rosés, simply because the worth of the vines for red wine is so much greater than that for pink). I will list here some of the best (in no particular order)...

Les Hauts de Smith Rosé 2008

Light, fresh pink in colour, a classic blush with lovely brilliance. Really like this nose, there is a saltiness to it, for me it smells very strongly of crushed rose petals, giving it an almost end-of-summer wistfulness. 2/3 cabernet sauvignon, 1/3 cabernet franc. 8-10,000 bottles made each year. The wine is not selected from particular parcels of vines, but from the best of that particular year (using the bleeding off method). All vinified in stainless steel, then into barrel with battonage. Very nice balance in this wine, really enjoyed this one.

(tasted 5/5/2009 at Kinette Gautier, served with oysters)

Chateau Malartic Lagravière, Le Rosé  de Malartic 2008
A very vibrant raspberry pink. Made by the saignée method, this is 65% merlot, 30% cabernet sauvignon and 5% cabernet franc, all planted at 10,000 vines per hectare. The grapes are left to macerate just long enough to ensure a good structure, and a slight turbidity is kept before it begins fermentation to keep a roundness in the wine. No oak at all, which means you get to fully concentrate on the star-bright fruits - which are good and perky, just as you want from this type of wine, it has a good pace and finishes with pleasing crispness. Michel Rolland consults on this, as he does with the reds at the estate - and I like that it's closed with screwcap, nothing should get between a thirst and a glass of chilled rosé! Around 21,000 bottles per year.

(tasted 5/5/2009 at Kinette Gautier, served with veal)  

Rosé by Michel Rolland 2008
The colour of this is very warm, full of amber and soft reds. It is classified as a Vin de Table because the grapes come from a number of Rolland's estates, including Fontenil, Le Bon Pasteur and La Grand Clot - so all Right Bank, merlot dominated. All hand harvested, as fully ripe as you would expect from Rolland, vinified in stainless steel at maximum of 18 degrees. Very fruity, generous wine, not enormously high acidity, but very enjoyable, and I enjoyed the fact that it wasn't too sweet despite the ripe fruit.

(tasted 5/5/2009 at Kinette Gautier, served with strawberries)

Clara de Clos Dubreuil, Bordeaux Clairet 2007
A clairet rather than a rosé (decided according to intensity of colour), this is an unashamedly foodie wine that stood up enormously well to the difficult pairing of smoked salmon. Aged in 100% new oak barrels for six months, 50% Burgundy, 50% Bordeaux, with lees stirring. 90% merlot, 10% cabernet franc. Quite savoury, sour cherries, slightly smoky, very good structure but delicate at the same time. Lacks some aromatic freshness, but this is a very attractive wine. Just 2,400 bottles of this are made each year.

(tasted 5/5/2009 at Kinette Gautier, served with smoked salmon)

Château Thieuley Rosé 2008
The only one in the line-up at Kinette Gautier that is made from grapes harvested especially for a rosé wine (about 10 days earlier than the reds), and instead of bleeding off the red wine, this keeps the juice of the red grapes in skin contact for around 10-12 hours, and then vinifies as for a white wine - with cold settling, alcoholic fermenation in stainless steel vats at 16 degrees, and again screwcap closure (interestingly, they used entirely screwcap in 2007 but have gone back to 1/3 screwcap 2/3 cork this year after negative reception). 100% cabernet sauvignon. For me, there is strong orange blossom on the nose, lovely aromatic freshness, gorgeous floral qualities and gentle minerality. This estate makes a clairet also, and only began the rosé two years ago - very successfully in my opinion.

(tasted 5/5/2009 at Kinette Gautier, served with prawns and rose petals!)

Clos Fourtet Rosé 2008
As with many of the wines here, this estate began producing a rosé two years ago, with the 2006 vintage. Quite a dark brooding pink, they produce 5,000 bottles a year, but the saignée method. Can feel a touch of alcohol on the palate, but there is a good structure to counter-balance it, and firm fruit. 60% merlot, 40% cabernet franc (a higher proportion of cabernet franc than for their red wine). Wild strawberries, ripe summer fruits. Feel that it could have a better aromatic expression (even with all that cabernet franc!), but there is a lovely crispness to this wine on the palate, and it finishes very dry, which gives it great elegance.

(tasted 5/5/2009 at Kinette Gautier, served with fillet de lisette)

Chateau de Sours, Bordeaux Rose 2007
Well known as being one of the region's best, owner Martin Krejewski inherited a strong existing market for Chateau de Sours (it had once been described by Auberon Waugh as ‘probably the best rosé in the world’ and was previously owned by Esme Johnson of Majestic Wine Warehouse). After his purchase, he immediately set about capitalising on this, by doubling production with the addition of new parcels of grapes, and introducing a more modern look and feel with a screw-cap rather than cork closure. The Chateau de Sours rose is 100% merlot, and crucially is made with grapes that are harvested specifically for rosé wine. What that means is they pick the grapes earlier than they would for red wine, when the levels of acidity are slightly higher. A good rosé needs crispness and acidity that might be off-putting in a red wine, but that are essential in a light and fresh summer drink to enjoy with a group of friends - this one does it for me. (tasted at the chateau in early 2008. You should be moving on to the 2008 version soon, although the 07 is still drinking well.)

Chateau de la Tour de By Rose, 2008
This is the first year that Chateau le Tour de By has made a rose for general sale (particularly targeting the UK and Holland apparantly) - previously they have made one in tiny quantities just for family and private clients. I'm often unconvinced by Bordeaux rose wines, particularly when they are just afterthoughts of concentrating the reds (ie saignees, or bleeds), but I really enjoyed the light touch of this one. 70% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, and packed full of fresh ripe summer fruits, but nicely delicate, nothing too sweet going on. Only making 8,000 bottles to begin with, but this number could rise.

(A sample of this was sent to me, and it was featured as my wine of the week in February 2009. Only 5.95 euros, so good value.)