Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Rosé wines - Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare & Chateau Guiot

This is about frivolity, about fun, about al fresco living. Yes, it’s about rosé wine.

Rosé wine is a choice of lifestyle, as much as palate. It is wine which has a time and a place. That time is between 12 noon and 8pm. Any later, and wine should really be red. (Any earlier, and you should really not be sneaking out of rehab in order to down it.) And that place is outdoors.

CJ said some frankly uncalled-for things last year  about a bottle of rosé, including the fact that “It had a physical presence at the table, like a large sweaty, pink, and yet quite cold, man.” Perhaps it is my own, inherently more elegant personality speaking here, but if a bottle of rosé does have a physical presence at one’s table, surely it could be that of a lady, enrobed in linen of a pale salmon hue, cool beneath the summer sun? Am I wrong to think of Audrey Hepburn here?

For what it’s worth, here is my own quintessential observation about rosé wine – it succeeds because it looks more frivolous than red, and tastes more frivolous than white. It is a brilliant drink on its own, as its sweeter, fruit flavours can compete with food. And its sheer presence on an outdoor table typifies light summer conversation.

When anyone tells me that they don’t like rosé wine, I try to introduce them to the Vin Gris de Cigare, from the Bonny Doon winery in California. In London, this is not easy to do; when I have found single bottles for sale, it has been at unusual outlets for about £13 – Selfridges (!) currently have it for a very unfrivolous £22.99 – but usually it only appears on the wine list of clued-up restaurants. I think it’s an instant recommendation that I first discovered this wine at Clarke’s, and have subsequently drunk it before meals at Boundary. It’s currently on the list at The Ivy,  at a troubling £45.50.  (Yes, I do eat out a bit. Someone once said of me, “He’s a man who knows his way around a restaurant menu”, but rightly or wrongly I took that as a compliment, and not a suggestion that I am a fat bastard.)

As befits a lifestyle choice, this wine begins as a conversation piece; a Vin Gris is a rosé wine made from red wine grapes; and the Cigare refers to cigar-shaped alien craft which were banned by decree, back in 1954, from landing in the vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. (Randall Grahm, the vineyard’s idiosyncratic founder, has “landed” in their patch to such effect he was nicknamed the Rhone Ranger.)

At the risk of boring American readers, Bonny Doon was among the first Californian vineyards to embrace Rhone varietals. Their Vin Gris de Cigare is a blend of 71% grenache and 2% mourvèdre, with a dash of white wine (16% roussanne and 11% grenache blanc) – not, as they admit, something which would be done in the Rhone itself. But the result is the most exciting rosé wine I have ever tasted; pale in colour, crisp and light on the palate, yet with complex fruity and floral notes. It’s refreshing and bright, yet with those gorgeous sweet flavours of summer fruits; a wine to drink on its own, rather than with food. Add in the fact that it’s a talking point, and what better possible kick-off could you have for a convivial summer lunch?

But as I say, I find it a hard wine to track down in London. (Suggestions very welcome in Comments…) The best alternative I have found is the rosé from Chateau Guiot. Again, a combination of Rhone varietals (Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault) give this an interesting complexity; red berries, watermelon, summer fruits and flowers, all above a nicely taut base. Terrific value at £6 a bottle from Majestic, and the label looks serious enough to put on a nicely laid garden table. (I know, I know, but you can’t really decant rosé, and who wants to spoil the look of a sophisticated lunch with a hideous bottle?)  

Light is not always inferior to heavy, or indeed to dark. Like the photography of Elliott Erwitt,  or the writing of Alan Bennett, rosé wine can be life-enhancing without being sombre. We need not take rosé wine too seriously; but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have a role in life.


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