“The sun is out, and summer is on its way. That can only mean one thing…“
My breath is bated. Could it be sunbathing, the World Cup, perspiration, men wearing those repellent three-quarter length shorts with pockets on the legs?
No, “it’s time to stock up your fridge with refreshing rosé.”
You may have missed the brief spell of sunshine which occurred earlier this month, but e-mails like that from wine merchants cascaded into my inbox as soon as the weather forecasters stopped wearing long sleeves.
“Sunshine = perfect Rosé weather!” emailed another wine merchant, in a frenzy to cash in on this passing glimmer of sun. “The sun is out – it’s time for rosé,” insisted a third.
The sun hasn’t even got his hat on yet, just twirled his Panama contemplatively in his hand, but nevertheless, it seems everything’s coming up rosé.
You might consider it somewhat foolhardy, given our temperate clime, to associate a wine solely with sunny weather. While champagne has a similarly strong association with celebration, at least we usually have several celebratory occasions spread throughout the year. But just as you might feel slightly contrary drinking a champagne, however cheap, with an everyday fish supper at your kitchen table, you would feel daft drinking a rosé in the winter – or even, it has to be said, in the rain. No wonder wine merchants get into a tizzy when they see a sunny opportunity to shift their stock of rosé.
There’s an inherent playfulness, a frivolity about pink wine, and an increasing urge to link it to the outdoor party lifestyle of those who can afford to follow the sun. People for whom umbrellas are not something to be used in a shower, but in a drink.
And so, like champagne, rosé is becoming available in huge, party bottles – or, as one newspaper described them, “crazy, St Tropez yacht-scale, quench the thirst of the Riviera, ginormous bottles”, like a six-litre Methuselah. Perhaps regrettably, perhaps not, I do not live a life myself in which people serve wine from bottles the size of a fire extinguisher.
But the result of all of this is that drinking rosé is becoming an event, an occasion in itself. Like port at Christmas, rosé is something to ooh! and ahh! about, and wonder why you don’t do it more often. But, again rather like port at Christmas, it is drunk so rarely that our quality judgments are blinded by the occasion. And in the case of rosé, it is usually drunk so cold that your tastebuds are numb. As long as it’s tolerable, the event’s a good ‘un.
So I thought I should test this concept; buy the cheapest rosé I could lay my hands upon, chill it to within an inch of freezing, and drink it on a sunny day. I reckoned that, rather like drinking champagne at a wedding, the occasion – to say nothing of the chill – would override any issues about taste. So inbetween deleting sun-related e-mails from wine merchants, and preparing to avoid men in singlets on the London Underground, I calmly put into the fridge my normal-sized bottle of Les Hautes Plateaux, a Provencal rosé bought for just £2.65.
Hold on there, young fella! Did you say £2.65? When the Duty and Tax on a bottle amount to more than that? Never mind the quality, where can you get a bottle of wine from France for just £2.65? The answer, sadly, is… from France.
Eschewing the expensive pleasures of La Maison des Millesimes, I picked up this Provencal rosé in the more Sediment-appropriate location of the bottom shelf of a Monoprix, on a recent visit to Paris. Frankly, it looks as credible as any other Provencal rosé being touted as an essential ingredient of summer. And given that, at the time of writing, a bag of McCain’s Gorgeous oven readies at Waitrose are £3.00, it’s actually cheaper than chips.
In the sunshine, fresh out of the fridge, the bottle gets that frosted look from the condensation, and makes your hand wet and cold when you hold it. Ah, this is what rosé drinking is all about. Through the chill I detect a crisp mineral clarity, then a lightly fruity aftertaste. The trick is not to let it warm up, when a disconcerting oiliness seems to sneak through. But, why would you let it warm up? The whole object of the exercise is to drink it ice cold.
Yes, I have tasted better. This being Sediment, it means little if I say that I have also tasted worse. But the cheapest rosé imaginable provided all the cold, crisp refreshment one could ask for on a sunny day, together with a visual association with the high life of the South of France for which I could have paid a great deal more. Keep ‘em cheap, keep ‘em cold, and rosés could grow on me.
Unless it keeps on raining…