After what seemed like an endless winter, we’ve made our way through a muggy spring (with some undeniably sunny perks) and are now firmly anticipating summer. And with the promise of more hot weather comes the urge to drink the pink stuff.
Rosé is a crowd-splitter. This is not only the case when it comes to individual drinkers but with restaurants too; some will carefully curate their wine lists specifically to include interesting rosé options, where others will omit the category altogether.
On a personal level I definitely find myself judging a rosé by its shade of pink. If I’m being honest I would very rarely be interested in the darker shades, often writing them off in favour of the lighter pinks, which I think of as being dryer and more acidic.
But, as with so many things, judging a rosé by its appearance alone means missing out on some brilliant wine experiences. This point was well and truly proven during our recent tasting with Catalan wine specialists L’altre Vi – and there wasn’t a bottle of red or white in sight.
We first met L’altre Vi at Raw Wine London in 2017 and immediately identified a shared perspective on wine; namely that it’s meant to be enjoyed without pretence or snobbery. You can read our first interview with them here.
Rachel and Rubén, the mother and son duo who founded the company, joined us at Amber in Aldgate East on a sunny bank holiday weekend in May, with a wine-filled cooler in tow.
It’s been over a year since that first interview and we’ve been dying to catch up and see what other wonderful spoils they’ve brought back from Catalonia over the last 12 months.
We were also joined by James’ girlfriend Becky and my friend Hannah, who used to work with me at Leiths and is now at Honey & Co, on the brink of pimping out their wine list. It was a wonderful way to welcome her to the Wined Up team ahead of her first piece, which you’ll get to read next week.
Right! Before we jump into the tasting, here’s a very quick crash course on rosé production.
How is rosé made?
To start you off, we’re going to focus on two basic methods of production. Limited skin contact and blending.
Limited skin contact – First, it’s important to understand how a wine takes on colour. For example, a red wine is red because it’s made from black grapes and the skins aren’t removed before fermentation. This prolonged contact between the grape skins and the juice means that the skins’ pigment (or tannin) bleeds into the liquid, giving the resultant wine a red appearance.
The intensity of the colour can be determined by a few factors. It’s usually down to the type of grape (because some skins contain more tannin than others), but the climate also has its effect because different weather conditions affect the thickness of the grape skins. Sometimes it’s the length of contact time itself, which leads us to understanding rosé production.
Most rosés are made by using black grapes but limiting the amount of contact between the skin and the juice, which means that finished wine is much lighter in colour and less tannic. The method of production is therefore known as limited skin contact or maceration – pretty straightforward when you break it down!
Blending – To those of you who joke about making rosé by mixing red and white wine, you may not know how close you are to the truth.
Mixing red and white wine to make rosé is actually illegal in most wine producing regions. This means that a lot of winemakers don’t even experiment with the method because they won’t be able to trade under the PDO/PGI of that region. (Click here to learn more about Protected Geographical Indicators… go on, we dare you! It’s actually simpler than it sounds.)
However, Champagne led the way when it comes to blending. Not only is it accepted, but it’s actually favoured to create sparkling rosé Champagnes using the blending method. Red and white wines are blended before undergoing the second fermentation in the bottle, which creates those moreish mousse-like bubbles. (Click here to learn more about sparkling wine production.)
Now that barriers are being broken in winemaking, and using the name of a protected region isn’t the be all and end all, more and more producers are starting to experiment with blending to create exciting rosés. And, if it means we get to enjoy a delicious bottle of wine, more power to them!
Ok, we’re up to speed so I’ll cut to the chase. But come on, you must be used to me and James rambling on by now…
With a table full of Amber’s delicious fusion of Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean food and a collaborative thirst for wine, we started to taste.
1. Vinyes Singulars Al Rosa 2015 – 10.5% abv (Natural): Not wanting to break with tradition, we started on the bubbles. We’ve tried and loved producer Ignasi Segui’s wines before, when Rubén and Rachel introduced them to us last year, and this was no exception. It’s a refreshing blend of Macabeu (a black grape which gives the wine its pink colour), Xarel.lo (pronounced sha-rell-oh) and Monastrell.
Not only is it a joy to drink, and dangerously thirst quenching on a hot day; the playful berry flavours (such as strawberry, raspberry and redcurrant) are balanced with a complexity that comes from six months ageing in one of Ignasi’s Civil War air raid shelters.
This maturation, and therefore extended lees contact (lees being the sediment of dead cells from the yeast used to kickstart the second fermentation) gives it a hint of savouriness, making it very easy to go back for more. [Pictured below, on the right.]
2. L’Abrunet de Frisach Rosat 2016 – 13% abv D.O. Terra Alta (Organic & Natural): Grenache (or Garnacha) is widely used in Spanish wine production, and this rosé is a mix of three different types of the grape.
Now this is a perfect example of a wine that I would probably pass on because it’s fairly dark in colour. However, it’s deceptively dry and fresh despite its shade, with notes of cherry, red apples, citrus and even green olive and fennel on the palate.
I wouldn’t necessarily drink this on its own, but as soon as you pair it with food (like the spicy meatballs in a tomato sauce we had in front of us) the wine really comes into its own. Definitely one to try with tapas over the summer. [Pictured below, on the left.]
3. Succés Vinícola Patxchanga 2016 – 12.5% abv D.O. Conca de Barberà (Natural): Rachel introduced our next bottle with the immortal words, “Brace yourself for a weird grape.”
This was our first try of Trepat; a red grape which is usually blended with Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir amongst others, but here is used completely on its own. The winemakers started their partnership whilst studying oenology together, and have been coming up with weird and wonderful creations ever since!
Definitely one to try if you’re keen to challenge your opinion of rosé, as it’s not your typical bottle. Fruit-forward, but dry and refreshing with a punch of strawberries, raspberries and cherries. [Pictured below, on the left.]
4. Mas Comtal Pizzicato 2017 – 12.5% abv (Organic and Certified Vegan): My clear favourite of the day, as indicated by the enthusiastic heart scrawled in biro on my tasting notes.
If you were to have described this wine to me a year or two ago, there isn’t a chance that I would have ordered it. Fruity, slightly floral with a light sparkle? Simply not what I went for in a rosé. But this is why it pays to step out of your comfort zone every once in a while.
Made from 100% Muscat d’Hamburg, which is a Black Muscat varietal, the wine is fruity and almost sweet on the nose. However, on the palate, it is dry and extremely moreish. I think it became our first empty of the day – a sure sign of success!
The producers have also ensured that their process is completely vegan, using pea protein during the fining process instead of eggs or Isinglass (which is type of gelatine obtained from a fish’s swim bladder).
This part of the winemaking process, which clarifies the wine, is often the part that will determine whether a wine is vegan or not, so it’s always worth checking if you follow a vegan diet. [Pictured below, on the right.]
5. Comalats Gaverna 2015 – 13% abv D.O. Costers del Segre (Organic and Low Sulphite): Made from 100% Syrah grapes, grown at a high altitude and yielded from 30 year old vines, this rosé is a fairly dark pink.
Again this is a lesson in why you shouldn’t judge quality and taste on colour alone. The shade of pink doesn’t usually indicate anything other than the level of tannins present.
If it’s darker, there are more tannins – either because the skins of the grapes contain more of it naturally, or because there has been more skin contact during the winemaking process. With this wine it’s a case of the former due to Syrah skins containing a lot of tannin.
It should be lightly chilled rather than very chilled (which might go against your rosé instincts) because the wine comes into its own when those tannins haven’t been frozen out.
This is a perfect example of a refreshing, dry wine – ideal for a hot summer’s day with its hints of plum, cherry and even a tang of grapefruit on the palate. [Pictured below, on the left.]
6. Vinyes Singulars Sumoll Rosat + Xarel.lo brisat 2017 – 12.5% abv (Natural and Organic): This wine is illegal. Yeah. That got your attention didn’t it?
The second bottle from Vinyes Singulars of the day was by far the most unique.
The reason it’s technically illegal is down to what we spoke about earlier. This is an example of a wine that’s been produced by blending a rosé and a white wine that’s had skin contact. Technically this second wine will have been an example of orange wine, which you can read more about in James piece here.
Blending the two wines has resulted in a beautifully light, pinky orange hue. Prepare yourself for a slightly wanky sentence… The colour of the wine actually went beautifully with the purples in the label artwork. What? It did! And it’s all part of the experience.
Out of all of the wines we tried that day, this tasted the most natural to me. There’s an almost hay-like quality that comes with a lot of natural wines, which you can really taste at the back of your throat, and I’m actually not a huge fan of it unless it’s well balanced. Luckily, on this occasion, the balance worked well – particularly when paired with the Mediterranean dishes on Amber’s menu.
[See this wine pictured below, on the right.]
As with most of our tastings, the day stretched on for much longer than any of us had intended. But it’s so easy to get caught up when you’re talking about something you all love.
We can’t wait to see what else L’altre Vi brings to the table over the years. They’ve already done so much to open our eyes to Catalan wine. It’s clearly an increasingly exciting wine region which needs exploring and they’re definitely the right people for the job.