Featured in Capital #87. Subscribe to get the real thing here.
You ask the sommelier what she thinks might be the best dancing partner for the ceviche you’ve ordered. Her recommendation: one of the three rosés on the wine list.
Is that a bottle of rosé that opening bowler Bruce has brought to the post-match barbie? “Thanks Bruce – pop it in the chiller with the others.”
You look around the garden bar. On every table, like scatterings of petals, are rosé-tinted glasses.
Rosé is everywhere. It has become a big, very big, part of the New Zealand wine scene over several years. No-one should be surprised. As a wine style it was going nuts in many parts of the world for a long time before the blossoming of our own pink moment. What’s surprising is that it took us as long as it did.
Holding New Zealand back was the quality of the local product. So much of the rosé we made for so long was simply awful. I was on a judging panel 12 years ago when we sat down to assess 60 Kiwi rosés. None were awarded five stars. Four received four stars. The vast majority were in the “no award” bin and of those, more than a few you wished you had never put in your mouth. At that time, rosé was easily the worst performing category we judged.
Few producers, if any, took rosé seriously. It was an afterthought, a bit of a giggle, regarded as half wine, half alcopop. Which explains the kind of wine that used to pass for rosé in this country – mostly loose, floppy, soft, luridly coloured sweet stuff.
When you go on holiday somewhere gorgeous, you often fall for the local wine. A wine tends to have a special effect when imbibed at or near its place of origin, where it’s the frequent companion to the local food, the weather conditions, and so forth. It seems so right. As a result it becomes an important part of your sensory memory of that time. Many New Zealanders who spent time in southern France in years gone by were introduced to Provençal rosé. It was the colour of onionskin, dry, crisp, refreshing, and everyone seemed to be drinking it. Alongside a bouillabaisse at a seaside bistro in St Raphael or Le Lavandou, it was perfection. It became the go-to drop at every picnic or sit-down meal.
Alas, these travellers soon discovered that New Zealand rosé was not going to trip off any Provence flashbacks. So many of them went looking for the real deal, creating a demand that several importers were quick to meet. Most decent bottle stores here still stock a good selection of Côtes de Provence rosés during our summer months.
Eventually, New Zealand wineries started to up their rosé game.
Making the early running was Marlborough’s Two Rivers. Proprietor/winemaker Dave Clouston had worked vintages in Corsica where he learned a lot about making rosé. Like all wines, if rosé is to sing it has to receive the right kind of TLC in the vineyard. Clouston selected those plots of his Marlborough pinot noir vines he thought would be most suited to rosé and tended them accordingly, harvesting the grapes before optimal ripeness to ensure high levels of the fresh acidity so important to rosé. Clouston’s Two Rivers Isle of Beauty (the name a nod to Corsica) rosé is very much in the Provence mould – pale in colour, dry, with fruit that whispers rather than shouts. Since it hit the shelves and became popular, many have followed its lead.
As well as the upsurge in demand, there’s also a supply factor at play. When vintage conditions make it tough to produce quality red grapes, the answer is often to turn much of it into rosé. 2022 was such a vintage. It’s difficult now to find a local producer that doesn’t make a rosé.
“Over the past several Toast Martinborough events, it has been our biggest-selling wine style,” reports the festival’s general manager Ariel Codde. “In 2022 every participating venue provided rosé and it accounted for 50% of all the wine consumed on the day. It’s a great match for the weather and much of the food.”
While most of the rosés on the shelves belong to the new lean and dry style, you can still find fruitier, sweet pink wines as well. As a general rule, the darker hued rosés belong to the sweeter end of the spectrum, the pale ones tend to be dry.
TWO LOCALS TO TRY
Palliser Estate Rosé 2022 Pale salmon in colour with luscious berryfruit scents and a touch of smokiness. In the mouth it is dry and runs tight lines, red cherry and watermelon flavours well framed by the acidity and a touch of funky reduction. $32 (though Moore Wilson sells it for $27.95).
Poppies Martinborough Rosé 2022 Former Dry River winemaker Poppy Hammond quickly made a name for her rosé when she and husband Shane opened Poppies, their tasting/grazing haven in Martinborough. This dry copper/salmon tinted wine with its fresh cherry, citrus peel and attractive herbal notes hits the palate with a bracing, tangy fortissimo. $45 – go to poppiesmartinborough.co.nz