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La Vie en Rose

SOMETHING is up with rose wine. Its image as the cheap and cheerful, distinctly low-brow summer tipple is evaporating like water on a hot summer&rsquo;s day. It&rsquo;s gone from being the sort of thing you&rsquo;d drink on holiday in Great Yarmouth or Blackpool while getting sunburned to the colour of a lobster to the drink of choice for urbane metropolitan types after something refreshing, elegant and, dare I say it, trendy. Sales have risen by 17.7 per cent in the past year; pink wine sales in the UK (including fizz) have reached over &pound;453m and the number of rose drinkers is expected to increase sharply.<br /><br />Richard Verney, French wine buyer at Oddbins, says: &ldquo;Sales of rose have been growing not just in summer but year round. It has gained a more and more acceptable position within the market. So people that wouldn&rsquo;t have drunk rose before are discovering that it is quality wine and choosing to spend their money on a bottle of pink instead of their usual white. They&rsquo;re realising there are interesting wines to be had, not just sweet, mediocre stuff.&rdquo;<br /><br />The rise and rise of rose comes down to three factors: one, it has improved drastically; two, it&rsquo;s inexpensive (bottles peak at around &pound;50 and many good ones cost under a fiver) and three, it has become socially acceptable to drink. Jason Phillips, of Franco&rsquo;s in Mayfair, which offers 55 roses on the wine list, says: &ldquo;There&rsquo;s been a lot of snobbery about rose, and initially they were very bad. In the past they took some red grapes and some white grapes and sloshed them together. It put people off. Now, though, the wines are vastly improved, and they really do stand up against good whites and reds both while remaining a uniquely fun summer drink. It&rsquo;s also incredibly good value, therefore an obvious recession favourite.&rdquo; <br /><br />The method that is responsible for the ever-better roses of the world is called &ldquo;saigne&rdquo; in French. The vat is filled with red grapes, and their juice is bled off after a short period of time, between six and 12 hours, depending on how red you want the rose. The juice is white, but the tannins from the skins create the fruitiness of the flavour and the pink colour. Wait 24 hours to extract the juice and you&rsquo;ve got a red. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a red wine that has basically been separated from the skins at an early age,&rdquo; says Phillips. Newer technology, including use of cool fermentation and stainless steel vats, have also helped make quality pinks. <br /><br /><strong>YOUNG AND CHIRPY</strong><br />Esme Johnston of the excellent online wine shop fromvineyardsdirect.com, knows rose better than most &ndash; when he began making his own rose in Bordeaux in 1990, he was &ldquo;the only serious maker of it in the region.&rdquo; Now, he says, there are over 500. He says that rose is best drunk young and chirpy &ndash; at preferably no older than 18 months. <br /><br />For that reason, Johnston says, &ldquo;it&rsquo;s never going be a Chateau Lafite&rdquo;. Yet despite its undeveloped character, rose has a uniquely fruity aroma. This is because the tannins from the red grape skins are separated from the juice before they have a chance to &ldquo;disguise&rdquo; or &ldquo;deaden&rdquo; the flavour of the grapes. &ldquo;Because of this process, rose has fantastic flavours of fruit &ndash; strawberries, blackberries, other berries.&rdquo;<br /><br />So it&rsquo;s a perfect halfway house, and therefore completely versatile &ndash; &ldquo;you can drink rose all the time with anything,&rdquo; says Johnston. &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t have a sauvignon blanc with steak, but you can have it with a full bodied rose, definitely. And it&rsquo;s great with spicy foods, curry, fish and salads.&rdquo;<br /><br /><strong>A GOOD MATCH</strong><br />Phillips of Franco&rsquo;s, which is &ndash; after all &ndash; a restaurant, also notes that rose offers the structure, tannins and body of red but without the heaviness, and is therefore better matched to the richness of the food we drink than white.<br /><br />So what should you choose? The experts all agree that France &ndash; particularly Provence and Bordeaux &ndash; is both a safe bet and home of some of the best bottles. French roses tend to be crisp and light, and a pale salmon colour. But 50 per cent of rose imports to the UK come from California, &ldquo;blush wines&rdquo; with a deep red hue and a sickly sweetness &ndash; avoid them like the plague. However if you want something somewhere between the lightness of the French and something heavier, Italy is a good producer and another safe bet &ndash; the whole country makes rose well, according to Johnston, and Sicily and Puglia are particularly good. Finally, the Navarra region of Spain makes the country&rsquo;s best rose. Other countries &ndash; including New Zealand, Portugal and South Africa &ndash; are also making good pink wine.<br /><br />&ldquo;Rose is a fun summer drink,&rdquo; says Phillips. &ldquo;You tend not to drink just one bottle, you&rsquo;re going to drink two. Rose is not about rushing life, it&rsquo;s about enjoying life.&rdquo; Amen to that.