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Australian Rosé Awakening Member Tasting

Don’t call it a comeback. Rosé has been around for years, if you’ve known where to look. Unfortunately, many people think of Rosé as the sickly sweet style their auntie, or grandma likes to drink poolside at family gatherings. And, despite it being 2017, some men are still frightened of Rosé’s pink colour...perhaps someone in marketing could put a ‘B’ in front of it? But why pander? Let them miss out. There’ll be more for you and me! 

Rosé is one of the wine world’s greatest gifts. Versatile, it goes with just about any meal, at any time of day or night. Refreshing, a well-made Rosé has the ability to slake a thirst like no other wine. And, delicious – these days, Aussie winemakers are crafting Rosés that are a pure pleasure to drink. 

 

It's All in the Grape

Rosé can be made from just about any red wine grape variety there is. In Australia, the more common varietals used to make Rosé include ShirazPinot Noir, and Grenache. But also, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In Provence, the historical home of Rosé, winemakers will blend grape varieties, such as Cinsault, Mourvédre, Syrah (Shiraz), and Carignan, to create gorgeous examples of this pale pink wine.

Just like red wine, Rosés pick up their colour from the skin of red wine grapes. The winemaker can determine the depth of colour in the wine by deciding how long to leave the juice in contact with the skins – the shorter the time, the lighter the colour. This can be done using a number of different techniques. The maceration method allows the crushed skins of the red wine grapes to ‘steep’, or macerate, in the juice for a short period of time, before the skins are removed and the entire tank is finished into a Rosé wine. 

Another method is called the Saignée (‘san-yay’), or the ‘bleed’ method. This involves ‘bleeding off’ a portion of the juice – while the remaining goes on to make red wine – into a separate vat to finish fermentation. This technique can result in some really lovely examples. Another way to make Rosé is by mixing white and red wine together, although, this rather crude method is generally frowned upon and doesn’t usually make for a very nice tasting wine. 

The colour of Rosé can range from the lightest shades of pale onion skin pink to salmon, coral, hot pink, and ruby red; generally speaking, the darker the colour, the more intense the wine. Primary fragrances and flavours of Rosé depend on the type of grape, or grapes, used, but will typically sit along the spectrum of red fruits and florals, melons and zesty citrus. Sometimes, you’ll find pleasant green characters, like rhubarb or strawberries with their leafy green tops still on. 

Summer Lovin' Rosé

American novelist, Jay McInerney once remarked of Rosé, “Anyone who starts analysing the taste of a Rosé in public should be thrown into the pool immediately.” Perhaps, because it is pink in colour and frivolous by nature – a wine destined to be drunk sooner than later – Rosé invites such mockery from wine ‘experts’ and pundits. Which is not to say that all Rosés won’t age. Some do, for a few years at least, but, like a hot summer romance, most just aren’t made to last. Indeed, Rosé is made to be drunk on warm days; outdoors, in the shade, with a lover, or with friends, some food and a gentle breeze. Fortunately for us, here at Selector we had all of these things (minus the pool) on hand when seven lucky Wine Selectors Members joined Wine Selectors Tasting Panellists Nicole Gow and Adam Walls, plus Hunter Valley winemaker Andrew Duff from Tempus Two Wines, for lunch at Carrington Place in Newcastle, to taste and discover the colourful and refreshing state of play of Australian Rosé.

“Up until a few years ago, Australian winemakers made Rosé as an after thought,” Adam told the Members at the tasting lunch. “Whereas now, the wines are being made deliberately, with designated parcels of fruit that have been picked specifically to be turned into Rosé.” 

The Members, along with the Panellists, blind tasted through 16 Rosé wines, over four brackets, and recorded their tasting notes accordingly. The wines were selected from right across Australia, with examples from the Yarra ValleyAdelaide Hills, and Hunter Valley performing well. Winemaker Andrew Duff, whose 2016 Tempus Two Copper Series Rosé won the trophy for best Rosé at the most recent Hunter Valley Wine Show, was impressed by the diversity of Rosé wines in Australia now, and said that balance was the key.

“It was great to see the different regions, side by side, all contributing to the different styles of Rosé,” said Andrew. “There was a lot of balance in the examples we tasted. None were too sweet, many were dry, but still expressed lovely fruit forwardness with delicacy.”

Australian Rosé - Fresh Converts

After a bashful start, the Members soon took to the tasting like yeast cells to sugar, and started fermenting their own thoughts about Rosé.

“I haven’t always liked Rosé, because I’ve found it to be light and lacking flavour” said Luana Genua. “After today, however, having learnt a bit and tasted so many examples that were all so different, I think it’s safe to say I’ve been converted.”

The tasting was a chance for the Members to experience Rosé in a relaxed setting, with great food, and to speak to industry professionals, which led to more than a few new discoveries. 

“I love Rosés, especially when they’re crisp and dry, and not too sweet,” said Amy Bruniges. “I discovered today that Rosés are really good with all different types of food, and I loved how easy they were to drink.”

“I consider myself to be a red wine drinker, and I thought Rosés were always just sweet wines,” explained Todd Settle. “But I’ve been surprised by how many examples we tasted today that I found very drinkable and enjoyable.”

Tasting Highlights

A couple of firm favourites emerged across the whole Panel, which included Bird in Hand’s 2016 Pinot Rosé from the Adelaide Hills, the Yarra Valley’s Seville Estate The Barber Rosé 2016, and the trophy winning Tempus Two 2016 Copper Series Rosé from the Hunter.

With so much pleasure to be found in a glass of Rosé, it would be hard for anyone to attempt a serious analysis of such a fun-loving wine. To do so would surely strip it of its joyful and blushing vibrancy, and we’d all deserve to be thrown in the pool! Yet, to not conduct a tasting like this, with such an impressive line-up, paired to good food and great company, would be just as foolish, because, as everyone realised, you never know what you’re likely to discover!

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Merlot Members Tasting
Words by Ralph Kyte Powell on 4 Jun 2018
Merlot is a mystery to a lot of us. Many other red wine grapes have much more recognisable varietal personalities, giving them more immediate impact than Merlot . Cabernet Sauvignon , for example, nearly always says ‘Cabernet’ emphatically, via varietal cues that cut across the vagaries of region, climate, winemaking, and culture. Blackcurranty character, leafy austerity, angular, savoury personality and tannic backbone mark Cabernet-based wines, apparent even in warmer, riper versions. So it is with Pinot Noir ’s distinctive fruit characters, softness and silken structure. Pinot Noir says Pinot Noir loud and clear, but what of Merlot? Confusing Merlot’s identity crisis is the multiplicity of different styles available. In the coolest places, the variety’s leafiness can become too herbal and green; in the warmest places, it can be big, jammy and soupy. When overcropped and made on an industrial scale, Merlot can be washed out, sometimes sweet, a simple quaffer. In the middle of all this, we find Merlot’s ideal spot in skillfully tended vineyards in temperate areas. Here we encounter suggestions of plum, mulberry and fruitcake, raspberry, cherry, violet, spice and dried herb hints, maybe chocolate and olive from oak input. These wines tend to be soft, plump and juicy, worthy of plenty of attention as a friendlier type of red wine than tannic Cabernet or Shiraz . Compared to Cabernets, Merlots are generally much lower in methoxypyrazines too. These compounds in grapes give raw, green, herbaceous characters that can be shrill and unpleasant, another reason for good Merlot’s friendly personality. Cabernet’s comrade Merlot’s historic role as a blending variety also tends to compromise its individual identity. In its Bordeaux home, its early ripening characteristics act as insurance against the later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, especially across difficult vintages. Merlot develops higher sugar levels and riper fruit characters weeks before Cabernet, and it’s planted much more widely in the Bordeaux region as a result. Its rich, supple personality tempers Cabernet’s more severe traits in a blend, and it usually doesn’t need nearly as much mellowing bottle age to be gluggable. Around the world Merlot’s fortunes have been improving worldwide over the last few decades as plantings have expanded into new territory. Chile has been at the forefront and has built a large export market for easy-sipping Merlot. In the Old World, Merlot has been replacing other more mediocre varieties in vineyards across the European continent. Its international appeal and reputation for friendly wine has supported vast new plantings in places like France’s south-west as the French hit back after the inroads New World wineries have made in their traditional markets. French wine drinkers possibly don’t know Merlot by name very well, but they like it and so do their international customers. American consumers have an idea what to expect from Merlot – softness, maybe a little sweetness, easy drinking. New Zealanders are also familiar with Merlot’s easy manners and the variety has traditionally sparred with Pinot Noir as the red of choice for Kiwis. In recent times, NZ Pinot has been ascendant, but Merlot is still in the mix. Generally, Australians are much less Merlot-aware. No mention of Merlot can be made without referring to the cult American movie Sideways . In the USA, Merlot is the second most popular red wine grape after Cabernet Sauvignon, mainly due to vast quantities of soft, low tannin reds that appeal to wine novices. In Sideways , made in 2004, wine tragic and wine snob Miles rails loudly against Merlot. “If anybody orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any f…ing Merlot,” he declares, and his comments contributed to a drop in Merlot sales in the USA, the UK, and probably Australia. Merlot has recovered, but I suspect a slightly negative perception lingers, helped by Merlot’s lack of a distinct varietal identity in the minds of many consumers. Taste expectations So to discover what makes Merlot tick, we recently gathered together a panel of eight keen Merlot fans from the ranks of Wine Selectors Members for a tasting dinner at Melbourne’s Papa Goose restaurant. Joining them were Selector publisher, Paul Diamond and yours truly. Sixteen wines from across Australia were served masked in brackets of four. South Australia was represented by seven wines from a diversity of regions, with the emphasis on somewhat cooler places like the Adelaide Hills , Eden Valley and Limestone Coast/Coonawarra regions. Victorian wines included examples from the Yarra Valley , the Pyrenees and the warm vineyards of Rutherglen , while New South Wales and Western Australia presented a cross-section of vineyard sources. As we sat down to taste, we made a quick survey of what the Members looked for in Merlot. “I like Merlot because it’s not too heavy,” said Wine Selectors Member, Darren Dean, “It’s soft, easy to drink, sweet and smooth.” Fellow Member Ingrid Fraser agreed. “They are soft, complete wines, plump and lovely,” she said. Paul looked for, “consistency of mouthfeel, smooth texture, seamlessness.” Softness and smoothness were terms most tasters used to describe Merlot’s general appeal. Were these characteristics reinforced as the dinner progressed and the group came to terms with the wines served? Paired to perfection Matching food and wine is much discussed in the gastronomic world. Carefully constructed dishes, devised with a particular type of wine in mind, can offer experiences that transcend the simple idea of eating and drinking. When we consider food-friendly wines, the softer, lighter, lower tannin drops offer more food compatibilities than bigger, tougher wines. Thus, Pinot Noir, or softer, cool climate style Shiraz, works well where the big bruisers fall short. On this basis, Merlot should excel as a food wine, and as the dinner progressed, the pairings proved harmonious. This was due to Papa Goose chef Neale White’s intuitive ability to create Merlot-compatible dishes to complement the wines. The four course menu began with a superb dish that echoed Merlot’s charm. Cured and smoked duck breast was accompanied by beetroot, raspberry and red sorrel, all flavours that dovetailed superbly with the first bracket of wines. Gnocchi with king oyster mushroom, tarragon and amaretti cream pointed up the depths of the following group of four wines, with rich flavours and textures woven through aromatic ones. Eyebrows were raised when we saw that the porterhouse with red wine sauce was coming with caraway coleslaw – caraway can be formidable – but the dish’s subtlety actually drew out some of the foresty, herbal notes in the wines, making the sum of the parts far more than the individual inputs. Cheese can be problematic with a lot of wines, but the mild, mature Pynegana Cheddar, served to finish dinner, had fruity accompaniments of chutney, quince paste and muscatels to temper it. Merlot stood up to the entire menu, confirming its delicious suitability at the table. The dinner confirmed in everybody’s eyes that Australian Merlot does indeed have its own distinct personality, and that it deserves to be centre stage alongside better-known brethren like Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot should be on everybody’s shopping list.
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