Eating & Drinking: Tickled pink

POINT ME at a bottle of rose, well chilled, and I go distinctly lukewarm. If Chateau Haut-Brion is on the level of Beethoven and industrial plonk on a par with Aqua, then most rose ranks closer to Celine Dion than to Scriabin. With few exceptions, it is Muzak Wine.

There are good technical reasons to get bored by pink wine. Rose is nearly always made from black grapes whose skins spend less time in contact with the juice. This explains the lighter colour, from pale salmon to something almost indistinguishable from true red wine. Just as important, it accounts for a lower proportion of the tannins and other compounds that give red wine its structure and ageing potential. Rose flavours are typically soft, fresh, and characterised by red berries rather than black.

This is not meant to be "serious" wine. Just as you're happy to drink stuff on holiday that you wouldn't touch back home, so a rose comes into its own when the sun's out. Or so the theory goes. To test it, I sat down with two dozen roses on one of the hottest days of the year. And, shock horror, I enjoyed myself. What's more, there was good stuff coming from all over the world. Here is a rose-tinted shopping list.

The tour begins in France, which has always been an enthusiastic producer for the summertime market. Joannis Rose, Vin de Pays de Vaucluse (pounds 3.99, Booths Supermarkets) is a typical low-priced example, and is sweetly gluggable. The ever-popular Domaine de Sours Rose 1998 from Bordeaux (pounds 4.99, Sainsbury's), though pale in colour, is surprisingly rich in black-cherry fruit. Michel Lynch Rose 1997 (pounds 5.99, Oddbins) is fairly full in flavour, and redolent of the classic strawberry flavours that are a hallmark of rose.

Several of the most attractive wines came from outside France, and in some unusual styles. Van Lovren Blanc de Noir Muscadelle 1998 (pounds 3.49, Tesco) is an off-dry, pale-pink guzzler from South Africa. Agramont Cabernet Sauvignon Rosado 1998 (pounds 4.29, Tesco) from Navarra has a light crunch of tannin with its nice blackcurrant and raspberry fruit. Hardy's Stamp of Australia Grenache/Shiraz 1999 (Tesco and Waitrose, pounds 4.79) looks like Ribena and has an enticing hint of spice, but mostly it's juicy raspberries on the palate. Of lesser merit, but worth looking at for the price, is Gran Fuedo Rose 1997 (pounds 2.99, Threshers, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up) from Navarra; raspberries and a touch of spiciness.

The sole North American in the group is Prodigy 1998, Grenache Rose (pounds 4.99, Oddbins, from late August). This interesting Californian has bubblegum sweetness on the nose but dry, generously ripe cherries and strawberries on the palate. Very good stuff. So is Amethystos Rose 1998 (pounds 5.99), from Oddbins' Greek marvel, in which the sweetness of the fruit is lifted by a trace of tartness. Another American star, this one Chilean, was Santa Rita 120 Cabernet Sauvignon Rose 1998 (pounds 4.99, Oddbins, Majestic, and Berkmann Wine Cellars, 0171 609 4711). Those stunning strawberries again, in a round mouthful with good acidity. For something stranger but altogether wonderful, really a white wine in pink clothing, consider Bin AK 68 Pink Pinot Grigio 1996 (pounds 4.79, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up, Threshers, Victoria Wine). This oddball was made by Hungarian superstar Akos Kamocksay from Pinot Grigio grapes that got so ripe their skins took on a pink tinge. Aromatic and full of juicy redcurrant flavour.

The two most interesting wines both came from the totally admirable Wine Society (01438 740222), which celebrates its 125th birthday this year. First off from the birthday boys is Chateau Maurel Fonsalade Cuvee Frederic 1997, St Chinian (pounds 5.50), a dark, rich and extremely intriguing cocktail of fruit flavours with even (I swear to God) a hint of dill and honey. Big wine, no wimp. In a class by itself, though, was the most expensive wine in the group: Domaine Tempier Rose 1998, Bandol (pounds 9.25). A serious price, but this is serious wine. Whereas some rose makes you think of a red wine that has something missing, the Tempier rose is complete and exceptionally complex, with fleshy, elegant fruit, good structure and good finish. Still rose can't get much better than this. It's almost worth paying out the pounds 20 joining fee just for this wine.

If the temperature drops, none of these wines (with the exception of Domaine Tempier) will have much interest. To me, at any rate. But in the meantime, they're a lively bunch. Make rose while the sun shines.

To drink now

Instant gratification: Safeway is offering pounds 3 off two bottles of Plymouth Gin, that runaway success in the spirits market, until 22 August. Pungent, aromatic stuff at just pounds 11.29 per bottle if you buy a brace. For the longer view: David Wynn Patriarch Shiraz 1996, Eden Valley - surely one of the greatest reds made in Australia. Heady scent, spicy fruitcake on the palate, huge in body (15 per cent alcohol) but never coarse. Appreciate its sumptuousness now (with some time in the glass before drinking) or give it a few years in the bottle. From Adnams (01502 727200) and independents, for about pounds 16.

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


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