Jason Phillips can remember a time when he could scarcely give away tickets for the annual rosé party he throws at the restaurant he manages in central London. "When we started eight years ago, our customers would say to me, 'but Jason, rosé is not really a serious wine, is it?'" Last Tuesday, Franco's St James's held the party to launch this year's 65-strong rosé list – it attracted 250 paying guests.
If proof were needed of the inexorable rise of rosé, then here it is, spilling out on to the streets of central London. Still, despite its increased popularity (Selfridges reports a rise in sales of 58 per cent from 2012-13 across all stores) and its inclusion in the ONS's inflation indicator, the basket of goods, a certain snobbishness still attaches itself to the wine. So much so, in fact, that a sommelier I know calls it "a marketing opportunity in a glass".
So, what is the truth of the matter? Certainly a decade or so ago, winemakers viewed rosé as a sideline. The drink – which is made using black-skinned grapes that have not been allowed to macerate with the juice as long as would be the case for red wine, or else made by combining red and white styles – was just a cash cow. Now, though, it's definitely come of age.
The question is, how to avoid ending up with a howlingly bad bottle? First thing to note is where it's from. A good, if not totally fool-proof, guide is to look at its place of origin. America and Italy, on the whole, prefer the sweeter "blush" styles; whereas the French tend to make a drier version.
If you are looking for something dry that will stand up to fatty, barbecued meat this weekend, plump for a Provençal rosé. Generally made from mourvèdre, grenache, carignan and cinsault grapes, this wine is more balanced. So go, try it, forget the "boozy Ribena" tag – and in style.
This week I've been eating...
My favourite restaurant, like my favourite song, changes with my mood. If I want clever, Michelin-y food, I might head to Simon Rogan's L'Enclume in Cumbria. If I want an opportunity to go rubbernecking, then the natural choice is London restaurant du jour Chiltern Street Firehouse. If, on the other hand, I am a bit drunk and fairly merry, there is only one place I crave: Clutch on London's Ravenscroft Street, a free-range chicken and cocktail joint which is so fun it might have been designed by Bacchus himself.
The concept – chicken fried in groundnut oil – may not be Earth-shattering, but the execution is so superb, so brimming with bonhomie, that I don't particularly care. The décor is all bold Cruella de Vil black and white stripes, the cocktails are strong – the zingy Chilli Chicklet kicks particularly high – and the chicken, with its just-the-right-thickness batter and steaming flesh, is a model of what can be done with a hen's leg and a fryer. A restaurant to wallow in.