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Wine of the Week for week ending 11 Jan 2009
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A Bunch of Six Roses
from various regions in New Zealand

After languishing for decades, RosÚ wine is the fastest growing sector of the American Wine Market, reports Suite101 while The UK Telegraph reported in December that sales of California RosÚ in Britain had risen by 17% in the year to October 2008. Now the number of New Zealand RosÚ wine labels exceed 100, according to Michael Cooper writing in the NZ Listener.

It seems that consumers love it, so why don't these trendy RosÚ (pink or blush) wines ever do well at New Zealand wine shows? Results from the wine shows in the latter part of the 2008 show year reveal that only two RosÚ style wines won gold. One was Elephant Hill Hawkes Bay RosÚ 2008, rewarded by the judges at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards and the other was Esk Valley Hawkes Bay Rose 2008, rewarded by the judges at the Hawkes Bay Wine Awards.

The previous show season, at the same time of the year had only two wines - the Esk Valley Hawkes Bay Rose 2007 (2 golds) and the Fernwood Gisborne/Hawkes Bay Rose 2007 with wine show gold success.

Is it a coincidence that these four gold medal winning wines were all made from the 'Bordeaux' grapes and all were a full-bodied RosÚ style?

Later the Sydney Top 100 and the 2008 Easter Show would also each award a gold each - to Mount Dottrel Saignee Rose 2006 and Bannock Brae Cathy's Rose 2007 respectively - both made from Pinot Noir grown in Central Otago. What will these two shows do this year?

Now I know that number of RosÚ (pink or blush) entries at wine shows has been steadily increasing over the last few years, for the reasons mentioned above - that is the international popularity of the style, particularly in summer.

So why the lack of gold medals? And the lack of silver medals too? It seems that it is the bronze medal or, more particularly, the 'no award' category, where most of the entered wines are placed.

I've just tasted a bunch of 15 RosÚs and there are wines that would fit into all award categories - gold, silver, bronze and no award. But my assessment is not as bottom heavy as the wine show judges would have the world believe - not that we know what the 'no award' wines are, at wine shows, as only the medal winner's names are published. So I have to question why this popular summer sipper is a wine show failure.

Is it because the judges don't like RosÚ and would never be seen (in public) drinking a glass of a pretty pink? In reality, does it simply come down to pre-judging pre-ju-dice?

Is it because RosÚ is not a wine style, like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir or Syrah, that deserves the extra attention by the judges to coax out all the intricate nuances. Quite realistically, a gold and a trophy winning RosÚ would never ever be considered from the line-up of the best of the best from each class, for a 'Wine of the Show'.

Is it because at wine competitions these wines are served at room temperature, when in most cases, RosÚ styles are wines that are made to be served chilled?

Is it because the wines are not split out by sweetness levels (as are Rieslings, GW's and other varietals) and perhaps the wines are split out by varietal make-up either. So you end up with a delicate Pinot Noir RosÚ that's moderately sweet next to a Merlot/ Malbec RosÚ blend that's been made in more of a dry, light red wine style with grippy tannins?

Is it because nobody understands what a RosÚ is anyway?

The last question has me pondering and as I read the winemaking notes of the wines in front of me, it seems that winemakers, in most cases are trying to make a fresh, 'white wine style' from mostly red wine grapes. The grapes are crushed or held on their skins from as little as six hours and in some cases as long as three days, to extract colour. Then the juice is run off, chilled down and 'cool fermented' to retain the vibrancy of the natural fruit flavours. Indeed, in the 'bad old days', a RosÚ wine was usually made from white wine with the addition of some red wine for colouring. That, by the way, still happens today. But most of the Kiwi winemakers use predominantly red wine grapes.

So another question arises, if we were tasting the wines blindfolded, would we actually be able to identify a RosÚ wine's varietal make up? I'm not sure that we would, without first being told the wine in the glass was a RosÚ wine style. Certainly, in my feigned blind-fold test, I would have probably picked some of the wines as Riesling or, more commonly, Pinot Gris. One wine was described in the notes as having similar compounds to Sauvignon Blanc, but I couldn't make that correlation at all.

Do we actually care?

I enjoyed the RosÚ tasting, first tasted at room temperature and later after several hours in the fridge. I found that some of the wines were better chilled, some were definitely better with little or no chilling but the best were scrummy at any temperature. I gave more weight to the performance when chilled, as that is how most people would drink the wines and make their first taste impression. However I kept in mind that once the wine was poured, it would start to warm up in the glass - especially on a lazy, hazy, hot summer day.

All the wines had screwcaps by the way. That's a good thing because who wants to take a corkscrew to a picnic, these days.

Top wine of the tasting, after much deliberation was 25 Steps Central Otago Pinot Rose 2008 ($24.95). Light pink in colour, it's quite closed on the nose at room temperature, a little Pinot-ish earthy with just a hint of cherry and wild strawberry. The juicy, fresh taste is earthy and savoury with a tangy citrus brightness, lots of anise-flavoured herb (think tarragon, chervil) and just a touch of spice. A well-balanced wine with a berry fruit richness, just a hint of sweetness and a smooth, pleasing texture. The cherry fruit flavours really comes forth when the wine is chilled and while it's not as flamboyantly tangy, there's orange blossom and a hint of nectarine too. Rated #4 at room temperature, it topped the tasting after being chilled, having the edge with its structure and viscosity.

Neudorf Pinot Rose - Kina 2008 Nelson ($22). A very pale candy floss or fluorite (mineral) crystal pink. Delicately scented with hints of strawberries and cherries, this light, pretty wine has just a touch of sweetness to the strawberry and citrus flavours, the latter adding a zesty brightness. It's light to medium bodied with good balance of acidity to berry fruit sweetness and a touch of viscosity to the texture and richness and power to the finish. At room temperature, it has plenty of vinous appeal. When chilled it smells like Pinot Gris and is mouthwatering to the taste with its iced watermelon and strawberry flavours. It has a rich, spicy finish and lots of brightness and zest. Rated #3 at room temperature, it was #2 wine overall.

Waimea Estate Nelson Pinot Rose 2008 ($23). Light to medium pink. Not too much on the nose. A little confectionary in palate but this sits in well with the structure. It's slightly earthy with an underlying zestiness, a savoury spiciness and a creamy richness, A full-bodied, juicy, gutsy RosÚ with fruit in the blueberry spectrum. This totally creamed the other wines in the 'room temperature tasting', my favourite by far, perhaps because it has a touch of barrel ferment that adds to the richness and power. But it lost something when it was chilled for several hours in the refrigerator, bring a slightly bitter orange component into play. Thus it slipped to #3 in the overall ranking. The key to this wine is to drink it cool, but not overly chilled.

Sileni Cellar Selection Cabernet Franc Rose 2008 Hawkes Bay ($20). There's a ruby gem vivacity to the bright alluring hue, fruit salad abounds on the nose and in the palate. It has the softness and texture of a Pinot Gris and has flavours of dried tropical fruit, sherbet and zest. Like a white wine with red wine tints, it has summer day brightness and tang. It picks you up, grabs you and holds you. When chilled it retains it juicy freshness with the berry fruit now more obvious - like bramble berry ice blocks - it's powerful and stuctural with excellent length. This was #2 in the original tasting and despite my rave rave notes, it slips to #4 in the comparative tasting.

Muddy Water Growers Series Rose 2008 ($23). A blend of Waipara and Central Otago Pinot Noir, this is medium pink with a strong berry scent togethere with a hint of plum, leather and tar. Crisp and zesty entry into the mouth, becoming quite creamy with a savoury undercurrent and a touch of tobacco. Flavourful, bright, zesty and long. Has good body and a little bit of grip and even at room temperature, it is not too sweet. Chilling introduces a crisp strawberry scent and enhances the savouriness of the palate. It's spicy, fresh, vibrant and long. # 5 in both the room temperature tasting and the chilled wine tasting.

Soho Hawkes Bay Rose 2008 ($22). This light to medium coloured pink is made from 100% Merlot. Slightly earthy aromas and a delicately oily texture that kind of coats the mouth. Plenty of fresh acidity adds brightness to the Christmas plum flavours (red skin / yellow flesh). There's a little bit of grip and underlying herbaceousness and although medium sweet, it finishes dry. Medium to full-bodied with a berry fruit richness and a tarragon herb infusion to the gutsy finish, chilling adds a slightly oily texture and introduces more strawberry and sweet orange fruit. The finish is long and juicy and thus it is the sixth RosÚ to be added to the bunch.

© Sue Courtney
5 Jan 2009

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