There is a special wine available at the Cactus Club Café’s Coal Harbour location in Vancouver that you won’t find on the printed list. Sebastien Le Goff, the British Columbia-based chain’s service director and sommelier, keeps a few cases hidden away mainly for five or six regulars who like to order a bottle or two when they visit. It’s called Domaines Ott and it comes in a distinctive bowling-pin-shaped bottle.
Priced at $100, it’s hardly over the top compared with the hoity-toity Napa cabernets and white Burgundies typically revered by fine-dining bigwigs. There’s one difference, though. The wine is neither red nor white; it’s pale pink, the approximate hue of candy floss.
“When they go to France, that’s their rosé of choice,” Le Goff says. “When they go to L.A., that’s their rosé of choice. And they really like the shape of the bottle, the taste of the wine. They associate it with luxury.”
Owned by Champagne house Louis Roederer (of $300 Cristal fame), Ott, which sells for about $50 retail when available in Canada, is one of a growing list of exalted dry European rosés shining a halo on a category that has finally buried its saccharine Mateus past. A few examples: Château Miraval, a fine $25 effort from the Provençal estate of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie; Taille Princesse, a $40 bubbly from actor Gérard Depardieu’s Loire Valley property; and Château Minuty Rosé et Or ($60) and Garrus from Château d’Esclans (at a whopping $100), both also from Provence, the dry-rosé capital of the world.
Once the signature colour of low-brow imbibing, rosé is the colour of money, tapping into a global thirst for Mediterranean savoir boire. Volume sales in Canada almost doubled from 2004 to 2013, advancing to 1.7-million nine-litre cases, up from 927,330, according to the Association of Canadian Distillers, which compiles wine as well as spirits statistics. The bulk was consumed in the months between April and September – rosé’s time to shine.
Globally, the pink tide advanced 17 per cent in the eight-year-period ending 2010, to 22.4 million hectolitres, according to figures compiled by French firm Agrex Consulting for the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence (the Provençal wine-trade lobby) and FranceAgriMer, the national association of agricultural- and marine-products producers.
Even in France, where for decades total wine consumption has been sagging like an undercooked soufflé, rosé is the big bright spot, accounting for an astonishing 27.3 per cent of the market in 2011 versus 10.8 per cent in 1990, according to the CIVP. That far exceeded white-wine’s level of less than 17 per cent and is almost half red wine’s share of 56 per cent. La vie en rosé indeed.
Generally slightly lighter in strength than red, yet seemingly more substantial than white, pink wine strikes a socially acceptable balance in alcohol-apprehensive modern France. It spans the colour spectrum from a faintly discernible coppery stain to electric cherry red. And while colour is no indicator of quality, more saturated hues are more strongly associated with sweetness and confected, candy-store flavours while lighter, salmon-like stains are more likely to be bone-dry, as in the delicate, iconic Provençal style.
Ask 20 wine-industry experts how rosé managed to make its enviable splash outside France and you might prompt 40 theories. To me Le Goff’s sound as plausible as any. More and more travellers to the Mediterranean have come home with enduring impressions of suave sipping sophistication, he says, and glasses of shimmering pink wine by the azure sea may be the most visually arresting and memorable.
Joshua Corea, co-owner of Archive wine bar on Toronto’s trendy Dundas West strip, who’s gearing up to feature five or six rosés by the glass for summer, attributes much of the wine’s popularity to drinkers in their 20s and 30s. For millennials the rosé category is fresh and new, unencumbered by negative connotations of sweet Mateus or white zinfandel, he says. “There’s not a lot of preconceptions there. They haven’t decided that the only thing for them to drink is Burgundy. And they probably also don’t have the pocketbook to support a Burgundy addiction.”
Essentially a white wine with colour, rosé is almost always made entirely from red grapes. The skins are generally separated from otherwise clear juice after hours of contact in the fermenting vat versus days or weeks in the case of red wine. The result is a curious hybrid, clamouring to be served crisp-cold, like white, yet with fruit generally more evocative of red berries than classic white-wine notes of citrus, pear, apple or stone fruit.