A rosé for Valentine’s day

Why all the pink on Valentine’s Day – cards, ribbons, flowers, packaging, love hearts – even rose wine? Has it really to do with the psychology of the colour, as a UK wine retailer asserts?

In colour psychology pink provides feelings of caring, tenderness, self worth and acceptance. Pink makes us crave sugar. Out of all the colours pink is the sweetest (cakes are supposed to taste sweeter if served up on pink plates!).

Pink has a calming effect. It causes the hypothalamus to signal the adrenal glands to slow their secretions, thus reducing heart rate and blocking anger (Science Digest). It’s used in some prisons to diffuse aggressive behaviour. This effect has been used in sport. Sport’s teams sometimes paint the locker room, to be used by their opposing teams, pink to neutralise them! Some studies of the colour pink suggest that male weightlifters seem to lose strength in pink rooms”, writes Bordeaux Undiscovered wine shop.

Whatever the reason for our pink valentine’s (a female plot to soften men up, perhaps?), still and sparkling rose now play a big part in the celebrations. Just look at all the wine adverts next week. But the increasing number of labels and styles makes for a difficult choice.

Just what is rose? It’s not white; it’s not red. Is it a mongrel or hybrid, or even a specialty style in its own right?

As a show judge I’ve endured my fair share of rose classes – generally unrewarding line-ups of wines ranging in colour from pale onion skin to lurid, slutty, lipstick pink; from cloyingly sweet to achingly dry; and from flabby soft to searingly acidic. The better ones, of whatever hue, display fresh fruit flavours, rather than just sweetness, and finish clean and fresh, whether slightly sweet or very dry and savoury.

That rose performs poorly in wine shows while sales continue to climb reflects a couple of things – firstly, that show judges often move in a different direction than popular taste; and that too many ordinary roses, and not enough good ones, find their way into wine shows.

For example, judges at last year’s National Wine Show of Australia failed to find a winner for the rose trophy. The rose class (table wines) attracted just 13 entries. Judges awarded one silver and five bronze medals and commented, “Good wines showed bright fruit balance and freshness with good use of sugar. Rose needs to be more than an after thought”.

The comments say much more to exhibitors and would-be rose makers than they do to the casual reader.  It’s really a shorthand, contributing to the longer, deeper discussion about rose going on across the industry.

On the one hand, you have the growing popularity of rose. It’s come from nowhere to being a must-have at cellar doors – in some respects becoming the “moselle” of the early 21st century, a pop wine for visitors not all that much into wine.

Popularity always generates me-too products and an element of cynicism in some quarters – the attitude that “if it’s that’s what folks want, let’s crank up the volume”. It’s the stupid attitude behind our many mediocre and poor roses, exactly what the judges panned.

On the other hand, we have a number of very good producers, falling into broadly two camps.  The first camps says, “If people want rose, we’ll give them the best we can make at the price they’re prepared to pay”. The second camp says, “We love a certain style of rose, we’ll do everything it takes to make it and we’ll bring people on our journey”.

Behind the judges’ ratings and comments lies the belief that whether you’re making lower priced rose or shooting for the stars, and hang the price, you have to build it from the vineyard up.

Incidentally, the National Wine Show medal winners – largely cheaper roses – included Jacob’s Creek Shiraz Rose 2011, Lindemans Bin 35 Rose 2011 and Peter Lehmann Art Series Rose 2011. These are all extraordinarily well made wines built on bright, fresh fruit flavours.

And as rose gains popularity, we’re seeing an increasing number of very good wines from the second camp – personified by a small group behind the Rose Revolution campaign. These producers favour purpose-built, dry roses, like the Yarra Valley styles made by Steve Webber and Leanne De Bortoli.

The group’s website, www.roserevolution.com, includes links to supporting producers and to the popular Facebook and Twitter sites. This should lead you to many of the best dry roses in Australia – great tipples for Valentine’s Day.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 8 February 2012 in The Canberra Times