Anyone who has ever attended a performance of “Waiting for Godot” knows that not a lot happens in the play. (I’m not giving away the story if I mention that Godot does not arrive.) Part of what makes Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece so extraordinary is that, despite this absence of action, it remains a riveting piece of theatre. It is proof that the product of a creative enterprise can be interesting and of value without being striking or imposing. There is clearly a place for the infinitely subtle – though it must be said that the closer something gets to vanishing, the harder it is to see even the fig-leaf concealing the minimalism of the emperor’s new clothes.
By their very nature, rosés can never be blockbusters. In fact they are unlikely to be attention grabbing (which is why so many of them are packaged in showy, trademark-protected bottles.) A flashy rosé is like a clumsy joke: you get the message, but you can’t help yourself from cringing. Delicacy is an essential hallmark: an in-your-face rosé is like a untalented and seriously overweight ballerina hoping to deliver a persuasive performance as the dying swan: the message has been compromised by the medium.
It’s more difficult to make a good rosé than most winemakers realise. For years pink wine was either a by-product of the wine-making process, or a cynical throwing together of whatever red and white wines were left in tank once the key product lines had been assembled. In the case of the former, producers simply “bled” off and separated some of the red wine juice from the press to make the cellar’s rosé. In the case of the latter, it was a bit like making a sauce, with grape-juice concentrate added for sweetness and splashes of red wine blended with white to fix the colour.
Real rosé has to be the product of intention, and the intention must include the idea of finesse. A great rosé, by its very nature, ought to be elusive. It should be nuanced and refined, but not evanescent. It must cross you palate like a ghost, invading the hallways of your senses like imagined footsteps on your grave. It must be there until you look for it, and once it has passed beyond your taste buds it should linger like the spectre of a dream at first light.
It will come as no surprise to discover that there are very few great rosés, and not very many good ones. The great names of Provençal rosé have not acquired their reputation though luck or happy coincidence: the Ott family has been making wine which meets these aesthetic criteria for more than a century. There is clearly a reason why the rich and famous, dining at the best of the Michelin-starred Riviera restaurants, spend as much money on a bottle of Chateau de Selle as they would on a bottle of Premier Cru Burgundy.
Are there any Cape rosés which deserve to be taken more seriously than date night on Tinder? The Pink Valley project, located on the historic Cordoba property on the Helderberg and driven by the French Oddo family, has real prospects. Under the direction of Schalk-Willem Joubert (formerly cellarmaster at Rupert & Rothschild) it has released one wine which has all the right elements, all in the right place. Delaire-Graff’s Cabernet Franc rosé is also a consistently pure and restrained example.
A recent blind tasting gave me the opportunity to assess which of the other Cape rosé producers are making wines which meet this elusive benchmark. The wine which came out on top was the 2019 Middelvlei, coppery pink, refined and savoury. Its closest contender was, somewhat surprisingly, made from tinta barocca (an unlikely candidate for a delicate wine). The Allesverloren 2019 is restrained, almost nutty, polished and nuanced. We may still be some distance from challenging the great Provençal estates but at least we seem to have moved past the Mixmaster era of pink wines from the Cape.