Deliciously pink Dragon Boat Festival

John H. Isacs
This special year I encourage all readers to celebrate the holiday by painting the town pink, in wine-speak this refers to the delicious world of rose wines.
John H. Isacs

Shanghai is finally looking like Shanghai again and our collective spirits are soaring as we enter the post-lockdown observance of the Dragon Boat Festival. This special year I encourage all readers to celebrate the holiday by painting the town pink, in wine-speak this refers to the delicious world of rose wines.

In the far distant past the fifth day of the fifth month in the Chinese lunar calendar was originally considered an evil and dangerous day of diseases and disasters. On this day all sorts of snakes, scorpions, centipedes and other skin-crawling poisonous creatures would appear.

These ancient beliefs and superstitions evolved into various tales. Stories of a poet, statesman and even a fisherman and his daughter who met tragic fate in rivers date back over 2,000 years. In many of these legends, zongzi and wine were thrown into the river to keep aquatic creatures from consuming the bodies.

Today, both zongzi and realgar wine remain mainstays of Dragon Boat Festival celebrations. Personally, I will revel in the zongzi and avoid the medicinal realgar wine and instead opt for a glass of classy rose wine. Just as the Dragon Boat Festival is a harbinger of summer, so are rose wines.

Deliciously pink Dragon Boat Festival
Ti Gong

Sun-drenched vineyards of Provence

Bucking a long indifference to these pink wines, an increasing number of wine lovers in China are embracing rose wines. Young and fashionable drinkers, particularly females, are increasingly embracing the titillating and vibrant qualities of these lightly colored wines that perfectly pair with seasonal summer dishes and delights.

Many wine regions in both the Old and New Worlds make fine rose wines; however, this year I'm gravitating to my original pink love. In my formative years, every August our family would vacation in the seaside resort of Juan-les-Pins in Antibes, Provence. An afternoon alfresco lunch on the docks would have been unthinkable without a bottle of local rose and a bucket of frog legs or fresh catch from the sea. So many years later, I'm revisiting these pink beauties of my past to celebrate this very special Dragon Boat Festival.


While wine regions in Italy and Spain made rose wines earlier, Provence in the south of France arguably has become the spiritual home of rose wines. Ancient Greeks started making wines in Southern France about 600 BC. By the time the Romans arrived in 125 BC, the rose wines of Provence were already famous throughout the empire.

In the 20th century, the railway and the growing popularity of tourism in the Cote d'Azur helped introduce the resplendent rose wines of Provence to upscale European and US consumers. Provence rose remain among the most prized and expensive rose wines in the world. The special Mediterranean climate and semi arid land of this region holds the secret to the quality of its wines.

The main appellations in Provence are Cotes de Provence, Bandol, D'Aix-en-Provence, Les Baux de Provence, Palette, Cassis and Bellet. The most popular varieties used to make Provence rose wines are the local grapes Carignan, Cinsaut, Grenache, Tibouren, Mourvedre along with Syrah and to a lesser extent the Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

The vast majority of Provence rose wines are made using the limited maceration process where the skins are left in contact with the fruit of the grapes for a limited period of several hours to a few days. The longer the period of skin contact, the darker the color. The choice of grape varieties will also influence the color with Grenache centric wines usually lighter in color and Carignan and Syrah dominant wines more deeply colored.

The Provence region offers some of the world's most dazzling and vivid colors, aromas and tastes. Lush fields of wild berries, lavender, herbs and flowers cover the rolling hills. Not by coincidence you may also experience many of these sensations in the region's rose wines. The rose wines of Provence typically are bright, fresh and dry. They commonly feature a light peach, light salmon or onion skin color with elegantly subtle fresh fruit and floral qualities. There's always a food-friendly and pleasing fresh acidic and sometimes slightly bitter finish.

The dry and vibrant rose wines of Provence pair exceptionally well with a wide variety of foods from light appetizers, cheeses, seafood, pastas and pizzas to more substantial white and even red meat dishes. They also pair quite nicely with a variety of savoy and off-sweet zongzi and are perfect wines by themselves as a hot summer afternoon quencher.

One of my all-time favorite rose wines is Chateau La Tour de L'Eveque Rose, a pink salmon colored wines with peach, citrus and licorice aromas and a quenching dry and slightly bitter finish. Two other distinguished wines from this esteemed Cotes de Provence producer are Petale de Rose and Rosarte Rose. Le Source Gabriel is another top Cotes de Provence rose you can find in our fair city.

Additional recommended producers include Domaine de Triennes, Chateau de Pibarnon, Chateau Paradis, AIX, Estandon and Miraval. All of us who live and work in Shanghai have persevered through a dark and difficult time and are now ready to celebrate. We all deserve a glass of rose sunshine from Provence to salute our regained freedom and dream of better days.

Deliciously pink Dragon Boat Festival

Where to buy

China Wine & Spirits, 702, No. 1, Lane 1135 Xinzha Rd, 6087-1811

Chateau La Tour de L'Eveque Rose AOC

Chateau La Tour de L'Eveque Pedal de Rose AOC

Chateau La Tour de L'Eveque Rosarte Rose

Le Source Gabriel Rose (website)

AIX Corteaux Aix-en-Provence Rose AOC

Estandon Heritage Rose (website)

Miraval Cotes de Provence Rose AOC

Special Reports