By Larry Sterner
In case you hadn’t noticed, rosé wine is no longer just a “summer” wine, and we are no longer confined to Portuguese crock bottles or White Zinfandel. In fact, in other parts of the world, most notably France, rosé has never been just a summer wine. It has always been an integral part of any complete wine list.
Rosé wines are made from a variety of grapes. The wine obtains its color from sitting on the grape skins for a short time period; blending red wine with white; or through saignée, where the rosé is made as byproduct during a process of bleeding off the juice through maceration while making red wine. The pink color can range from a light blush to a clear ruby. And you can find varieties that are still or sparkling.
America arguably took a wrong turn in rosé appreciation in the 1970s. White Zinfandel’s discovery is credited to Bob Trinchero of Trinchero Family Estates, located in the Napa Valley. Trinchero was especially drawn to a homemade Zinfandel made from grapes grown in the California Gold Rush country, the Sierra Foothills. He started producing Amador County Zinfandel and was a pioneer in Zinfandel production under the Sutter Home label.
In an effort to make his Amador County Zinfandel even more robust, he drew off some of the free-run juice and fermented it as a “white” wine, actually a pale pink color, due to short exposure to the red grape skins. It was lighter-bodied and more delicate than Zinfandel and initially found fans among the tasting room clientele. And the rest, they say, is history. White Zinfandel became hugely popular and many producers began turning out these simple, quaffable, wines that were easily approachable albeit a bit sweet and uncomplicated with either very little acid backbone or way too much.
More recently, drinkers have eschewed White Zinfandel for more complex rosé wines. Growth in rosé consumption over the last few years has been mind-boggling. The latest figures from Nielsen Research and French Customs indicate that sales in Provence rosés alone increased 55% by volume and 60% by absolute value during the twelve months ending July 2017. Recently I visited the Pennsylvania State Liquor store at 21st and Market street in Philadelphia and was delighted to find more than 40 rosé wines from around the world—a surefire sign that the age of rosé is upon us.
I’ll be the first to say there are still plenty of perfectly horrid rosés out there, populating the shelves of grocery stores and filling the carafes of rosé served even in French cafés (which is why a couple of ice-cubes are usually found in your glass!). As with any wine, not all rosés are serious, nor are they intended as such.
A good place to start is the pale, dry rosé from Provence, known for its marked expression of fruit, and delicate balance of acidity and sugar, lending the impression of sweetness without intense sucrose.
Many experts agree that the quality of Provencal rosé, and many other rosés for that matter, has increased over the last decade or so and winemakers are serious about making quality wines. As a result there is now a very diverse palate of excellent rosés available made from grape varieties like Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah and almost every other well known red wine grape. Colors range from pale blushy pink to deep clear ruby (note that a rosé’s color is not always directly related to depth). The primary flavors of rosé wine are red fruit, flowers, citrus, and melon, with a pleasant crunchy green flavor on the finish similar to celery or rhubarb. Of course, the varietal will have some impact on the flavor. For example, a deeply-colored Italian Aglianico rosé—called rosato in Italy– will offer up cherry and orange zest flavors, and a pale-colored Grenache rosé from Provence will taste of honeydew melon, lemon and celery. In many cases, the flavor profile of rosés bridge the gap between the tart astringency of dry white wines and the fruity, full flavors of lighter reds like Pinot Noir, making rosé a very fitting match for many types of food and cuisine, particularly fish, chicken, spicy foods and Asian cooking.
Some excellent, locally available rosés:
E. Guigal – Côtes du Rhône Rosé (France)
Chateau Minuty Rosé – Côtes de Provence (France)
Commanderie de la Bargamone – Rose Côte d’Aix en Provence (France)
La Vielle Ferme Rosé (France)
Jean-Luc Colombo – Cape Bleu (France)
Domaines Ott – Côte de Provence Rose (France)
Bonny Doon – Vin Gris de Cigare (California, USA)
Sokol Blosser – Estate Rose of Pinot Noir (Oregon, USA)
Kendall Jackson – Grand Reserve Rosé (California, USA)
Crios Malbec Rosé (Argentina)
Kim Crawford Rosé – (New Zealand)
Mulderbosch – Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon – (South Africa)
I have found a good deal of satisfaction from my exploration of rosés and the multitude of grape varieties that are employed in creating them. I hope that this exploration of the past and present of rosé wine will inspire you to try some soon. I’m confident that you will enjoy the experience—not just in the spring or summer, but any time of year.