A Rose by Any Other Name
Technically, a rosé is an “unfinished red wine,” but the term seems so- secondary. Rosé is a different sort of wine, with all the refreshing qualities of a white wine mixed with some characteristics of a red. It can be made from many different grape varietals and in many different regions, the most popular and successful being Southern France, Spain, California & Italy.
Rosé is a wine that goes through the red winemaking process, but is stopped before extracting too many red wine characteristics. Almost always made from red varietals, the grapes are pressed and the juice sits with the skins for fermentation – but just for a little while – enough time to get a bit of color and a bit of the skin characteristics. Then fermentation continues as a white wine, most often in stainless steel. Rosés are typically ready to drink early – not so much to age. Some popular regions of rosé are Tavel (an AOC for ONLY rosé wines in the Rhone area of France), other areas of Southern France, Spain, Italy and California. Almost all regions make rosé, and many from different grape varieties (Grenache – based in Spain, France, Australia and South Africa; Sangiovese or Nebbiolo in Italy). Just like red and white wines, rosés can be of different styles – sweet or dry, dark or light – the winemaker and grape variety (or varieties as rosés are often blended) are key. Pink wines have delicious character and are perfect for food. For dryer styles of rosé, try those from Southern France and Spain, for the sweeter styles, look for White Zinfandel and some other California rosé makers.
Summing it up
Successful Sites: Southern France, Spain, Italy, California
Common Descriptors: strawberry, raspberry
Reputations can be tough to shed. Perhaps none are more stubborn than rosé’s. Why? The wine industry–by cranking out millions of bottles and casks of bland, too-sweet white zinfandel in the 1980s–did its best to kill the notion that pink wine can be a tasty, refreshing, refined drink. There are few better wines than rose for summer sipping. Try one (or all) of these.
Today, though, rosé is no longer the pink-headed stepchild of the wine shop. According to data from the Wine Market Council, of those Americans who drink at least one glass of wine each week, 18% of the time they drink pink.
Chalk it up to a competitive global wine market, improved grape-growing and winemaking practices and a few important flag wavers such as highly regarded New Zealand winemaker Kim Crawford (in his case, with a rosé called Pansy!, mostly marketed to the gay community). Maybe it’s a combination of all three that’s made rosé one of the best value-for-dollar wine categories on the shelf.
That’s what Charles Bieler of Three Thieves Wines, has been saying for years. He started out in the wine business in the early 1990s, promoting and marketing the rosé his father then made at Château Routas in Provence, France, by driving around the U.S. in a pink Cadillac–wearing a pink tux and top hat, no less.
Today, such gimmicks are unnecessary. Wine shops carry dozens of high-quality rosés from several different countries, including Bieler’s–one from France that his family still makes, called Bieler Père et Fils, and the other called Charles & Charles, from Washington, in partnership with local winemaker Charles Smith.
But even though rosé has regained acceptance, the same rule applies for this style of wine as any other: Education equals better buys.
Rosé is made in the same manner as white wine, but using red grapes. The bunches are picked and crushed, and depending on how long the juice and grape skins sit together in the tank, the more red color is passed on to the juice. The juice is then drained off and fermented separately.
The hue shouldn’t have as much an impact on flavor, however, as the vintage date. With only a few rare exceptions, rosés are not designed to age. It’s 2009, so right now you should be drinking 2009 rosés from the southern hemisphere, and 2008s from the northern. Fresh rosés will be bright, vibrant and juicy; after a year or even less, the wines tend to dull in aroma and flavor.
Unfortunately, this was the case when we tried Domaine Ott from southern France, arguably the most highly sought-after and expensive ($40) rosé available. The 2007 we tried was still tasty, but not exuding the fresh aromas and flavors it likely did a year ago when it first arrived on store shelves.
Normally, buying according to pedigree is a good strategy. South Africa’s Mulderbosch, for example, has a great reputation for its sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc; by association, the winery’s rosé ($11) should deliver as well. And it did in our video tasting with Bieler–the flavors and aromas were all strawberries and raspberries, with a rush of acidity that makes the mouth water for more.
Also consider regional pedigree. As mentioned, southern France is where most of the rosés in your local shop are likely to come from; this is because pink wine has been a hallmark of summer drinking in southern France for decades. If you’ve had one southern French rosé that you liked, you’re bound to enjoy another.
Finally, feel free to experiment. Most good-tasting rosés shouldn’t cost more than $10 or $12–some even half that amount. So don’t get discouraged if your first few tries don’t result in a wine you love. After all, it’s just a drink–no one’s forcing you to wear a pink tuxedo to sing its virtues.