Sizzling summertime temps call for the cool, refreshing flavors of the world’s best rosés. Here are our editors’ top picks for pool or patio.

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: Gertrude Stein did not say “a rosé is a rosé is a rosé,” and for good reason. She knew well that a rosé could be pale pink or hot pink, salmon-colored or coppery. It could be sweet, off dry or bone dry; blended from both white and red wines or made exclusively from red grapes. It could be Pinot Noir or Cabernet or Zinfandel, Merlot or Grenache or Mourvèdre. In fact, it could be almost anything from almost anywhere and still be labeled rosé.

With few exceptions (mostly French appellations in Provence and the Loire that regulate the term more strictly), the word “rosé” on a wine label simply indicates that the wine in the bottle is pink. The majority of the world’s rosés may legally be made from virtually any grape or grapes and to any degree of sweetness (or dryness). This state of affairs hasn’t helped the cause of those who would champion these wines. Most rosés are sweet, pink blush wines. If that’s not the optimal style, then what are they supposed to be?

The fact is, sweet, cheap, pink wines have marked the trail for many a novice wine drinker. Since the popularization of blush wines two decades ago, the fruity flavor of white Zinfandel has brought millions of new wine lovers to the table. That’s a good thing. In addition, the huge demand for white Zin saved thousands of acres of old vine plantings from being ripped up, and supported the entire California wine industry during the decade of the 1980s, when North American table-wine consumption was in a slump.

Drinking Our Way To Good Health
Things changed dramatically following the broadcast of the “French Paradox” program on 60 Minutes a decade ago. The perception that red wine—not white or pink wine—was especially healthful, along with the maturing of the market, prompted a substantial increase in red wine consumption. Along with it, the popularity of more expensive, superpremium wines climbed.

Off-dry blush wines, especially white Zinfandel and white Merlot, are still a huge component of American wine sales. In supermarkets, which account for 38 percent of all off-premise sales in America, blush wines are still number two in popularity. White Zinfandel alone accounts for a 13-percent share. Sweet pink wines are still the easiest and most employed transition from soda pop to fermented grapes for young adults.

Nevertheless, sales statistics provided by the Wine Institute reveal the full extent of the decline in blush wines sales over the last decade. Although as recently as 1995 blush wines accounted for a third of all California table-wine sales, by last year they had dropped to just 21 percent, while red wine sales rose dramatically from 17 percent in 1991 to a whopping 38 percent. White wine sales dropped from 49 percent to 41 percent over the same period.

Maturing Tastes in the Wake of the “French Paradox” Findings
Certainly this suggests that wine drinkers have matured, and like any kids who grow up and leave home, their tastes have changed. It also reflects the acceptance by millions of the health benefits of moderate (particularly red) wine consumption—call it the “post 60 Minutes syndrome.” For those weaned on blush wines, the natural inclination at some point is to reject them and move on to the pleasures of full-bodied reds. In this manner, the whole rosé tribe has regrettably been cast out.

Pink: More Complicated Than You Think
But wait a minute. They’re not all sweet. Many rosés, certainly the most versatile, food-friendly ones, are bone dry. These dry rosés are often complex, layered with fruit and spice, sinuous and crisp, affordable and delicious. It’s time to reacquaint ourselves with them, and summer is the ideal time to do it. Young, fresh rosés are the consummate summer wines. They will not wilt in the heat as will your sturdier reds, nor will they tire the palate or lose their character if overchilled, as do so many oaky white wines. Chill ’em and swill ’em; rosés can take it.

Rosés offer many other advantages. They are generally inexpensive, because they are not often put into pricey oak barrels or crafted for long-term cellaring. They usually have lower alcohol levels than other red wines (and many whites), and therefore lend themselves to quenching summer-sized thirsts. They pair nicely with many summer foods, because they emphasize fruit and acid, which enables them to match well with spice, smoke, vinaigrettes and other summer flavors. And they are widely available.

Some pink wine is made by simply blending red and white wine together, but this is not often a favored approach. The exception is in Champagne, where a bit of red still wine is blended in with the white wine before the final fermentation. Rosé Champagnes are so highly prized that they are often the priciest wines in the house lineup. But more commonly, rosé is made from red grapes exclusively, and the pale color is obtained by limiting the duration of skin contact.

Certain red grapes, such as Grenache and Pinot Noir, produce naturally light-red wines, even when the juice is left to soak on the skins (macerated) for several hours. These grapes are particularly favored for rosé in this country. Other grapes, such as Cabernet or Zinfandel, produce deeply colored wines, and in order to keep the color light the juice must be bled off the skins very quickly. Sometimes these wines (called saignée, which is French for bled) are by-products of wineries in pursuit of more deeply-colored, richer-tasting red wines. In any event, it’s a fine way to create rosé, because it uses free-run juice.

It’s not always easy to tell exactly how sweet a rosé is going to be just by looking at the label. But in general, wines that are called “blush,” that are “white” versions of red grapes, or that are generic blancs de noirs are likely to be fairly sweet. The best will taste of fresh strawberries and watermelon, and may have a slight effervescence, which only adds to the fresh feel. Always, always, always drink these wines young, preferably within a year of the vintage. A good rosé is quite delicious when served ice cold.

Some dry rosés are labeled vin gris, even in California. Gris means “gray” in French, and since grapes bearing black names yield red wines, in France the colloquial usage for light reds became gris. A French vin gris will be paler than most other rosés because it has been treated as if it were a white wine; that is to say, pressed before fermentation and given no skin contact at all. A gris de gris is a further elaboration on this theme, and usually means that the grape varieties used were Grenache or Cinsaut.

The vast vineyards of the southern Rhône and the Languedoc produce many excellent, often inexpensive rosés. Tavel, in the southern Rhône, makes the best-known French rosés, but Bandol, in Provence, is where the most complex, spicy, long-lived bottles hail from. Prices for these gems, as you might imagine, are right in line with their quality.

The bargain bottles in Europe are most likely to be found in Spain, where rosado (pale pink) and clarete (darker pink) wines are made in abundance (note that the term “clarete,” which has been banned by the EU, will no longer turn up on export bottles).
The bottom line for any rosé: drink it young, drink it cold and drink it with food. To get you going in the right direction, Wine Enthusiast’s top tasters have each nominated a few of their favorites. So we can all enjoy “la vie en rosé.”

—Paul Gregutt


Rosé Ratings

Paul Gregutt, Contributing Editor
90 Fife 2000 Redhead Rosé (Redwood Valley); $14. From “older vines on rocky hillsides” comes this bold, forward, decadently fruity rosé. It showcases terrific Mendocino old vine Zinfandel fruit in a ripe, spicy format that is (barely) toned-down for rosé. There is an excitement to this wine that makes your palate race, your tongue smile, your hand reach for the glass. It’s alive, spicy and bursting with fresh, vivid fruit.

89 Henri Bourgeois 2000 Grand Réserve Rosé (Sancerre); $15. Sancerre is so well-known for its steely white Sauvignon Blancs that its charming rosés and pale red wines go largely unnoticed in this country. But for those who value elegant, ephemeral wines that seduce by teasing the palate with hints of spice and fruit, this lovely rosé is a real treasure. Made from 100 percent Pinot Noir (31 percent presswine, 69 percent saignée), it is scented with fresh strawberries and light spice; it’s pale pink and quite tart.

88 Robert Sinskey 1999 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir (Carneros); $17. Sinskey packages his rosé in a hock bottle, whose graceful shape emulates the elegant wine within. This is a textbook rosé that sets up cleanly on the palate and delivers crisp, textured flavors that seem to include whiffs and nuances of everything from cherries to chocolate. It’s made for food: A hot summer day, a plate of smoked ribs, and a chilled bottle of this wine are perfect summer matches.

ROGER VOSS, European Editor
87 Château d’Aqueria 2000 Tavel; $15. Tavel, an appellation of the Southern Rhône, describes itself, with no hint of modesty, as the greatest rosé of France, and this Grenache-dominated rosé shows why the claim is worth making. Château d’Aqueria was one of the first French wines to appear in the U.S. after the end of Prohibition, thanks to its enterprising owner Jean Olivier. Perfect as a partner with fish, shellfish and cold cuts, it is full-bodied and powerful, with a fine onion-skin color, raspberry flavors and a pleasing balance of ripe fruit and acidity.

85 Bodegas Julian Chivite 2000 Grand Feudo Rosado Garnacha (Navarra); $8. Rosado wines are Navarra’s claims to vinous fame, although reds are now increasingly important. Classically made from the Garnacha (Grenache) grape, they are full-flavored and rich. Coming from Chivite, one of the most famous and largest bodegas in the region, Gran Feudo Rosado is typically deep pink in color, with ripe, soft fruit that’s balanced by a touch of acidity. Fragrant, candy flavors plus a touch of vanilla give this wine a rich taste.

84 Gratien et Meyer, NV Cuvée Flamme Rosé Brut (Saumur); $12. The cellars of Gratien et Meyer are carved deep into the soft cliff face high above the Loire River, just to the east of Saumur. Just as in Champagne, bottles are stacked dozens high while they age. The Cuvée Flamme Rosé is one of the best of its style from the region, with a pale salmon color. Crisp fruit and just a hint of tannins from the Cabernets used in the blend give the wine delicious, refreshing structure with firm acidity.

STEVE HEIMOFF, West Coast Editor
90 Iron Horse 1996 Brut Rosé (Sonoma County-Green Valley); $30. Yes it’s sparkling, but it is rosé. The striking color is somewhere between fiery sunset orange-red and the theatrical scarlet of a bordello, because winemaker Forrest Tancer macerated the Pinot Noir fruit for seven days. Pinot Noir comprises a full 88 percent of the blend, and strawberry flavor dominates the luscious, bright and slightly peppery palate. Like most brut rosés, it’s not acutely dry; but the almost imperceptible sweetness adds to the round, full feel. Back in 1827, one of Champagne Mumm’s founders reassured a customer that, “Rosé is in no way inferior to white wine.” This brilliant wine from Iron Horse, which has been on a real roll, is proof enough.

88 Domaine Arretxea 1999 Irouleguy; $16. This pale, light rosé is made from 60% Tannat and 40% Cabernet Franc in the Basque country of southwest France. The aromas are earthy and minty, like green strawberries when they’re just beginning to turn pink, while the flavors are medicinal, iodiney and even bitter. It’s a distinct, unique expression of the grape varieties, climate and soil. With Roasted Chicken Irouleguy from San Francisco (and Basque) chef Gerald Hirigoyen of Fringale restaurant, this austere wine comes alive. The salty, garlicky food teases out the wine’s buried sweetness, and various flavor molecules find all sorts of affinities with each other. A fruity rosé would clash, but the Arretxea does what wine is supposed to do: It steps up to the plate and advances the runners.

87 Chateau de Trinquevedel 1999 Tavel; $12. Tavel is France’s and the world’s only rosé-only appellation, and Trinquevedel one of its best wineries. The ’99 is a rich, dry, pinkish-orange wine with strawberry and cranberry aromas and flavors, and hints of olives and rosemary, with a bitter, tangerine-rind finish. It has enough body and power—not to mention finesse—to stand in for serious reds, which is why the locals drink it with everything from charcuterie to seafood. A blend of Grenache, which gives it fruitiness, and Cinsaut, which adds acidity and freshness, it’s meant to be drunk in its lively youth.

JOSH FARRELL, Senior Editor
88 Iron Horse 1999 Vin Gris de Pinot Noir (Green Valley); $15. This California rosé has a bold color that’s deep, transparent ruby, not pale bubble-gum pink. The rich nose has buttery aromas reminiscent of California Chardonnay and hints of sweet strawberry and McIntosh apple—this is a dry but fruit-driven wine. Lush apple, strawberry and lemon flavors with pipe tobacco-like notes fill the palate and extend through the lingering finish. It’s soft, with modest acidity, but it’s clearly a serious wine that’s ready to enjoy. Try it with fennel sausage or grilled salmon. Only 599 cases produced.

87 Sanford 1999 Vin Gris Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County); $15. Sweet orange, vanilla, maple-syrup and butter aromas draw you into this South Central Coast cutie. On the palate it’s dry, but full and creamy. The orange and vanilla aromatic elements return as full-blown palate-coating flavors, making this a kind of upscale creamsicle. There’s lively strawberry, tangerine and some mineral notes in there as well. With spaghetti and red clam sauce, it takes on intriguing notes of coffee and cream.

86 Lacheteau 2000 Rose d’Anjou; $8. With a pretty, pale pink color—like a red lollipop—this has a nose of strawberry and lemongrass aromas. This is a tart and lively rosé, with lovely lemon, cherry and berry flavors accented by a balanced dose of sweetness. The bright acidity is uplifting, so it will work well with food, even marrying nicely with hot Italian sausage.

MARK MAZUR, Tasting Director
89 Goats do Roam 2000 Rosé (South Africa); $10. This is a real eye-opening wine with lots of flavor and a good sense of humor, which you can’t taste or smell, but you can enjoy. The name is a play on both the grapes used and the style, which is decidedly Southern Rhône-ish. But this is from the other down under—the way, way down under—not Australia, but South Africa. And the winery does have goats that roam around. There are no goaty aromas here though, just aromas of red berries, earth and spice. Strawberry and green apple flavors sit atop a round, full mouthfeel, with a clean finish that balances fruit, mineral and spice elements. This will pair well with almost anything…except, maybe, goat stew.

88 Valdemar 2000 Viño Rosado (Rioja); $9. Spanish rosés are among the world’s best, and best values, too, as this winning example demonstrates. The transparent red color is followed by a Chardonnay-like green apple and chalk-mineral bouquet. In fact, I closed my eyes and I could have sworn I was nosing a Chard, but the flavors—lively red berries and cherries—are typical rosado. The cherry-, chalk- and spice-tinged finish calls out for grilled foods, and the solid flavors and spine of this Tempranillo-based wine can match just about anything.

87 La Palma 2001 Merlot-Cabernet Rosé (Rapel); $6. South American rosé ? Probably unexplored wine territory, but this rewarding find is worth the hunt. From its lovely rose-petal bouquet to its satisfying fullness, great color and fine, dry fruit, this wine exudes stylish charm. There’s an almost grapefruity quality here that made me smile and wonder if all the Sauvignon used here was Cabernet, but the clean finish has good length. This balanced wine calls out for grilled sea bass or mahi-mahi, or even veal chops. A great value.

88 Lang & Reed 1999 Wild Hare Rosé Cabernet Franc (Napa Valley); $17. Blindfolded, you might mistake this for a red wine—it’s that rich and flavorful. Unlike many rosés, which start out as saignées, this one is “purpose-built from the ground up,” says owner-winemaker John Skupny, starting with grapes from diseased vines that yield lower-than-normal sugar levels. Despite the low brix, warm California sunshine means that the herbaceous notes often found in Cab Francs from the Loire are absent, replaced by luscious cherries and chocolate. Fuller-bodied and more alcoholic than most rosés, this is best saved for cool evenings al fresco, while the crickets chirp in the brush. By the time you read this, the 2000 vintage of this wine may be on the shelves; don’t let that stop you from trying a bottle.

87 Wölffer Estate 2000 Rosé Table Wine (The Hamptons, Long Island); $11. On New York’s version of the French Riviera—the Hamptons beachfront—this crisp, dry rosé from the local vineyards should be the mandatory quaff this summer. For starters, the pretty copper-pink color is eye-catching, but the beauty is more than skin deep. Citrus and apple aromas and flavors (from Chardonnay) combine with tart berries and savory herbs (from Merlot). Although most top-notch rosés are built solely from red winegrapes, white plus red equals pink is an equation that obviously works in the hands of winemaker Roman Roth.

86 False Bay 2000 Blanc de Noir Pinotage (Coastal Region); $9. Quality pinks are showing up from all parts of the world, like this offering from South Africa. Unlike red versions of Pinotage, which can often be somewhat rustic and horsey, this bouncy blush is clean as a whistle, with no off aromas to distract from its vibrant fruit. The intriguing aromas blend Red Delicious apples and farm-stand strawberries, then mixed red berries take over on the palate. The fresh, direct fruit flavors make this a perfect patio wine for the dog days of summer.

JEFF MORGAN, Contributing Editor
88 Tablas Creek 1999 Rosé (Paso Robles); $27. Clean and crisp, with light berry and herb flavors forming a core element, the wine tapers off gently on the finish with classy mineral notes. It is made with juice that is bled off from various red Rhône varieties—Grenache, Mourvèdre and Counoise—before taking on much color, and should work well with oysters, sole and other mild fish, poultry and vegetarian cuisine. Tablas Creek is a partnership between the Perrin family, of Château Beaucastel in France’s southern Rhône, and their long-time importer Robert Haas. Back in France, rosé is de rigueur for summertime, and it’s no wonder. This refreshing and versatile style of wine offers wine lovers a cooling respite from global warming.

87 Miner 2000 Rosato (Mendocino); $13. Bright raspberry flavors lead the way in this tangy, crisp rosé. Made exclusively of Sangiovese grapes, it finishes with moderate length and a citrus-like flair, serving up enough intensity to pair well with an array of dishes from lobster to pasta to burgers on the grill. The wine sees no oak, and is fermented completely dry, which yields a bright, refreshing and totally satisfying quaff. The color is quite brilliant, sparked by the addition of a small amount of red Sangiovese prior to bottling.

86 Bonny Doon 2000 Vin Gris de Cigare (California); $9. Clean and dry, this rosé packs in plenty of pretty cherry and strawberry flavors, and the price can’t be beat. Typically, vintner Randall Grahm scours the state for the best, cheapest grapes he can find. Here, he’s passing on the fruits of his efforts to consumers from both a taste and an economic perspective. Drink this one with fried calamari, salmon steaks, pasta with pesto sauce or summer salads. The name comes from Grahm’s fascination with the Rhône and the region’s reputation for vineyard-visiting flying saucers, dubbed “cigars” by the locals.

Published on September 1, 2001

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