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.”