Cork dorks the world over have forever sung the praises of dry, Mediterranean-style Rosés, only to be drowned in a flood of objection and misunderstanding left in the wake of this delicate wine’s infamous cousins, White Zinfandel and other sweet, insipid wines made popular in the ’80s. That being said, the image of Rosé has changed rapidly over the last couple of years, and now dry Rosé is one of the fastest growing wine categories in the country. The fact that Spring is just around the corner, alone, should be enough reason for you to grab a glass of something cold, dry, refreshing and pink to complement your afternoon, but if you’ve steered clear of Rosé for fear of judgment by your wine-snob friends or an unforgiving blast of sweetness, now is the time to taste it again, for the first time.
Rosés are made all over the world from innumerable grape varieties. They can range from still to fully sparkling, from bone-dry to sumptuously sweet, from incredibly affordable to ridiculously expensive, and range in color from palest salmon to deepest purple-pink. The vast array of styles available and a long history of simple, sweet, pink-colored quaffers from the US and Portugal has led to much confusion among consumers, with many making the mistake of shunning this category altogether. Some fear that pink is not masculine enough, or, perhaps, that onlookers may think they have poor taste in wine. This is unfortunate, for those who dare to drink pink have the opportunity to enjoy wines that at their best, can boast the complexity of the finest white Burgundies and pair with an amazing array of foods from delicate sushi to spicy barbecue.
There are several methods for making Rosé wines. Blending red and white wines together to produce a pink wine is generally looked down upon, as this doesn’t produce the same flavors. In fact, this practice is only accepted for the production of sparkling wine, where a small amount of red wine can be added to enhance the color of pink sparklers. Quality Rosé wine is only made from red wine grapes. The juice of nearly all red wine grapes is clear, just like table grapes one might purchase at the store. The color that gives red wines their depth comes from the skin of the grapes; therefore, if you only allow the juice of the grapes to be in contact with the skins for a limited time, you achieve pink wine.
Rosés are most often made from a blend of grapes that mirror those for the red wines of the region from which they came. For this reason, it’s not unusual to see Rosés from Rioja, Spain, made from Tempranillo and Garnacha, or from Southern France made from Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault. This is true of the New World, as well, which is why we see Malbec Rosé from Argentina and, of course, White Zinfandel from the US. Most producers choose to make Rosé as a way to capitalize on their harvest by producing both a delicate Rosé and a rich red wine from the same batch of grapes! Grapes harvested for the production of powerful red wines are crushed and placed in fermenting vats. After a few hours of contact with the skins, a portion of the juice is removed from the tank, thus concentrating the contents of the red wine vat by reducing the ratio of juice to skin. Therefore, the winery can make richer, more concentrated red wines & delicate Rosés at the same time!
It’s interesting to note the color of the Rosé has very little to say about a wine’s quality. Rosé wines made from the technique described above will have deeper color because they are produced from very ripe grapes. This is often desirable by those who like richer flavors in their wines. On the other side of the spectrum, some of the finest Rosés in the world, such as those produced in Provence, France, are quite pale in color because they are made from red grapes that were harvested for the sole purpose of making delicate, dry, crisp Rosé, rather than also producing a rich red. When visiting a Provence Rosé producer in France in 2010, I asked about the color of the wines. The winemaker threw his hands up & said, “Oh you Americans!! The color doesn’t MATTER! It’s only the TASTE!”
With taste in mind, here are some things to look for in your next bottle. Rosé should be fresh and bright with lively floral and fresh berry flavors. Think of the smell of freshly picked strawberries or the mouth-quenching burst you taste when biting into the season’s just-picked cherries. The aromas should allude to something sweet, yet the flavors should be crisp and refreshing. Sweetness in Rosé is not necessarily a pitfall, but it’s often used to mask other flaws in the wine, such as too much astringency. Bone-dry Rosé can only be made from the highest quality grapes and the wines should be redolent of the flavors of fresh fruits without sweetness on the palate. High quality Rosés can age much longer than once believed, but it’s still best to look for the most recent vintage. Look for exceptional bottles from 2016, or expect the newest arrivals from 2017 to hit your local Wine Shop, soon!! Now that Rosé hasbecome the latest darling of wine drinkers in-the-know, there is simply no excuse but to DRINK PINK!
Sara Guterbock, CS, ISS, CWE, DipWSET, is education director at Mutual Distributing Company of North Carolina