HOME | IN THE MAGAZINE | BACK ISSUES | JULY/AUGUST 2009
It’s kind of nice how, in the warmer months, we start to take ourselves a little less seriously. The sun stretches out the days like a long pull of saltwater taffy, warms our ever-more-exposed skin, and we begin to loosen up a little bit. We kick the furry slippers to the back of the closet and walk barefoot around the house; open windows to let the breezes blow and crank the music a little louder than we ought to; we dine al fresco on a blanket in the park and eat with our hands. And just as we re-introduce a few more colors into our wardrobe, it’s only appropriate that we do the same with what’s in our glass, making the two-party system that rules wine-drinking habits the rest of the year a little more democratic—and fun.
So this summer, as the mercury rises and you start looking for a lighter wine to cool you off, why not think pink? Rosé, in fact, is the quintessential warm-weather wine, offering a range of captivating flavors, not to mention good, crisp, clean fun. Whether you’re lounging at the beach with a Grenache-based blusher or beating the heat with something cool from California, there’s no better time to pull out the pink.
Make Me Blush
Years ago, many rosé wines were more of an afterthought for winemakers. Not that there weren’t great examples to be had, but there was an awful lot of feh out there, too. “Historically, when you had an area where the grapes didn’t do so well, for example, they would make a light rosé out of it,” says winemaker Roman Roth of Wölffer Estate in Long Island, New York, whose sales of his baby-pink, incredibly refreshing rosé went from around 80 cases in 1992 to 4,500 with this year’s release, all typically selling out by August. “Maybe they were trying to get the color [for a red wine] and they lost it and the fermentations went too hot or they picked unripe.”
Today, though, there are ever-higher quality examples of rosé popping up around the globe. Where in years prior, sticky-sweet versions turned many a wine lover off, the rising quality and drier, more refreshing examples on shelves have made many a previous blush-eschewer reconsider. “I remember a lot of rosés used to be on the sweeter side, not that interesting,” says Jean Luc LeDû of LeDû Wines in New York City. “Now a lot of houses are dedicated to making dry, lively styles of rosé, which are much more palatable.”
LeDû lumps himself into the group of people who used to consider rosé an afterthought. He joined Restaurant Daniel in New York City in 1995 and spent nearly a decade as its wine director (a job that earned him a coveted James Beard Award in 2003). During that time, he says, he would sell around a case of rosé a year; now LeDû sells closer to 150 cases in his wine shop. “Now I taste a lot of them for my store and I see that there’s some really interesting stuff being produced,” he says. “The quality has shot up tremendously.”
Here, skin contact is brief—only a few hours at most, according to Parr, who prefers the saignée method when it comes to sparkling rosé—but it’s enough to give the wine a whole other dimension. “If you over-macerate you might get too much bitterness in the juice,” he says. “I think the saignée is more interesting because you get the perfect amount of tannins and then the flavor you want in the juice from day one.” However, unlike its still-wine counterparts, which tend toward the very affordable, rosé Champagne comes with a much higher price tag—Parr recently sold a 1975 Dom Perignon rosé Champagne for around $1,500, which, unless you happen to own your own endless-acre estate upon which to set a blanket, isn’t exactly picnic-wine price range. Luckily, though, that’s far more the exception than a rosé rule.
If you have Champagne taste on a rosé budget, Parr suggests eschewing his favorite sparkler grape, Pinot Noir, for sparkling wines made from other, similarly thinner-skinned varietals, like northern Italy’s Lagrein or Nebbiolo (which also make great still rosé wines called rosato). This, of course, is always a good way to get the most bang for your buck—learning what you like, where it’s from and reasonable facsimiles that allow you to drink well for less. Drier-style rosé wines are becoming more and more in demand and, thus, easier to find these days, but looking toward southeast France and also further northwest in the Loire will lead you to beautifully acidic, elegant, food-friendly rosés that will please even the most pink-averse. LeDû suggests looking for Grenache-based rosé from producers like Chateau Pradeaux in the Provençal appellation Bandol, which he says tend to be meatier than your average rosé and are great with typical summertime foods, such as grilled chicken. He also suggests Cabernet Franc-based rosés from the Loire Valley. Or try wine from the town of Tavel in the Rhône, where according to French wine law rosé—and only rosé—may be made from the Grenache, Cinsault and other lesser red varietals that grow there. Here you’ll not only find refreshing, strawberry-scented, down-to-earth rosés, but some good bargains, too.
If you like a little more oomph in your rosé, Mario Bai of Wine Lite Imports suggests looking toward Spain’s rosados. “Rosados tend to be more powerful, undergoing a longer fermentation [on the skins] to extract deeper colors and aromas,” Bai says. “They tend to be darker and have more intense aromatics.” The most common Spanish rosés are Garnachas (Spanish for Grenache) from Navarra, with their racy acidity and bright berry notes. Bone-dry Tempranillo rosados are coming into vogue, too, says Bai, thanks to their “intense cherry notes with hints of strawberry and floral aromas. In the mouth the wine is well structured, with well-pronounced flavors, and passes the palate dry, crisp and clean, with an intensity of flavors that begs the question, ’How can you call it a finish if it never ends?’”
While the New World has long had a reputation for sweeter, flabby versions of rosé, this has changed with producers in Oregon and Washington crafting clean, crisp versions. And California, which has long been pigeon-holed as tending toward more sugary rosés, is yielding more restrained, delicate examples these days. There’s even a rosé tasting extravaganza called the Pink Out held every May in San Francisco, where since 2003 founder Jeff Morgan, owner of the rosé-only winery SoloRosa (“Only Pink”) in Sonoma invites upwards of 75 rosé makers to collectively show off their dry-style versions at the blushy love fest. “I call us the Rose Avengers—avenging the wrongs done to dry rosé!” he laughs.
But it’s winemakers like this, devoted to elegant, pretty, structured sippers, who are making those who once snubbed rosé warm up to a cool glass of pink. “People are becoming more knowledgeable and adventurous. I mean, I think rosé is perfect for Thanksgiving! It’s a very versatile wine,” says Roth. “But you don’t want all these big, berry fruits sticking out. It should be an understatement; a subtle elegance and quality—the statement is not to make a statement.”
For our picks of 10 great rosés under $25, check out the July/August 2009 issue.