So this post is about three months too late. Rosé season actually starts in late March (for Northern hemisphere wines) as the first efforts from the previous vintage make their way through the distribution chain and find their way onto wine lists and retail shelves.
All the same, I felt that it was important to voice my opinion.
In short, if you don’t drink pink wine, I feel very sorry for you.
In my experience, people’s perception of rosé falls into one of three categories:
The “in the know”
Once you have tried a really good rosé wine, chilled down on a hot summer day, you will be an immediate convert. In fact, your one taste will lead to a glass, to two and then you will have polished the bottle and will be looking for another. You will never again doubt the pink. The good ones are that good.
A good characterization of the “in the know” mentality is a recent get together I had with some wine industry friends in New York City. They were talking about how easy it is to sell rosé. My favorite quotes of the conversation were “If you can’t sell rosé, you are in the wrong business,” and “it’s pink. People like pink. Just fucking sell it.”
I laughed because, on the one hand, I agreed wholeheartedly. Nothing completes a summer day like a glass of rosé consumed while sitting on the porch and snacking on olives and salumi. But on the other hand, I remembered, on more than one occasion, having to force a friend or a customer to take the rose home and drink it, a disbelieving look on their face like I had just convinced them to burn $12 and eat the ashes. Only when they came back, after having drank the stuff, did they understand.
These folks have begun their wine education, have tried some whites and reds, know a thing or two about what they like and what they don’t and agree on one general principle: pink wine is awful.
They are confusing overly sweet, cloying and not worth the effort mast produced blush wines with artisanal dry rosé wines that are the spring and summer drink of choice for many. White Zinfandel, White Merlot and even white Cabernet grace the shelves of many large liquor stores from behemoth producers like Beringer, Turning Leaf, Gallo and others.
And the uninitiated are right: these wines are awful. My first experiences with wine came from pilfering glasses of white zinfandel from the family wine boxes (where my embezzlement would go unnoticed.) Even for my adolescent palate, these wines were too sweet and often too acidic. They convinced me for years that I did not like wine. In truth, I did not like crappy pink wine.
But if you can introduce the uninitiated to a solid rosé, crafted either in the skin contact or the saignee method (more on those below), they will embrace it. They will recognize within it all of the things that they have come to love about wine: full, often fruity aromas, refreshing flavors, balanced acidity and a satisfying, if short, finish. It only takes one wine to convert.
The blissfully ignorant
The blissfully ignorant read the last section and said, “But I like White Zinfandel.” I can’t help these people.
Rosé wines are generally crafted in one of two ways. Using red grapes, the wines are crushed and the juice is allowed to sit on the skins for a very brief period of time, usually one to two days. The wine maker then separates the juice, disposes of the skins and proceeds with the wine making process.
In the saignée process, rose wine is made as a by product of red wine production. Shortly after crushing the grapes, juice is removed from the vats so that the ratio of juice to skins is decreased. The result, for the red wine, is a deeper, more intense color and more structured tannins. The removed juice is then fermented separately to produce rosé wines.
In either case, you get wines that have a unique appeal. They exhibit many of the flavors of red wines (berries, cherries and spices) though in a less intense fashion than with a full bodied red. They also take on unique flavors that are less common in red or white wines (watermelon, honeydew, banana and citrus flavors). Their color may range from a pale orangish yellow to a dark jolly rancher red.
Rosé wines are incredibly versatile and pair well with a variety of foods from light fishes, poultry and pad thai to barbeque and lighter meats. They also make for good aperitifs and do not require food (Did I mention that they are great on summer days?)
Rosé mines are made all over the world and, if they are well made, reflect the time and place that they come from. I prefer those from the Mediterranean basin (Southern Spain, France and Italy) but you will find good alternatives from Argentina, Chile, North America, South Africa and Australia.
In general, look for the most recent vintage. Rose wines can age well and a few can age for five years or more but I get the most enjoyment out of consuming the recent vintages, knowing that the wine I am drinking was on the vine not eight months ago and believing that I am getting a sneak peak on the vintage to come. You should be able to find quality rosé for less than $20 a bottle. In some cases, you can find great bargains with enjoyable wines in the $10 – $12 range