America got the wrong idea about rosé wines back in the 1980s, with the rise of white Zinfandel. I’m not sure who’s more resistant to rosés: newly serious drinkers mistakenly trying to live down their “sweet” wine days or devoted collectors who believe pink wine is just too damn wimpy.
Rosés are not supposed to be pink soda pop: They should be dry and refreshing, with a hint of flowers in the aroma and fresh fruits like strawberry, watermelon or raspberry—something to enjoy on a warm summer day without overthinking it. Your mood, I’m convinced, is crucial to their appreciation. Drinking a rosé when you’re feeling cranky or on a cold, rainy night is a waste of time.
After a cool and soggy spring in Northern California extended well into June, dry rosé has been on my mind. The temperatures are finally in the high 80s, and I just tasted a lively Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare Central Coast 2010 ($15) for inspiration. So far, so good.
But I have to admit that rosé can be a crapshoot, with styles that vary widely, depending on the region, vintage, which varieties are used and how it is produced. An understanding of the basics can help you find one you'll enjoy.
Southern France is the traditional home for rosé; the one from Domaine Tempier in Bandol is perhaps the most world’s most emulated pink—a beautiful wine, rich and complex yet delicate. But most regions with toasty warm summers make some type of “blush” or “pink” wine, including Argentina, Australia, California, Chile, Italy, South Africa and Spain.
Rosés can be made with any red grape, although some work better than others. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, for example, can make perfectly decent blush wines, but they’ve never inspired me. Zinfandel can be a challenge because of its natural sweetness. However, Pinot Noir can produce lovely, aromatic and delicate pinks.
My favorite rosés are made from Rhône varieties such as Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, the varieties typically used in French regions such as Bandol, Tavel, Provence and Côtes du Rhône. I like the extra layer of spice and smokiness that those grapes bring to the wine. Rhône reds are also a popular choice for rosé from California; from there, I look for a handful of consistently good producers such as Quivira, Tablas Creek, Beckman, Ampelos, Cline and Bedrock.
The attractive pink or salmon color of the wine comes from the grape skins. Whether the wine grapes are red or white, the juice is always white. While red wines macerate for extended periods with the skins, rosé has only a brief and fleeting affair, enough to pick up a faint hue and additional aromas and flavors.
Quite often rosé is a byproduct. To intensify the flavors of a red wine, winemakers will “bleed off” or drain away some juice after a brief maceration. That leftover wine becomes rosé. The problem is that leftover rosé is often not particularly interesting.
In California, as well as France and Italy, blush wines are too often soft, sweet and dull because the grapes were simply too ripe. The top producers make a point of making rosé, harvesting the grapes earlier than for red wine, in an effort to retain a crisp, fresh acidity.
Finding the best wines can be a challenge. Some rosés from Europe arrive by the thousands of cases in the U.S., but most of the California pinks are made in modest quantities, of a few hundred cases, and many are sold only through winery tasting rooms.
My best advice is to seek out a savvy local retailer. During the summer months, most will stock a handful of rosés they like. Restaurants too are increasingly featuring rosés by the glass, which is a good opportunity for a test drive. (WineSpectator.com members can check out recent reviews of rosés from around the world, with full tasting notes and scores, here in our Wine Ratings Search.)
Do you like rosé, and why or why not? Do you have a favorite?
Tim Mc Donald — Napa,CA — June 22, 2011 12:07pm ET
Greg Flanagan — Bethel CT — June 22, 2011 12:23pm ET
Jeffrey D Travis — University Park, FL., USA — June 22, 2011 12:28pm ET
Mark Lyon — Sonoma, CA; USA — June 22, 2011 12:49pm ET
Ivan Campos — Ottawa, Canada — June 22, 2011 2:05pm ET
Christopher Hills — Seattle, WA — June 22, 2011 2:06pm ET
Matthew Segura — San Francisco, California, USA — June 22, 2011 2:41pm ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — June 22, 2011 4:35pm ET
Scott Bruin — Houston, Texas — June 22, 2011 5:00pm ET
Keir Mccartney — League City,TX — June 22, 2011 5:20pm ET
Tim Sinniger — Bend, Oregon — June 22, 2011 6:04pm ET
Paul Malinowski — Littleton, CO — June 22, 2011 10:05pm ET
Cutting Edge Selections — Ohio — June 22, 2011 11:13pm ET
Russell Quong — Sunnyvale, CA, USA — June 23, 2011 10:19am ET
Martin Redmond — Union City, CA — June 23, 2011 11:05am ET
Joe Dekeyser — Waukesha, WI — June 23, 2011 12:34pm ET
Philip A Chauche — Germantown, MD — June 23, 2011 1:50pm ET
Mark C Berkowitz — Walnut Creek, CA — June 23, 2011 3:52pm ET
Morewine Bishar — Del Mar, California — June 23, 2011 5:38pm ET
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — June 23, 2011 10:42pm ET
Anthony Dixon — Atlanta, GA — June 24, 2011 11:16am ET
David K Welch — Galveston, TX — June 24, 2011 11:27am ET
Stephen Stewart — new mexico — June 24, 2011 10:33pm ET
Jason Carey — willow, ny usa — June 28, 2011 4:27pm ET
Mario Smet — Belgium — July 7, 2011 6:50am ET
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