A friend of mine recently exclaimed, rather defensively, "I like rosé."
"Fine, fine," I replied in my best talking-the-jumper-down-from-the-ledge tone. "There's nothing wrong with liking rosé. The best of them are wonderful."
"Yeah, well then why is it that when I get a tasting menu at a restaurant there's never a rosé on it?"
It was a good point. And I admit that at that precise moment, I didn't have an answer. But it did get me thinking. What is it about rosé that makes some folks like them so much while others are not just neutral, but antagonistic?
The usual explanation among rosé rejecters is along the lines of the anecdote originally told by Julian Street in his book Table Topics (1959): "He sniffed, tasted, considered; then, with a slow nod of agreement, said: 'Nothing there—like kissing your aunt.'"
This is pretty much what those who spurn rosé say is wrong with it—that there's nothing there. To that contingent I can only say: You haven't tasted the good stuff. Yes, it's true that a lot of rosés—too many, in fact—are insipid. Vacuous. Tasteless. As a category, it's weak.
But it would be a mistake to reject rosé wholesale. In my latest Wine Spectator column, I submit that the best deal in truly tasty rosé is Spanish rosé (rosado) made from the Grenache grape. Grenache is an intensely fruity grape variety, and rosé—which has a literal one-night stand with the skins, if that—benefits from that fruitiness, getting the most out of its little skin-contact fling. And Spain has far more Grenache vineyards than anywhere else, making Spanish rosés deliciously inexpensive.
That noted, the most characterful rosés, in my experience, hail from Italy. There, they are not just called rosato but, depending upon the zone, are given names such as cerasuolo (Sicily and Abruzzo) and chiaretto (Lake Garda).
In Italy you see all kinds of characterful grapes pressed (if very lightly so) into service as rosé. In Sicily, the increasingly popular Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a blend of the indigenous grapes Nero d'Avola and Frappato, sometimes made into a darker-than-typical rosé.
"To those who say that rosé, by definition, is insipid, I say: nonsense. Genuinely characterful rosés are all around us. It takes, admittedly, a little looking."
In the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo zone, the cerasuolo—the word refers to "cherry"—is made exclusively from the namesake Montepulciano grape variety. In the hands of a producer such as Torre dei Beati, the result is remarkable. Torre dei Beati blends two different musts (unfermented grape juice), one from grapes selected for their higher acidity and another from a saignée (bleeding-off of the juice) from riper Montepulciano grapes meant for the regular red wine.
In the Lake Garda zone, their chiaretto (the word, like that of the old Bordeaux term clairet, which was anglicized into "claret," refers to a light, clear wine) is composed of several local varieties. The producer Provenza blends four varieties—Groppello, Marzemino, Sangiovese and Barbera—to create a marvelous, strawberry-scented rosé. Growers in the Bardolino zone near Lake Garda blend their local grapes Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara, and Negrara.
So to those who say that rosé, by definition, is insipid, I say: nonsense. Genuinely characterful rosés are all around us. It takes, admittedly, a little looking.
That said, let's get back to my friend who asked "Why is it when I get a tasting menu at a restaurant there's never a rosé on it?" I, too, couldn't think of a restaurant tasting menu that included one, although I'm sure that they exist. (And I welcome hearing from sommeliers who do indeed embrace rosés on their tasting menus.)
Let's stipulate, as the lawyers say, that rosés get no respect. Why is that? The answer, I believe, is that rosés are not involving. This is the key word.
So-called “serious” wine lovers, consciously or not, seek—nay, insist—upon wines that demand involvement. If a wine does not reach out and pull you in, they by definition see it as lesser, even undesirable.
This, in turn, explains the popularity of rosé. Put simply, a lot of people—most, I would venture to say—don't want to be involved with their wine. They just want a pleasant drink that enhances their meal or lubricates a social occasion. This is why rosé is so well-liked, and never more so than in the summer when none of us, myself included, wants to fuss about wine.
Allow me to take this one step further and ask: Do we now have too many wines that demand involvement? Do you really want to listen only to symphonies? Is anything less than a symphonic blast of flavor and power somehow intrinsically lesser?
An awful lot of wines are now made to be "serious"—whether the wine deserves it or not. We see (and taste) this all the time—all that oak, all that overripe fruit. All to signal a seriousness of purpose and stature (as well as justify a higher price).
It's too easy to snobbishly say that, well then, folks who aren't prepared to be involved aren't really interested in wine. That's like saying that if you don't play vinyl records, you're not a real music lover.
This helps explain the surging popularity of rosé. Many people simply don't want such demanding wines. They don't want to get involved. And if they choose to be, they want it to be a seduction, not a bullying insistence.
Rosés are not just a reaction against today's tsunami of demanding wines, but a rejection of them. They don't want to commit every time they order a wine. A nice flirtation will do. And if it evolves into something more, well, fine.
I can't say I blame anybody for feeling that way and reaching for a rosé. Can you?
Joe Dekeyser — Waukesha, WI — July 5, 2011 12:32pm ET
Kc Tucker — Escondido, CA USA — July 5, 2011 12:42pm ET
Martin Redmond — Union City, CA — July 5, 2011 3:30pm ET
Adam Wallstein — Spokane — July 5, 2011 3:39pm ET
Jason Carey — willow, ny usa — July 5, 2011 6:15pm ET
David Cable — Santa Barbara — July 5, 2011 7:13pm ET
Paul Malinowski — Littleton, CO — July 5, 2011 9:42pm ET
Brian Moore — Denver, CO USA — July 6, 2011 10:36am ET
Ivan Campos — Ottawa, Canada — July 6, 2011 2:53pm ET
Neil Barham — Vail, co — July 6, 2011 6:21pm ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — July 6, 2011 7:49pm ET
Thomas Matthews — New York City — July 7, 2011 5:01pm ET
Doug Badenoch — Bozeman, Montana USA — July 7, 2011 6:13pm ET
Brian Peters — Broomfield, CO — July 7, 2011 9:01pm ET
Brian Moore — Denver, CO USA — July 8, 2011 10:49am ET
Doug Badenoch — Bozeman, Montana USA — July 9, 2011 1:57pm ET
Stephen H Yanagisawa — Long Beach, CA USA — July 9, 2011 4:03pm ET
Brian Moore — Denver, CO USA — July 11, 2011 1:38pm ET
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