It seems like everyone is talking dry rosé these days, but beware: not all rosés deliver
I like to remind people that when we hosted our first rosé tasting in 1996, 13 people showed up. In recent years we've had over 160 rosé lovers crammed into our compact space, eager to sample our current vintage of rosés from the South of France along with elements of the Grand Aïoli of Provence, lamb, vegetables and our homemade garlicky olive oil mayonnaise called aïoli.
I also like to think The Wine Country was the first store in southern California to really champion these wines as ideal summer wines for our climate and outdoor grilling culture, especially as our culinary tastes have shifted from a Midwestern butter and Crisco base to a Mediterranean/Asian diet where olive oil and garlic have a leading role.
So, you see, it's not just about pink wine. It's about a certain kind of pink wine--one that performs multiple tasks: food friendly and above all, tastes refreshing.
That last point was and is still key to our success providing rosé wines to our customers. (To see our current selection of rosés, CLICK HERE.)
Younger wine writers are pointing out that not all rosés are the same. Even in France, the rosés from the northern Loire Valley are quite different in character and flavor from the wines of Provence and the Rhone. And, in my experience, they perform very differently at the table, too.
Over the years we've had success with rosés from Spain, Italy, Austria and Germany largely because they passed the most important test: they were refreshing to drink.
Many rosés followed the Provençale model, particularly those countries that have contact with the Mediterranean, using what we refer to as "Rhone varieties," Grenache, Cinsaut, Carignan and/or Syrah in their blends. Others are more Loire-esque, using grape varieties more in the Pinot Noir-ish mold, and tasting better with heavier foods like salmon and turkey.
Rosé Troubles in the U.S.A.
Even with the popularity of rosé at near fever pitch, advertised heavily in chain store flyers, and articles appearing monthly in lifestyle magazines, it is important that consumers show discretion when they are shopping for pink wine.
California has had a wicked track record when it comes to producing rosés we want to drink. Younger wine lovers may not realize that rosé made a big splash in the 50s, 60s and 70s by all the big wine companies. With names like "Grenache Rosé" (which had the smoothness of barbed wire), "Crackling Rosé", "Pink Chablis", and simply "Vin Rosé", they were cheap, they were sold in bottles and jugs, they were mostly off-dry to sickeningly sweet, and they led to many forgettable nights hugging the porcelain throne.
In those days, wine wasn't the big thing it is today...it was more of a semi-sophisticated novelty, championed by readers of historic and romance novels, and families with direct ties to the Old Country.
The invention of White Zinfandel in the 1980s became an overnight success, exploding with popularity. Not only was it slightly sweet and fruity to drink, it had a ceremonial cork, leading a whole generation of consumers to premium wine. But the flood of imitators overwhelmed Zinfandel farmers, and soon there were far more lousy versions on the market than the few charming ones. As quickly as White Zinfandel became a sensation, it became a pariah among knowledgable wine folk.
As is nearly always the case, great tasting, classic wines have their imitators, and the results are often not pretty. Just since the 1980s, we seen the rise and fall of Merlot, Australian wine, Sauvignon Blanc, particularly New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato, Riesling, and inevitably, we are seeing it with rosé.
Good Rosé is Better Than Bad Rosé
If you are going to make good wine--whether they are Cabernets, Viogniers or rosés--you have to start out to make true wine, first with good grapes, second, by picking them at the right ripeness for your finished wine.
There is no getting around the fact that rosé wine that is grown and picked just to make rosé wine is nearly always superior to rosés that were picked to make red wine and bled off to make red wine more intense, bottling the pinkish by-product as a "rosé", when it is really a pale red wine.
The main trouble with the saignée method comes if the main wine is fermented to a high alcohol level, then the rosé will be the same. And nobody thinks high-alcohol rosés are refreshing. Even if a vintner has access to spinning cones and osmosis filters to reduce the alcohol in their rosés, their wines will lay on the tongue flat, devoid of life. If the wine is acidified to compensate, then it tastes like there was crushed up vitamin C tossed in. This is imitation rosé, not the real thing, and if consumers are turned off all rosé because of imitation rosé, that will be a crime.
That, I'm afraid, is more of what we're seeing popping up all over the marketplace. In the rush to cash in on rosé enthusiasm, mega wineries and small wineries are creating new brands with splashy titles that bear little resemblance to the authentic rosés we've been championing all these years.
Mark my words, bad rosé will ruin the reputation of all rosés, just like it did in the jug wine days, in the White Zinfandel days, and like every other wine category that promoted bad versions of good wines. And that will be a shame.
Because good rosé is a whole lot better than bad rosé.
Our 18th annual South of France Rosé Fest is June 1, and we'll have another Rosé Fest on July 4th, this time with rosés from everywhere else. Don't miss out. Our rosés are really good.