Food-Friendly Wines Part Four: Rosés
Fashions come and fashions go. Yesterday’s dud becomes today’s darling. Such is the case with rosé wines.
Only a short twelve years ago, superstar wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. wrote in Food & Wine magazine, “I wish that more wine consumers would realize just how wonderful rosé wines can be and how well they pair with an impressive assortment of food.” Well, Parker’s wish is now coming true. According to a recent survey by the market-watcher Nielsen Company, rosé sales rose more than 50% nationwide in the past year.
Consumers have had to overcome their lingering bad associations with popular but lackluster pink wines — the Lancer’s and Mateus rosés so ubiquitous in the 1970s and the sweet white Zinfandels and blush wines that followed — before they could learn to love rosés again.
One of the things consumers have learned is that today’s rosés combine the best of both worlds. They have some of the qualities of white wine — delicacy, crisp acidity and freshness — and some of the qualities of red — flavors and body. More important, they have a charm all their own. Today, thanks to improved technology and more attention from winemakers, rosés are better than ever. Although they’re delicious year-round, they’re especially delightful to sip on summer days, poolside, tableside, at barbecues and picnics.
Rosés are often a blend of several grapes. Almost every red wine grape, including some fairly esoteric ones, is called upon for them: Kékfrankos, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Bourboulenc, Cinsault, Carignan, Fer Servadou, Barbera, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella, Negrara, Gamay, Blauer Wildbacher, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Valdiguié, Petit Verdot, Gaglioppo, Lagrein, Refosco, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Dolcetto, Pinotage, Syrah and Shiraz, Merlot, Zweigelt, Zinfandel, Malbec, Picpoul, Clairette and Grignolino, to name a few. Occasionally, some white wine grapes sneak into the blend.
These grapes are, of course, grown in many different regions. Southern France is synonymous with rosé, and rosés are ubiquitous along the Mediterranean coast. The most significant rosé territories include France (especially Provence, the Languedoc, the Loire and the southern Rhône), Italy, Spain, Portugal and California; more than 75% of rosés are imported.
Because they’re made from so many different grapes and produced in so many different regions, rosés exhibit great variety — some are floral, some fruity, others earthy or herbal; some have mineral overtones. The colors also range widely, from pale salmon to light ruby. (Vin gris, literally gray wine, is the French name for lighter-colored rosés.) Typical fruit aromas and flavors call to mind strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, watermelon, pomegranates and nectarines. As you might expect, lighter rosés have much in common with white wines, richer rosés with reds. Some rosés are simple, eminently quaffable wines, others sophisticated gems. They’re all refreshing and all meant to be drunk young, within a year or two of the vintage.
Rosés are made in three ways:
1) The most common method: The skin of red grapes is left in their juice for anywhere from less than an hour to several days until color develops.
2) The currently popular saignée technique, which results in many of the best rosés: Some liquid is "bled” at an early stage from the fermentation tank soon after the juice for red wine has gone into it; these rosés are a by-product of red-winemaking.
3) The method rarely used for still wines but common for sparklers: White and red wines are blended together.
As far as style goes, New World rosés are generally fruitier and fuller bodied than those from the Old World. Rosés from Provence, the Rhône and Italy tend to be quite dry, those from the Loire and California tend toward off-dry (i.e., slightly sweet). Although rosés are pleasant to sip on their own, wine doesn’t get any food friendlier.