The hot August sun, humid breezes off the Atlantic Ocean and a general summertime malaise has me seeing pink.
In the northern hemisphere, It is the heated heart of a particularly tough summer - even the palm trees here in Florida are looking for shade. At my house, I pour rosé year-round, but I know many are strangely fearful of drinking anything pink, and for whom rosé is, at best, a guilty summer pleasure. There is no logic to that, beyond an outdated fear among many Americans that rosé is sweet, an outdated holdover from the days when “White Zinfandel” ruled. Aren’t we past that now?
You’d think so but the US market is strangely immutable - sommeliers, winemakers, wine writers all love rosé but can barely give it away. Maybe it’s all the time I spend in the South of France where rosé is a fact of life that has spoiled me, or maybe I spend all that time in the South of France because it’s so easy to get rosé there.
The Case for Pink
First, not all rosé is true pink - the variety of hues is enormous, varying with the source of the grapes and the grape varieties as well as the taste of the winemaker. Whatever the color, here is the case for good rosé (from anywhere, and particularly the South of France):
- It is clean and crisp - it goes with warm weather because good examples have refreshing acidity and enough fruit to provide flavor but not so much to be heavy
- That acidity and medium weight of most rosés allow them to pair with many foods - more substantial than many whites, more versatile than many reds, a good rosé is great for a party, a cookout or a picnic because it pairs with different choices
- Most rosés have moderate alcohol (usually 11% - 12.5%) so they are refreshing and easy to drink on a hot day. Of course, they’re good on a cooler day, too.
- Best reason: a good rosé is a good wine. Period.
So what makes a good rosé? I use the same litmus test for still wine I use for rosé Champagne: if I can smell it and taste it without seeing the color and still know it has some red fruit in it, it’s a good one. If it is bland or neutral when your eyes aren’t fooling you with the color, skip it.
Come to think of it, skip bland and neutral wines at any time.
I had lunch last week with my friend Butch Milbrandt, a winemaker from Washington State, and as we dined under fans and water spritzers on the terrace of a popular restaurant in Miami, he poured me a cabernet sauvignon. Now, Milbrandt Estates Cabernet Sauvignon is terrific - it's a medium weight, slightly spicy cab that, given a bit of chill (Butch put it in an ice bucket for 20 minutes) is lovely even on an August afternoon. But, "don't you make a rosé?" I asked, probably not very subtly. "Oh sure," said Butch, "I love our sangiovese and syrah rosé - it's perfect for summer cookouts but I can't sell it here." Now, let me get this right, I thought. "It's ten degrees warmer here in Florida than in Washington, and you can't sell a rosé?" To which Butch replied, "I know, go figure."
Rosés have much more complexity than many sippers think. I suspect for many people, a rosé is just an easy quaffing white wine with an extra dash of color -- they don’t think about what they are drinking, but good rosé has a lot of nuance. In the past few months, I've tasted wonderful rosés in South America, Spain, France and the US - winemakers love them, but their marketing departments seem to say, "Fine, enjoy them at home with your friends but don't ask me to sell them." At lunch, Butch's regional sales rep just nodded, and perspired some more.
It's all about perception
Thankfully, some people try to sell them, and I'm buying.
England’s Decanter Magazine just conducted a tasting of rosés from Côtes de Provence, the prime rosé territory along the Mediterranean in the South of France. They gave a whopping 18.5 points (out of 20) to a wine that sells for about $17. Le Grand Cros Esprit de Provence, made from a blend of grenache and syrah, is available in 20 countries (including the US). What intrigued me most about the selection is that while all three tasting panel members are Masters of Wine (the most vaunted certification available in the wine business - fewer than 300 people worldwide have earned it) and all gave it the same score, each saw, smelled and tasted something different in the wine. I think that’s great, further evidence that tasting wine is a subjective and highly individual experience and all the more reason to share your thoughts on wine.
Jo Ahearne thought the wine was pale pink with orange hues, Simon Field saw it as “damask rose” and Elizabeth Gabay called it “very pale pink.” Ahearne found “delicate cherry fruit,” Gabay loved “fresh strawberry fruit aromas” and Field liked “red fruit and hints of mandarin…fennel and laurel.” I love Field’s conclusion - “a finely etched finish with balletic poise and a real sense of worth.” I’ll take two bottles of that, please.
My current rosé
Until I find the Grand Clos, I am very happy drinking a Côtes de Provence rosé called Quat’saisons from the winery La Mascaronne. It’s made primarily from the grape cinsault, with a bit of grenache and syrah. I’m not sure about balletic poise, but the wine is filled with brambly red fruit, a hint of herbs, and refreshing acidity and it has a lovely, lingering finish. Quat’saisons has hints of citrus peel, and the most glorious color - there is nothing wrong with a wine that is fun to drink, and I’ll definitely enjoy this in all four seasons.