Rules for enjoying rosés

Our warm spring means an early rosé season. The new, fresh rosés from 2011 are beginning to reach our market, promising a summer’s worth of refreshment on the patio or by the pool. A good, well-chilled rosé makes an excellent aperitif and tends to pair well with simple vinegary or garlicky foods. This makes rosés universal warm-weather partners to appetizers and salads.

Here are a few pointers on rosé to keep in mind as you shop:

Rosé should be dry, though often there is a hint of ripe sweetness — not a sugary quality — to them. This appeals to our palate preference for sweet, though it is by no means your mother’s white zinfandel. A good rosé will have sufficient acidity — that refreshing quality — to balance the sweetness.

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Color does not equal quality. Some people prefer the palest of rosés, meaning the juice was left on the grape skins for the least possible time during pressing. But some rosés, especially from Tavel, an area in the Rhone Valley of France that is famous for its rosé, are vibrantly red. Both can be exceptional.

Rosé is now an international wine. Traditionally, the south of France is known as rosé country, and Spanish or Italian rosados can be quite tasty. But rosé is made wherever wine is grown. I recently enjoyed a wonderful pinot noir rosé called Stock & Stein, made by Peter Jakob Kuhn in Germany’s Rheingau region, which is available only in a few restaurants.

California makes excellent rosé in a riper, more full-bodied style. Alexander Valley Vineyards Dry Rosé of Sangiovese is one of my favorite American rosés every year. The 2011 is delicious with sappy cherry flavors and an herbal-woodsy character to balance its ripeness. Boxwood Winery in Virginia and Knob Hall in Maryland produce noteworthy local versions.

Rosé has a lifespan; it can age a bit. A month ago, if you looked for a rosé in your local store, you likely wouldn’t have found any except maybe in the bargain bins of tossed-off wines the store couldn’t sell. But for the next several weeks, you will see several 2011 rosés from around the world blossoming on store shelves like daffodils and tulips. We are conditioned to prefer rosé when it is fresh and young, and there is an urban myth that rosé should be consumed in the year after harvest.

That’s a short-sighted viewpoint, however. Rosé is often terrific the second year after harvest, having shed some (but not all) of that bracing acidity and fleshed out with extra fruit. And 2010 was a terrific vintage in France, especially in the south along the Rhone Valley and Provence, the areas most known for rosé. Spanish rosé was traditionally held for release in the second year, but has been rushed to market recently to meet demand for freshness. Enlightened retailers should stock a separate shelf of “last year’s rosé,” which they can probably get cheap and sell at a discount.

And enlightened consumers should stock up on both 2010 and 2011 rosés; the 2010s to drink now, and the 2011s, well, to drink now, but also to save some for next year.

After all, who knows how warm March 2013 will be?

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McIntyre blogs at dmwineline.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dmwine.

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