Are we in a rose rut? I hope not, because rose is the ultimate summer wine: a cold remedy for the heat of the blazing sun, able to lift our spirits from beneath a heavy blanket of humidity. From now through September, our refrigerators should never be devoid of rose.
Yet because rose is fun and not intellectually stimulating, like a Barolo, a trockenbeerenauslese Riesling or a first-growth grand cru single-vineyard Chateau Wocka-Wocka, we may take it for granted. We find our seasonal favorites and stick with them. And because we’re looking primarily for refreshment, we tend to want something simple and a bit sweet.
The market has responded to rose’s increased popularity with a plethora of choices, most of them serviceable, delicious and, yes, slightly sweet. It’s almost as if the white zinfandel lovers inside us never quite went away.
I recently tasted about a dozen 2010 French roses with a popular distributor. He advised me to concentrate on several that are well placed in stores around the area, best sellers year after year. Pay no attention to the last few, he said, because they are new and no one in this market has bought them. That was a shame, because one of them — Domaine Cordier Pere et Fils Josephine, a Beaujolais rose made entirely from the gamay grape — was electrifying with its fruit, vibrant acidity and crisp, dry finish. It’s a shame no local retailers would take a chance on it.
Another delicious rose that isn’t on our retail shelves this year, Chateau Saint Baillon, hails from Provence, in southern France. Pale to the point of barely being pink, it has delicate fruit flavors and an appealing subtlety. But this wine’s distributor couldn’t interest a single retailer. “They all said it was too dry,” the distributor lamented.
Several factors could be at work here. The market might be saturated; stores can carry only so many roses. Retailers also might be underestimating their customers, figuring we’ll balk at something new and not wanting to make the effort to sell us on it. And consumers might be satisfied with their familiar labels.
When you’re shopping for your usual pink wines this spring, ask your retailer to suggest one from an unfamiliar producer. You might discover another favorite.
Here are some pointers to keep in mind:
Rose should be dry. Acidity means refreshment. Fruitier rose may have sweet flavors (of fruit, after all), but it should not leave a sugary feel in your mouth. This is wine, not soda pop.
Color does not signal quality. Some rose lovers insist that the paler the wine, the better. But color really is just an indication of how long the juice was left on the grape skins after pressing (a matter of hours). A deep-red rose is not inherently better or worse than a pale, salmon-colored wine, though you might reasonably expect a darker rose to be bolder in flavor and body. It’s a matter of personal preference.
Rose can be made by two methods. An “intentional” rose is made from red grapes grown with pink wine in mind, picked early to preserve their natural acidity, then quickly pulled off the skins after pressing. The other kind, often called “saignee,” from the French verb “to bleed,” uses juice that has been bled from a tank in order to concentrate a red wine; with a little added acidity, this juice can make a delicious rose. Intentional roses usually have more depth and finesse, and a bit more verve, but the methods are rarely disclosed on the label and they can be hard to distinguish.
The key, as with any wine, is to be adventurous.