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Thinking Pink and the Rise of Rosé
By Marguerite Thomas
Apr 5, 2016
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With warm weather lurking just around the corner here in the northern hemisphere it’s time to start thinking about rosé.  Actually, an increasing number of us think about rosé in all seasons! Several of Manhattan’s best sommeliers now include “Winter Rosés” as a category on their lists (metro New York City drinks 20 percent of all imported rosé in the US).  Victoria Moore writes in Britain’s The Telegraph, “In France, sales [of rosé] have exceeded those of white wine for several years now.  Over here, rosé is drunk winter and summer and goes stratospheric every time the sun shines.”  Google Trends reports that December is now typically the month when searches for rosé wine peak.  And not only has rosé evolved into a year round drink, according to a flurry of recent articles men (gasp!) are embracing rosé, or brosé as the trendies call it. 

Multi seasonal, gender neutral--how rosé’s popularity has risen! According to W. Blake Gray’s notes at Wine-Searcher:  “The hottest expensive wine in the United States is rosé.  It’s not surprising to see rosé sales are up.  But the magnitude of sales growth for rosés over $11 is staggering:  Up nearly 60 percent last year, according to Nielsen.  Rosé over $11 may seem like it’s still a small market, at 0.2 percent of all table wine.  But it’s not that small: that’s the same size as the entire US wine market for all wines from Portugal or South Africa.”

It isn’t known exactly when wine was first labeled rosé, but pale reddish wines have probably been around since the beginning of winemaking itself.  Since the kind of viticultural techniques that are widely used today such as forceful pressing and extended maceration were virtually unknown in the early days of winemaking, our own era’s powerful, darkly pigmented, tannic red wines would have been rare or nonexistent.  By the same token wines from the Champagne region would have been grayish pink or pale red until the 17th century when the Champenois learned how to more effectively separate the red grape skins from the must to make yellowish/white wines.  (Most rosés today are produced by the skin contact method, in which the freshly pressed pale juice--almost all grapes have white flesh and juice--is allowed to rest for a short period of time on the dark red/black grape skins, which add color and some flavor to the juice; Champagne’s rosé, both still and sparkling, is generally made by blending a small amount of finished red wine into finished white wine for color and depth of flavor). 

What accounts for the recent growth of rosé?  Strong marketing campaigns have played a role, and no doubt the release of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s Chateau Miraval in 2012 influenced many consumers’ opinions about pink wine.  But it seems to me that the single most significant factor in rosés rise to respectability has been the overall improved quality of the wines.  For a long time winemakers who had set out to make red wine often changed gears during the winemaking process and decided to turn the juice pressed for red wine into rosé for one reason or another, often because the particular vintage proved too weak, or was otherwise found lacking.  Serious contemporary vintners, however, are not only making rosé intentionally rather than as an afterthought, but are also purposefully tailoring their viticultural practices with rosé in mind. 

Perhaps one reason hipsters are more apt to be open-minded about pink wine than their older brothers or fathers is that they were not around during the era of Mateus and Lancers, two Portuguese sweet, lightly fizzy rosés that were immensely popular in post-World War II Europe and the US (these brands dominated the Portuguese wine industry for the last half of the twentieth century).  White Zinfandel and other sweetish pink wines that rose to popularity in the 1970s finished off any chance of respectability for rosé.  While consumers happily guzzled these generally inexpensive, sweet treats they would certainly never take rosé seriously--unless they happened to be vacationing in Provence, where the local pink wines were generally drier and more complex.

Every wine producing country in the world makes rosé today, from Spanish rosado to Italian rosato.  Indeed, a bevy of new, dry rosé wines is being produced across the globe, from New Zealand to New York, from South Africa to East Anglia.  What do rosé lovers look for in a good pink wine? First of all, dryness as opposed to sweetness (although a touch of sweet fruit is generally welcome), plus freshness and zippy acidity in lighter style rosés, with a meatier flavor profile in the more robust styles.  Many rosé fans appreciate hints of summer berries in the wine.  And let’s be frank here, one of rosé’s greatest charms is its color.  I mean how can you not feel happy when a glass of wine that looks like liquid sunset is set in front of you? 

Actually, when it comes to color, rosé aficionados show a wide range of preferences.  Numerous studies indicate that the color of a wine greatly influences consumers’ perceptions about it.  With rosé, consumers tend to prefer darker colored wines, although in blind taste tests where the color could not be seen they often preferred the lighter colored wines.  Mindful of the attraction of darker colored wine, however, some vintners choose to adjust the hue via an extended maceration, or even deepening the color by blending in some finished red wine. 
But not everyone thinks that bolder is better when it comes to color.  The Telegraph’s Victoria Moore’s taste definitely swings toward pale hues.  “With the rehabilitation of a wine once considered too frivolous and lightweight to be worthy of proper attention has come another phenomenon: the rise of Posh Pink,” she writes.  “The finest of the fine rosé wines vie for invisibility.  Any shade rich enough to call watermelon, red currant or even salmon would be humiliatingly deep.  The goal is pallor and transparency.  The most desirable wines are a translucent negligee nude.”

I don’t know of anyone who is actually going to give up red wine or white wine altogether in order to drink only wine that’s the color of a fancy nightgown, but I suspect that those who like to dismiss rosé as simply a frivolous tipple are taking their wine obsession a little too seriously.  Lighten up people and drink some rosé! After all, rosé is the prettiest and one of the world’s most refreshing of wines.  It is generally inexpensive, and it tastes great with a wide range of foods (Asian fare, roast chicken or veal, summery salads such as Niçoise, charcuterie, ribs, fried shrimp).  As Washington D.C.-based Kathy Morgan has famously observed, “Rosé has white wine structure and red wine flavors.”  And Victoria Moore has this to say: “A fine pink wine is discreet, but also possesses staying power, on the one hand so subtle as to be barely there, on the other precise and still crisply present long after you have swallowed.”

To illustrate the immense versatility of rosé, after tasting a range of different pink wines I selected four of them to review here.  They represent very different styles and price (from $10 to $150).  To streamline this informal exercise I limited my selections to rosés exclusively from France, a country that makes more rosé than any other country.  France claims 28% of the world’s production, followed by Italy (20%), the US (15%), and Spain (10%).

La Vielle Ferme, Vallée du Rhône, France,  2014, $10.  Imported by Vineyard Brands.  A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault, this delicately tinted rosé has, for forty years or so, been gratifying those who love rosé and life’s other simple pleasures.  Fresh and fruity (without being overtly sweet), and with subtle floral and citrus aromas, this is a laid back little sipping wine.  It is also a particularly satisfying partner to accompany simple foods along the lines of ribs, hearty salads (Niçoise, for example), fried calamari, and pizza.   

Belleruche Côtes du Rhône, France, 2014.  Produced by Michel Chapoutier and imported by Terlato, $16.  A blend of Grenache and Syrah plus a little Cinsault, this charming and restorative rosé suggests strawberries, cherries and other red fruits, while its generous, silky texture plays out against a backdrop of bright acidity.  Like many fine rosés it is relatively low in alcohol (around 13%).  Beginning with the visual allure of its rich dawn-pink color all the way through the wine’s compelling finish Belleruche can be enjoyed as an aperitif wine or as an accompaniment to cioppino or soupe de poissons, chicken or squab, and simple pork and veal chops or roasts.  

Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Rosé 2014.  Cher, France.  Imported by European Cellars (Charlotte, NC), $35.  Beautifully pale, tender pink with gold highlights (the color I imagine a halo might be), this rosé reflects the cooler climate of the Sancerre region in its crisp acidity and relatively restrained fruitiness.  With a suggestion of fresh berries in the aroma, it is an invigorating and refreshing wine which makes a delicious foil for dishes such as fried or sauteed seafood, rich cheesy dishes (mac & cheese anyone?), samosas, or Greek saganaki.  

Charles Heidsieck Champagne Rosé Millésime 2006, imported by Folio, $150, this recently released Rosé from Heideick is a blend of 16 different crus from the Montagne de Reims and Côte des Blancs, consisting of Pinot Noir (63%) and Chardonnay (37%), plus the addition of 8% red (Pinot Noir) wines for color.  Rosy pink, with delicate palate-caressing bubbles, this enchanting wine weaves a complex gustatory web of shimmering tensile strength, complexity and fragility.  Dry, yet supple and and lilting, this is a Champagne to be enjoyed in any number of settings and circumstances, from celebratory gatherings of friends and/or family to a romantic diner a deux.  Honestly, if I could afford such a habit I’d drink of glass of Rosé Millésime every night