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Drinking Pink
By Robert Whitley
Aug 19, 2014
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It was a warm summer day in the south of France. The entire village of Grasse, it seemed, had turned out for lunch this Monday afternoon on the terrace at La Bastide Saint Antoine, where the Michelin-starred chef Jacques Chibois oversees the kitchen.

Everything about the day was impeccable. The sunlight, the fresh air, the glint of the Mediterranean in the distance all served as the perfect backdrop to Chibois’ legendary cuisine.

And on every table, under every umbrella, there was a bottle of pink wine. Chilled, crisp, refreshing, dry rose wine from Provence. The parade of pink wine was nearly unanimous except for the occasional bottle of Champagne.

The message from the huddled masses was not lost on this foreign visitor. When you are hot and parched, with a mighty thirst and a craving for an adult beverage, there are worse ways to idle away a summer afternoon than sipping on a well-made dry rose wine as you gaze in the direction of the sea.

I’ve been hooked on dry rose ever since, but until recently my rose thirst has been quenched for the most part by wines produced in France, Spain and Italy. Domestic production of rose has generally trended toward sweeter wines, particularly white Zinfandel.

White Zin, as it is known, was important to the wine industry in the 1980s because it saved many old Zinfandel vineyards from extinction. Zinfandel, the bold red wine many believe is native to California, had fallen out of favor at the time, but the invention and instant popularity of “white Zin” kept many of the old Zinfandel vineyards in production.

That was a good thing, and now old-fashioned red Zinfandel is once again a consumer favorite, with a nod toward “white Zin” for keeping the vineyards alive.

White Zin, on the other hand, created a backlash against rose because of its significantly high levels of residual sugar. Emerging wine consumers, especially those new to the pleasures of the grape, assumed – wrongly – that all rose wine was sweet.

Sensing the public mood, many domestic wine producers either ignored rose altogether or made it in such limited quantities that good, dry domestic rose similar to rose made in France, Spain and Italy was difficult to find.

I am happy to report that domestic producers are becoming bolder in their embrace of rose, and as an example I commend to you the beautiful J Vineyards 2013 Vin Gris, made from Pinot Noir grapes, that was published last week in the WRO Reviews section.

I confess I had a moment of nostalgia as I took a sip. It was suddenly a sunny summer day in the south of France, rubbing elbows with the townfolk of Grasse as they idled away a lazy summer day.

J Vineyards 2013 Vin Gris, Russian River Valley ($20) – My sense is that demand for rosé wine is up significantly, although I haven't seen any statistics to support that view. What I do know is that more domestic producers are making a rosé and making it better than ever. This rosé from J is made from Pinot Noir grapes using the saignee method of bleeding the Pinot Noir fermentation tanks early on, before too much contact between the juice and the skins, which can impart bitter tannins. The J Vin Gris is fresh and clean, with mouth-watering acidity and beautiful aromas of strawberry and tart cherry. And it has arrived just in time for those warm Indian Summer afternoons. 92