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Summertime, rosé wine and what to drink on vacay

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Rosé is one of those wines that writers love to say is experiencing a comeback, or being discovered, or something equally hyperbolic. The truth is, it’s a tiny little category compared to the Big Guys of red and white table wine. According to the French trade and marketing group, Vins de Provence, citing the Wine Market Council, “In 2010, retail category sales in the U.S. broke down as follows: 47% red wines, 40% white wines, and 13% blush (pink) wines.” That seems high to me: thirteen percent of the wines I review are not rosé. It’s more like 3 percent. But I suppose if you rely on Nielsen data, which is mostly supermarkets, you’ll get a more representative sample of what Americans actually drink.

In Europe, apparently, rosé is enjoying newfound popularity. Yahoo News reports that “While the consumption of still red and white wines has declined in Western Europe, rosé wine has experienced a three percent spike, mostly driven by young, female drinkers…”. That’s to be expected, I guess. Rosé is for women; beer is for guys.

In France, I would think most rosés are made from Rhône-style varieties, like Grenache and Syrah. We have a lot of those too in California, but people also make rosés from Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and even Cabernet Sauvignon. I must admit to not being a fan of California rosé. Most of it is too sweet for my tastes. My favorites lately have been a Kokomo 2011 Pauline’s Vineyard Grenache, from Dry Creek Valley, a Sanglier 2011 Rosé du Tusque blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan with a Sonoma County appellation, and a Muscardini 2011 Alice’s Vineyard Rosato di Sangiovese, from Sonoma Valley. I would not use this brief list to conclude, however, that the best rosés come from Sonoma County. But  I do believe they have to come from cool coastal areas, because otherwise they’d be too soft and heavy. Most California rosé seems like an afterthought: made with press juice, or otherwise from grapes not good enough to go into a good red wine.

I looked up the rosés my colleague Roger Voss recently tasted in France. He obviously gets to taste more and better ones than I do. He’s given some pretty high scores to a pair from Provence, both from Chateau d’Esclans, with the proprietary name Garrus. But then, that wine costs $90. Ninety bucks for a rosé? I looked up d’Esclans on the Google, where somebody called it “the greatest Rose in the world.” I don’t know anything about it, but if you’re reading this, mes d’Esclans amis, feel free to send me a bottle.

A good rosé should be dry, with just a hint of rose petals or strawberries. Since it’s a light-bodied wine, any trace of residual sugar immediately becomes transparent. It’s hard to describe in words why a dessert wine with high sugar can be a delight while a table wine with residual sugar can so often be cloyingly awkward. Maybe I’m just sensitive to sugar that’s unbalanced with all the other parts. This problem is magnified when the wine itself is thin in flavor, as so many rosés tend to be. The lowest score I’ve given a rosé in the last year was an 81. I wrote: “Overtly sweet and simple, with sugary flavors of raspberries, oranges and vanilla.” I won’t identify the brand, but you can probably find it on Wine Enthusiast’s database. The word “sugary” is as awful an adjective as I use for California wine. “Sugary” is bad. A table wine shouldn’t be sugary (unless it’s supposed to be, like a nice Kabinett). If a winemaker releases a sugary table wine, he’s doing so for one of two reasons, or maybe both: (a) he’s a bad winemaker who got a stuck fermentation or didn’t even know or care that the wine was too sweet, or (b) he knew all that, but is just pandering to the current taste for sweet wines.

We’re going into the dog days of summer now. People say rosés are the ideal beach, pool or picnic wine. I disagree, at least here in Cali. I’d prefer a dry white, such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, with the kinds of foods you bring on summer excursions: sandwiches, fruit, fried chicken, cold cuts, salads, grain salads like cous cous or quinoa. Maybe I’d change my mind if I had a bottle of the d’Esclans.

  1. I enjoyed reading this, although I found a couple of your comments surprising.

    “A good rosé should be dry, with just a hint of rose petals or strawberries.” — Really? Isn’t this a bit closed-minded? It doesn’t sound too different from the folks who bash all California Pinot Noir with their statements about what a Pinot Noir should and shouldn’t be. I’ve always thought you to be a critic of that camp.

    “(b) he knew all that, but is just pandering to the current taste for sweet wines.” — Again, really? Oh the shame of a winemaker “pandering” to what consumers currently want! I guess they should stand on principle and make what consumers don’t want. Once again, a similar charge is often levelled at full and fruity California wines, isn’t it? That they are just made to appeal to the simplistic American palate?

  2. Rose of pinot noir is getting more popular here in Oregon, where it can make a wine with depth and complexity that would rival a good red pinot noir. My personal favorite has been the Haden Fig 2010.

  3. Sherman says:

    Roses made as fine wine have been a difficult category for years, each bottle requiring a hand sell and an education of the consumer to even get them to taste it, let alone spend some money on the bottle.

    Like any category of wine, styles can run the board, including bigger versions that will rival a traditional red wine in body, to lighter styles that give a whisper of fruit to accompany the bracing acidity. A well-balanced wine should be the objective in any category, and rose is even more transparent in this regard. The slightest bit of something “sticking out” is immediately perceived and can ruin the experience.

    My preferences run to the wines of Provence, where bone-dry wines with subtle flavors of strawberry, watermelon and herb ride the fine edge of a bracing acidity. There are a number of them that make the voyage to the US and are worth seeking out. While d’Esclans makes some awesome wines, there are many other more cost-effective samples to be had in the $15-$25 range.

    Let’s not forget the options from the Pacific Northwest — Barnard Griffin, Syncline and Charles & Charles all make very tasty roses that generally retail in the $15 range. It’s a wonderful option to sit on a lovely patio on a warm summer day with a glass of chilled rose in hand, and some tasty summer foods.

    More folks should give ‘em a try.

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