Summertime, rosé wine and what to drink on vacay
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.