Bottle of red, bottle of white? How about pink? Isaac Baker is here to guide us toward the right glass.
Sure, a glass of rosé may not sound like the go-to choice of adult beverages. But if you’re passing on pink wine, you’re missing out. Wait!—you may object—I don’t want to drink sweet swill! Cool, neither do I. But if you still think most rosé is sugary plonk, it’s time to wake up.
The wine world is massive and dry rosés deliver some exciting options. Rosés are diverse, dynamic and lip-smackingly refreshing wines. And when it comes to hot and humid summer days, a good dry rosé can offer a uniquely crisp and clean yet complex drinking experience.
Rosé wines are also some of the most versatile when it comes to pairing them with food. Summer salads? Check. Grilled veggies? Check. Swordfish or tuna steaks? Check. Roast chicken? Check. Brats? Carnitas tacos? I could go on. Unless you’re cutting into a peppered porterhouse, there is most likely a rosé that will work well with your meal.
These wines come in a wide variety of styles and they’re made from almost any red grape or blend. But their overall food-friendliness stems from a few generally common factors: a bright red fruit and floral flavor profile; acidity to cut through food and keep you salivating for more; and the lack of mouth-drying tannins you find in some red wines.
When you squeeze a ripe red grape, the juice that comes out is pale. Those deep purple Napa Cabs get their color, richness and tannins from the skins of the grape, when winemakers let the juice sit in contact with the grape skins to extract those elements. This is the key to making rosé: when the juice spends little to almost no time in contact with the skins, the wine comes out looking light copper, salmon or downright cotton candy pink. The finished wine is lighter, easier to sip and best served slightly chilled.
In a sense, I’m preaching to an increasingly large choir. More and more Americans are buying and consuming rosé. We’re nowhere near the French in terms of per capita rosé consumption (they consume 36% of the world’s pink to our 13%). But every year American consumers have more options, including homegrown pink. These days, the U.S. trails only France and Spain in the production of rosé. American vintners in practically every wine region have proven they can make exceptional rosés. California, Oregon and Washington, of course, are full of delicious pink wines, but some of my favorites so far this year hailed from Virginia.
With apps and web sites like CellarTracker, Vivino and Delectable, or a simple Google search, you can find information on pretty much any wine you come across. However, if you want to drink good dry rosé, here are a few tips.
If “white” precedes the grape variety on the label, stay away.
White Zinfandel is the most famous Kool-Aid-esque American beverage, but White Merlot is just as bad. (Unless you like the sugar rush of Beringer White Zin, in which case, ignore me and power on, bro.)
Look for a specific appellation (a designation of origin) on the wine label.
“California” on a wine label tells you next to nothing. The grapes could come from anywhere, but most likely they come from huge agricultural swaths in the center of the state, areas that produce tons of American produce and frequently bland wine. Russian River Valley (in Sonoma), Carneros (a cooler corner of Napa), Walla Walla (an exciting region in Washington State), these designations of place tell you the grapes came from that specific area and the wine falls under the basic rules of that appellation. It’s by no means a guarantee the wine will be good, but it’s generally better to drink a wine from a particular place, wine that’s made by a real person not an industrial behemoth.
Check the vintage.
Sometimes retailers will tout leftover rosés that nobody bought last year. If you see a dusty bottle of pink from 2011 that’s been sitting on a hot store shelf, stay away, no matter how attractive that “50% off!” sign looks. While some rosés can stand the test of time, most are made to be consumed within a year of the vintage, i.e., 2014s are generally best consumed this year.
Look to Provence.
This is one of the reasons the French drink so much friggin’ rosé—they make a ridiculous amount of delicious stuff. Provence has been producing pink since before most New World wine regions started planting grapes, and they’re damn good at it. The wines frequently boast flavors of pepper, spice and herbs, and they pair with pretty much anything. The rosés from the Provencal Bandol appellation are some of the world’s best.
I taste a lot of rosé from all over the globe, but I chose a few reliably good suggestions that cost $20 or less and have relatively large distribution. They’ll give you a good introduction to the world of dry rosé. (Click on the wine to check out where they’re sold, powered by Wine-Searcher.)
Van Duzer Pinot Noir Rosé – Oregon, Willamette Valley, $17. Bright, floral, full of strawberries, fresh acid but a creamy texture, begging for oysters.
Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rosé – France, Languedoc Roussillon, $12. Fresh and juicy, tropical fruits mixed with green herbs and pepper, a crowd-pleasing blend of Cinsault and Grenache.
Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé – South Africa, Stellenbosch, $10. Spicy, bold, full of juicy ripe fruit, a whole lot of pink for ten bucks. South African rosés are definitely worth exploring, and this is a good place to start.
Early Mountain Vineyards Rosé – Virginia, Madison County, $20. Bright, clean, crisp, peachy and peppery, lots of mineral notes. A Virginia pink capable of competing with dry rosés from around the globe. A blend of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.
Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec – Argentina, Mendoza, $12. Pretty much tastes like every kind of red berry tossed together in a crisp, dry format. Sure to be a hit with many a palate.
Edmunds St. John Gamay Bone-Jolly Rosé Witters Vineyard – California, El Dorado County, $20. A bit pricier, but totally worth it. This single-vineyard wine (from one of my favorite California producers) comes from the Gamay grape and is packed with tangy fruit, spices and sea salty goodness.
Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé – France, Alsace, $20. C’mon, pink bubbles? You know you want them. This Pinot Noir-based pink sparkler is a reliable choice for a moderate price tag.
While I’ve tossed out some tips and suggestions, there is only one rule: have fun with it. Wine (and especially rosé) is meant to be enjoyed with good food and people you love.
Photo: Isaac James Baker