PINK WINES, BLUE SEAS, AND SANDALED FEET
It’s Christmas, 1987. I’m thriving in an exciting sales job in California, determined to become the cool sophisticated professional I fancy myself to be! I’ve decided I’m going to give all my “favorite” clients a bottle of wine, because I’m on the fast track to becoming a hip nouveau wine snob! So here I am, out delivering my wine jewels with smug satisfaction.
I have a client—a very special client; she’s a high ranking manager and buys an obscene amount of my services. She’s sophisticated, loves art, entertainment, wine and fine dining. She’s so wonderful, she’s even given me tickets to see the San Francisco Ballet performance of Swan Lake! This client is a real keeper. Did I tell you she’s a trained sommelier and regularly participates in professional wine tastings? I’m anticipating her glee! I arrive at her office full of holiday cheer and present her with a special bottle of wine.
She gently lifts the bottle from its tissue-fluffed, festive wine bag, carefully examines it, and with all the grace only a “truly” refined person can muster, thanks me for the lovely $6 bottle of Sutter Home White Zinfandel.
“I’ll be sure to enjoy this with a nice lunch in the spring,” she says, smiling.
To this day, when I’m at a party and somebody asks, “What’s one of the most embarrassing professional moments you can recall?” I will invariably break into a cold sweat re-living the White Zin story.
There’s nothing wrong with White Zinfandel (more about that in a minute), but it definitely does not represent the kind of old-school dry rosé that’s now skyrocketing in popularity with everyone from music festival hipsters to the fussiest of wine experts.
Debunking rosé prejudice
Think back: what was your first glass of wine? For many of us, it was a glass of White Zinfandel. That’s no accident. For years producers marketed White Zinfandel so well that we didn’t realize winemakers use big, spicy, robust red Zinfandel grapes in order to make it. As a result, many American wine lovers have continued to assume, mistakenly, that all rosé wines are similar to White Zinfandel: inexpensive, sweet, and pink.
And so, in some uninformed circles rosé can be seen as tacky and gauche—thank you Ernest and Julio Gallo and 1970s blush wine jugs! Others associate them with the afternoon ladies tea crowd—thank you Portugal and Mateus! But check out the hipsters gathered around seaside bistros in Southern France, sipping icy bottles of dry rosé with calamari and other tasty tapas, or the machismo Spanish and Portuguese fishermen who spend their afternoon siestas hanging out in cantinas enjoying carafes of rosé with sardines, green olives and dry cheeses. That’s what rosé is really about.
In Southern California, with its perfect Mediterranean climate, the popularity of dry rosé wine is exploding. Nothing beats a chilled rosé on a hot summer afternoon. These wines pair well with seafood, Asian cuisine, BBQ: anything spicy and savory.
Tasting notes range from fresh, fruity (strawberries, raspberries), bright and lively styles to the more robust styles that are bone dry and have subtler fruit profiles along with subtle hints of licorice and tobacco. You may also notice floral notes like rose petals and dried violets.
Rosé has been crafted for centuries in the warmer parts of France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal. Today some fun rosés are coming out of South Africa, Australia, and of course California! The Old World style (European) is generally dry and the New World (the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand) is generally fruitier, sometimes with a hint of sweetness, but nowhere near as sweet as a White Zin. Many American winemakers are starting to craft the bone-dry Old World-style rosés now becoming popular all over the globe.
Also, rosés are not necessarily inexpensive. Some of the world’s most expensive dry rosé wines, like a Bandol or a Tavel from the south of France, are as complex and nuanced as premium red wines. And rosé wines don’t have to be pink: Bandols are salmon-colored. Some other rosé wines are bright orange!
How they’re made
Now let’s talk about how they are made. The fundamental concept is to take red grapes and retain just enough of the color to create the soft pink and amber hues of the wine. With a very few exceptions all grapes have white flesh, so it’s the skin of the red grapes that winemakers use to create both red wines and rosé wines.
There are a few basic methods a winemaker can employ:
Winemakers tend to favor saignée, also known as “limited maceration.” In this method, he (today, often she!) places whole clusters of de-stemmed grapes into tanks. The weight of the grapes begins a gentle crush of the fruit. The winemaker watches this process closely, and when the juice reaches the level of color desired (after usually around 12 hours), the juice is drained off the fruit and prepared for fermentation. Once the “run off” (the juice) is separated from the fruit, the winemaker will use the remaining fruit to make an even more concentrated red wine—a true win-win. This style of rosé is generally light, rich, fruity and very fresh.
Pressé is a faster, slightly more aggressive way of making rosé. In this process the winemaker presses the red grapes until the juice has the desired color, usually from one to four hours in the press depending on how much color is desired. After press the winemaker prepares the juice for fermentation. If there is still juice left in the fruit, it can be pressed out and added to red wine already in fermentation tanks in order to increase the wine’s color and concentration.
Blending is probably the easiest way to achieve a rosé wine, but it’s not as common. In this method the wines both red and white are fermented separately. Once they are done fermenting the winemaker can choose to blend some of the selected red and some of the selected white to create the blushed color they desire. Rosés made this way can be modified more with added acids, sweeteners, and other natural products. These wines are generally less sophisticated.
Advanced chef’s notes
The wonderful thing about rosé wines is how versatile they are with food. Depending on style they can pair with seafood, spicy foods, BBQ, everything bold from fresh-grilled Cuban skirt steak to sashimi slathered with wasabi. Let’s break down some simple pairing suggestions.
The lighter, slightly sweet styles: the cooling freshness of this style works wonders with spicier foods like Mexican, Thai, Indian, and any food that has a kick to it.
The drier, less sweet styles: these wines, thanks to the fruit, continue to play nicely with spicier foods, but they also pair wonderfully with grilled meats, light pastas, simple picnic fair, and cheese plates.
Now that you’re equipped with a better understanding of rosé wines and how they are made, it’s time for your next wine tasting trip. On this trip, include a search for rosés at your favorite wineries—the search should be getting much easier.
In the meantime, time to don your sandals, pack an ice-cold bottle of rosé, and head to the beach for some sexy summer sipping by the deep blue sea!