The weather changes, and sunny days begin to outlast the nights. Spring is in full bloom—it’s my favorite time of year. I get excited about what wine is around the corner. I know it’s coming and I can’t wait until the pour hits my glass: Hints of strawberry, grapefruit, blood orange, melon, and hues of every shade of pink surround me. The rosés have arrived in St. Louis.
Many people are still apprehensive when it comes to rosé wines. Many so-called ‘serious’ wine-drinkers even consider rosé insipid. But there are many characterful rosés all around us. It just takes a little looking and tasting.
Maybe it is partly a carry over from the world of blush and white zinfandel—sweeter wines, lacking depth and complexity. Many Americans cut their teeth on white zinfandel when they first got into wine, and it became one of the top-selling wines in the U.S. in the ‘80s, made famous by Sutter Home Winery of Napa. Although some wine enthusiasts like to criticize white zinfandel, we should be thankful that this wine helped propel wine appreciation in the American consumer.
I prefer a cleaner style rosé, so I chose a 2013 Collovray & Terrier Vin de Pays d'Oc La Closerie des Lys Les Fruitières from the south of France. This is a typical blend from the region: syrah/cinsault/grenache. The grapes come from mainly the upper valley of the Aude in Languedoc, and also Carcassonne, near Limoux. The grapes are gently pressed by gravity, then to stainless steel vats to retain the aromatics and freshness.
Color: Pale strawberry
Aroma: Cantaloupe melons, under-ripe strawberries
Taste: Bright, slightly tart and sweet melons and red fruits—a lingering crisp finish with nice acidity, which makes you want another sip!
Rosé wine truly is diverse and is good to sip on as a cocktail, on the patio or with dinner. It’s a great food wine. But how is rosé made? What grapes are used and how can you tell what you will like?
Let’s first get a glimpse of how rosé is produced:
1) Traditional Skin Contact – A red grape like pinot noir is crushed and pressed; then during maceration, the grapes are only allowed to be in contact with the juice for a short period (the ‘must’), just one or two days to extract the desired color. Remember, color comes from the skin; so the longer one leaves the skins in contact, the darker it becomes, but also the higher the tannins.
2) Saignée (bleeding off). During the early part of skin and juice contact (maceration), a wine maker can intensify a red wine by bleeding off juice from the skins to produce a separate wine: rosé. What remains is a lesser juice-to-skin ratio, and more intensified red wine, commonly done with pinot noir. Vin gris is a similar style, but spends no time for maceration and is pressed right away without leaving the juice in contact with the skin. Gris means grey, thus produces a very pale color rosé.
3) Blending – Although not used often, this is taking a white wine and adding some red wine for desired color and flavor.
Another benefit of saignée for traditional red wines is, after they bleed off juice, the increased skin (seed and stems) ratio provides more color and tannins, as well as more phenolics and antioxidant qualities. This will help stabilize and protect the wine from deteriorating. On the flip side, this means rosés have very little of these qualities, and that’s why they must be consumed while young, generally one or two years.
When it comes to production, rosé can be made out of most red grapes. Many different red grapes have their own flavor and characteristics, yielding rosés ranging from very light and subtle flavors to darker and bolder flavors.
As the popularity of rosé has grown, we are seeing rosés from all over the world from all different grapes: tannat rosé from Uruguay, malbec rosé from Argentina cerasuolo rosato from Italy or garnacha rosado from Spain. The classic style is regarded a Provence style, dry and pale, from the south of France.
Rosés currently account for about half of wines produced in Provence. They are usually a blend of red grapes from the region: grenache, syrah, cinsault, mourvedre, and carignan are the main ones. Just north of Provence, in Rhône, is an appellation called Tavel that produces only rosé. What is interesting with most Tavel producers is they make their rosés by co-fermenting both red and white grape together. Both of these French rosés are nice, clean and elegant, as well as subtle and refreshing.
Don’t be afraid. Go ahead, ‘drink pink’ and sip into the world of rosés. They are pleasant, lovely and perfect sipping for the season. Rosé can be a worthy wine and sometimes, not thinking too hard about it is the best way to enjoy it. It’s in my glass right now.
Tasting Tip: Chill your rosés to correct temperature: Cooler, about 45 to 50 degrees, but not too cold. Look for a variety of colors: Cantaloupe melon, peach, red currant, grapefruit, mango. See if you can find aromas such as melon and strawberries to plum and currants.
Wine Recommendation: Some rosés I’m drinking now: 2013 La Closerie des Lys, S. France; 2013 Renegade Wine Co. Columbia Valley; and 2013 Rio Madre, Rioja, Spain.
Certified Sommelier Stanley Browne is the owner of Robust Wine Bar in Webster Groves, Downtown at the MX and in Edwardsville.