One my favorite signs of summer is the arrival of the newest crop of crisp, dry refreshing rosé wines that start showing up in late winter and early spring. Practically a ritual in the cafés and Bistros from Paris to the Cote d’Azur, these quintessential summer wines initially met with some resistance here in the States, with memories of assorted “pop” wines from our youths, mostly sweet and often sparkly, leaving a bad taste behind. Yet each year more and more wine lovers shed their fear of “drinking pink” and discover the beauty of these versatile summer wines, and today rosés are some of the best, and most popular, wines of the season.
Generally inexpensive, rosé wines are perfect companions to summer’s more casual entertaining and cuisine. They are great with all kinds of summer fare, and grilled tuna, snapper, chicken, salad niçoise, tapenades, grilled summer vegetables, olives and cured meats all work exceptionally well. They are also great all on their own on a warm summer afternoon!
While there are several methods of production, rosé wines are basically made by leaving the juice of red grapes — almost all grapes, even red ones, have white juice — macerating on their skins just long enough to develop their signature pink hue rather than the multiple days or weeks for full bore red wines. The grapes are then pressed or the the juice is run off and they finish fermenting much like white wines. Another method, called saignee, (to bleed), is done by siphoning off some portion of red wine early on in the fermentation when it just has a faint hue, and vinifying it like a white wine. The juice, skins and grapes left behind continue on as a red wine for fermentation, except that it is now more concentrated by virtue of having less juice to skins, making for deeper fuller red, as well as the benefit of having a lovely fresh rosé. The third method, used mainly for inexpensive bulk rosé, is done by blending white and red wines together, with the notable exception of Rosé Champagne and a lovely Basque rosé called Txakoli that, among others, make beautiful wines with this method.
Somewhere between reds and whites, rosés are typically light to medium in body, crisp and wonderfully refreshing — with a trace of tannin from their red wine lineage. Contrary to popular belief, almost all are actually bone dry! Rosés can range in color from pale pink to brick/salmon to a light ruby red, and often offer flavors and aromas that range from raspberry and strawberry to citrus, melon and tropical fruits. Their individual styles are determined in large part by the grapes from which they are made and the regions where they are grown.
Today some of the very best are hard to find, selling out quickly after release. Domaine Tempier from Bandol, Vacheron Sancerre Rosé, Clos St. Magdeleine are all quite fleeting, gone as quickly as summer itself. Corsica has burst onto the scene with its beautiful Rosés from indigenous (and hard to pronounce) local grapes such as Sciaccarellu. And California Rosés have upped their game, with Sinskey’s Vin Gris of Pinot Noir and Bedrock’s Ode to Lulu, a wine inspired by Domaine Tempier and named in honor of Lulu Peyraud, two great examples. And the exquisite Rosé Champagnes from the top houses in France such as Krug and Dom Perignon can set you back hundreds of dollars per bottle.
While rosés don’t strictly have a season, they are more likely to be found in shops from early April through Labor Day and are generally best drunk young to capture their vibrant youthful freshness. A few exceptions include the rosé wines of Bandol that can be better with a little time in bottle, and those from Lopez de Heredia, who doesn’t even release them until they have many years of cask and bottle age. So this summer lose your fear of the pink and enjoy – but don’t wait! The selection tends to dwindle as the summer winds down and retailers begin to look to fall’s fuller bodied flavors.