A lot of people are afraid of rosés.
“It’s too sweet,” says a friend, Yvonne. “You should serve it with a side of something dry. Like sand.”
Rosé may get its bad rap because for years the U.S. was associated with making sweet, pink wines with loads of residual sugar. There are a lot of winemakers working hard to dispel that myth, and with a flurry of rosés headed to shelves right now, it’s time to forgive the pink. Plus, rosés, are mostly meant to be consumed young, when the fruit is still bright and vivacious, which means, much like Copper River salmon, it’s time to get them when they come in.
Truth is, the beauty of rosés are many, not least of which may be that the wine screams summer and sunshine. And since rosés are primarily red wines made in a white wine style, good rosés can pair with everything from the most dainty of fish to a hearty pig roast.
Emerald City, it’s time to uncork something pinkish.
If you’re afraid of getting a “sweet” rosé, begin by exploring the Old World. France, where the wines are vinified dry, and where they are known for producing epic dry, terroir-driven rosés, is a good place to start.
Choose a Bandol-style rosé, for example, and you are principally getting a mouvedre, plus cinsault and grenache, wherein the maximum residual sugar—the amount of sugar that remains after fermentation—is 3 grams per liter of wine. Pretty much any wine under 12 g/l is considered a “dry wine.”
For example, the Château Pradeaux Bandol rosé, (which, according to Vinum Importing will soon be appearing across the city) is composed of cinsault and grenache as well as mourvedre, macerated on the skins briefly to produce a very light color, then aged in stainless steel. The nose is herbaceous, while on the palate the wine has a rich mouth feel, yet is dry. There are more herbs here, and a bit of rose petal, and light red fruits. No bubblegum or raisinated cherries; the wine is lean and delicate and does not need that bucket of sand.
Bandol is just one example, though. Travel to Tavel, in the southern Rhone, and you’ll discover the only commune-level AOC devoted entirely to dry, pink wines. No red wines and no white wines are produced in the region. (Ahh… the French and their terroir and regional style, and subsequent laws.) The rosés here are typically grenache-based, and have a maximum residual sugar of 4 g/l, and maximum alcohol of 13.5 percent. In Spain, where most of the rosés must adhere to minimum aging requirements, they take this style so seriously that winemakers call it by two different names, depending on the color of the wine: rosado for light pink, clarete for dark.
If you’re wondering why one rosé is salmon colored and the other looks like a Twizzler, it’s usually the result of different methods of making the wine. Champagne rosé, for example, allows for blending of a finished red with a finished white. Elsewhere, sometimes a red and white wine might even be co-fermented together to form a rosé. In the maceration method, the wine remains in contact with the skins until it has obtained the desired hue. Leaving mouvedre with the skins for two hours might produce the palest of pale dusty rose; half a day or a day and it’s cherry-juice red.
However the saignee technique is the reason a vast majority of roses are made. In saignee, one makes a red wine, bleeding off some juice to make the red darker, richer, and more tannic. That bled-off juice can be made into rosé.
Finally, because all rosés are not made from the same grape, you may have to cast some favorite single-varietal red assumptions aside. You can have a grenache rose, or a syrah rose, a tempranillo rosés or cab franc rosés, a mouvedre rosé, or a red blend rosé, to name a few, but you can’t just assume that since you love grenache then grenache-based rosé should be your first choice. Granted, some of the profile aspects will be the same—you might get tart red cherries in your pinot, for example—but I bet I’d be hard-pressed to find a sommelier in this town who can correctly identify each varietal in a blind tasting of a bunch of rosés.
So, go try some Old World rosés over the next couple of weeks, then prepare your palate to play along: In the coming weeks, Sauced will introduce you to some of the countless Washington rosés just hitting the shelves.