Food for Thought - Mark R. Vogel - [email protected] - Mark's Archive
A ROSÉ BY ANY OTHER NAME
In Italy's it's rosato. In Spain it's known as rosado. The Germans call it weissherbst. But the French term rosé is the one most Americans are familiar with. French for "pink" or "rose colored," rosé is the collective term for pink colored wines.
What descriptors do you think of when you hear the word rosé? For many it's cheap, sweet, and sometimes sparkling. If these features, and/or "white zinfandel," spring to mind, your associations are a function of the mass market. It began in the 1940's with Portuguese brands like Mateus and Lancers rosé, followed by Gallo's Pink Chablis in the 1960's. Then in the 1970's Sutter Home unveiled its white zinfandel, which ushered in a new moniker for rosé, namely "blush." White zinfandel was a huge success and continues to be a cash cow for a number of wineries.
These mass-produced and popular rosés became so widespread that they left an indelible mark on the public perception of rosé. Part of that perception embodied the ordinariness of rosé. Let's face it; the monolithic, capitalistic wineries weren't exactly setting the bar very high. But the wines were tasty and inexpensive, the public loved them, and most importantly, the wineries' coffers were pretty in pink.
In all fairness, rosé had never reached a level of distinction as a world class wine. Much of its pedigree never climbed higher than an everyday, pleasant wine for casual quaffing. But there are indeed places where rosé excels and recently there has been a revolution in quality, with a concomitant increase in price. More and more winemakers are taking their rosé seriously and slowly eradicating its "big-box store" reputation.
Rosé is always made directly from red wine or by adding red wine to white. Standard red wine achieves it characteristic hue not from the juice of its grapes, but from the grape skins, which intermingle with the juice during fermentation. While this may take weeks for a typical red wine, when making rosé, the skins are removed within hours to a few days. Thus, the resulting juice is not as intensely colored. Fermentation then proceeds sans skins. This basic process is what is known as the saignée method. Therefore, there's nothing white about white zinfandel other than the misleading name. And for that matter, Gallo's Pink Chablis may be pink, but its definitely not Chablis, a distinct and high quality chardonnay from the Chablis region of France, but that's another story.
Sometimes red wine is added to white to produce a rosé. The premier example here is rosé champagne. I'm referring to real champagne from Champagne, France, not the cheap, pink, sparkling wines of the new world. French rosé champagne is superior quality, and highly sought after. Like James Bond I'm a Bollinger man but most of the major champagne houses produce a noteworthy rosé. However, you'll have to part company with a Ben Franklin or two for the best ones.
Returning to standard rosé wine, as stated it is produced from allowing the must, (the grape juice to be fermented), to have minimal contact with the skins. This has additional consequences other than the resulting tincture. The skins are loaded with tannins and other elements which contribute flavor and structure to the wine. Thus, rosé will never possess the same body and depth of character as a traditional red. This is not to imply that it is inferior. It's simply a different breed of wine.
On that note there are many different styles of rosé. Rosé is produced all over the globe from countless different grapes. The grape variety, the terroir of the vineyard, the vinification methodology, the length of contact between the must and the skins, and the skill of the winemaker all contribute to a world-wide menagerie of rosés that vary in color, quality, body, and taste. Rosé also runs the gamut from dry to sweet with multiple gradations therein. Despite this diversity, rosé is generally characterized by lively acidity, low to medium alcohol content, a lighter body, and fruity flavors: such as cherry, berry and watermelon.
If you want to get serious about your rosé then I am compelled to direct you to where it reigns supreme: France's Loire Valley and most notably southern France. Most French wine growing areas are broken down into appellations, i.e., designated regions governed by certain rules and regulations. Loire rosés are typically made from a variety of grapes such as Malbec, Gamay, Cabernet Franc, and others. Loire rosés labeled Rosé de Loire AC are made primarily from Cabernet Franc and tend to be drier. Rosé d'Anjou AC wines are from the Anjou region of the Loire Valley and tend to be sweeter.
But the undisputed bastion of Rosé is southern France, namely the southern Rhone Valley, Provence, and the Languedoc. Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault are the most common grapes in the blend. Tavel is an appellation in the southern Rhone which makes only rosé and is considered to be the best in France. Tavel is dry, fuller bodied and composed predominantly of Grenache.
Rosé and especially white zinfandel are inextricably linked to summer and grilled food. This association is well founded. Rosé is typically served chilled (around 50 degrees is perfect), and thus is ideal for warm weather and warm weather fare. Rosé, even the dime store varieties, is very food friendly. Of course this varies with the style of Rosé. The heartier the food the heavier and drier the Rosé should be. Light roses are good with fish and salads while their stouter counterparts pair well with items like pork and chicken. Sweet rosés work well with spicy food, sweeter dishes, and fruits. And all rosés harmonize with a lounge chair, a sunny deck, and unabashed chilling out.
But don't let the time of year determine your enjoyment. There's no reason in the world why rosé can't be drunk year round. Here's to changing our whole mindset about rosé. Any time's a good time for being tickled pink.