Rosé Resurgence

I have always loved rosé wines’€”at least the dry and off-dry ones’€” but have often felt guilty ordering them in restaurants. As if the server might think I’€™m not ‘€œmanly’€ because I’€™m ordering a rosé. The exception, of course, is any time I find myself in Provence in the summer, especially on the Côte d’€™Azur, where everyone is drinking rosé wines.

But now that rosés are back in style, I have happily overcome any guilt feelings, and order them with abandon. The simple fact is that rosé wines are suitable to drink on so many occasions. For me, it’€™s not only that they go so well with many of the foods I eat, but they also suit my mood so often. There are times when a red wine feels too heavy, and a white seems too insubstantial. A glass of rosé is perfect as an aperitif, with a nibble of food. When warm weather sets in, and a red wine doesn’€™t seem right, I turn to rosé. I love rosés with seafood. Rosés also pair well with many Asian foods. And there’€™s always the time when you’€™re dining with someone who wants to drink white wine, but you want red, or the reverse. Rosé wine to the rescue.

Over the years, rosé wines have dropped in and out of fashion throughout the world. In the United States, during the 1970s, rosé or pink wines became especially fashionable, first, with the popularity of two Portuguese rosés, Mateus and Lancer’€™s; and then with the birth of white Zinfandels in 1975. Many novice drinkers especially found that the fairly sweet white Zinfandels and blush wines made an easy graduation from Coke and Pepsi. Others, no matter what their age’€” who always found red wines too dry or too tannic’€”turned to white Zinfandel.

However, a backlash took place among ‘€œserious’€ wine drinkers, many of whom believed that all rosé wines were sweet and sappy (never true), and avoided them. Rosé wines’€™ soiled reputation never really happened to wine drinkers in many countries in Europe’€”such as France, Spain, and Italy’€”where dry or fairly dry rosés have been part of these countries’€™ wine repertoire for decades.

Now, in the U.S., there has been a rosé resurgence. For example, a just-released Nielsen study notes that U.S. retail sales of imported rosés priced at or above $12 a bottle increased 22.3% in dollar volume and 17.7% in sales volume in 2010.

Here’€™s a brief dxescription of some of the major rosé-growing regions and an admittedly subjective listing of many of my favorite rosés from these areas.

France

Rosés are a popularly established wine in France more than in any other country. Although some rosé wines are made in most French wine regions, they are really important in four: Provence, the southern Rhône, Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Anjou district of the Loire Valley. Note that the first three of these four regions are in southern France, where it’€™s sunny and warm for a good part of the year. This makes sense, because rosé wines go hand and hand with mild climates.

Provence is one of the few major wine regions in the world in which rosé wines make up more than half of the wine production. Provence is the perfect venue for rosés. Not only is the climate right, but the cuisine fits perfectly: fish, seafood, and fresh vegetables predominate. The main grape varieties in Provence rosés are Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre. Most of Provence’€™s rosé wines come from its largest region, Côtes de Provence, and most retail in the $12 to $24 price range.

Ubifrance, the French trade commission, recently reported that exports of rosé and red wines to the U.S. from Provence jumped nearly 50% by value and more than 37% by volume from October 2009 to October 2010. This represents a rise in value 10 times greater than that of total French wine exports in the same period ‘€“ confirming the rising appeal of the Provence region’€™s rosé wines for U.S. consumers. And although the data includes red wines, the reality underlines the strength of rosés: ‘€œIn 2010, 87% of all AOC wines produced in Provence were rosés, while 9% were reds and 4% whites,’€ said Julie Peterson of the CIVP/Provence Wine Council’€™s U.S. trade office.

Here are some of my favorite Provence rosés (all come from Côtes de Provence, except when noted otherwise):

Château D’€™Esclans (Domaines Sacha Lichine)

Château de Saint-Martin

Domaine de Brigue ‘€œSignature’€

Domaine de La Sanglière

Domaines Ott (Bandol)

Domaines Ott, Château de Selle

Domaine Sorin

Mas de Cadenet, ‘€œArbaude’€

Château Marqui (Côteaux Varois en Provence)

Château Les Valentines

Château Maupague

Château Sainte Roseline

Château Robine

Provence Rosés are best when they are young. Drink them within two years of the vintage (2009 or 2010, but no older than 2008).

The southern Rhône has two of the oldest rosé wine districts, Tavel (where by law only rosé wines are produced), and Lirac. Grenache and Cinsault are the main grape varieties of Tavel and Lirac rosé’€”but Syrah and Mourvèdre are playing a greater role lately. Tavel wines are dry and tend to have more body and structure than most rosés. They can be cellared, but are usually consumed when they’€™re young, like most rosés.

Languedoc-Roussillon produces more wine than any other region in France, and more than its share of rosés. Languedoc rosés, made from the same varieties as in Provence, are typically light and dry, and are invariably great values.

The Anjou district is the rosé wine capital of the Loire Valley. Anjou’€™s rosés are more full-bodied than other French rosé wines. Three different rosés are made in Anjou:

Rosé d’€™Anjou’€”semi-dry; made from Gamay, Malbec, and a local variety called Grolleau;

Cabernet d’€™Anjou’€”semi-dry; made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon; capable of aging for several years;

Rosé de la Loire’€”dry; mainly Cabernet Franc.

Spain

Dry rosé wines (rosados) come primarily from two regions in northern Spain, Navarra and Rioja. Ernest Hemingway was a big fan of Rosado, while watching the bullfights. The two main grape varieties in Spain’€™s Rosado wines are Garnacha (Grenache) and Tempranillo. Spain’€™s rosados are light-bodied, dry, and delicious’€”and usually are very good values ($10 to $20, retail).

Italy

Rosés, known as rosatos in Italy, are made throughout the country. My four favorite Italian regions for rosato wines are’€”from north to south’€”Alto Adige, Veneto, Abruzzo and Sicily.

Lagrein, an indigenous variety in Alto Adige, makes a fantastic, dry, medium-bodied rosato. In fact, I often prefer it to Lagrein’€™s red wine, which can be too tannic. From the Bardolino district on Lake Garda in the Veneto comes a delightful dry rosato, Chiaretto (its full name is Bardolino Chiaretto). It’€™s such fun to sip a cool Chiaretto by the lake while dining on lake fish or pasta. Corvina is the main grape variety of Bardolino Chiaretto.

Perhaps Italy’€™s greatest rosato is Cerasuolo from the Abruzzo region. Cerasuolo, made from the Montepulciano d’€™Abruzzo variety, is a deep cherry color, almost a light red. It is quite full-bodied for a rosé wine, and certainly can be served throughout dinner. Cerasuolo is a serious, delicious wine that even has some aging potential, especially in the hands of Abruzzo’€™s best producers, such as Valentini and Cataldi Madonna.

Sicily has been producing excellent rosato wines for some time. The best ones are usually made from Sicily’€™s premium red variety, Nero d’€™Avola. Regaleali is one Sicilian producer that is renowned for its rosato.

The United States

The story of modern rosé wines’€™ popularity in the U.S. begins in 1975 at Sutter Home Winery, with the birth of white Zinfandel’€”really, a kind of rosé wine. White Zinfandel, as we know it today, was discovered accidentally, as a result of a stuck fermentation. At the time, Sutter Home was making red Zinfandel in its Napa Valley winery. To increase concentration in its red Zinfandel, Sutter Home bled off some of the grape juice before it fermented, and made a dry, almost white wine that the winery called ‘€œWhite Zinfandel.’€ When the fermentation ‘€œstuck’€’€”which occurs occasionally when the yeasts in the grape juice die out before consuming all of the grape sugar’€”the juice was set aside. A few weeks later, Sutter Home’€™s winemaker tasted the batch, and he preferred it’€”now a somewhat sweet, pink wine’€”to the dry, almost white wine they had been calling white Zinfandel previously.

The rest is history. Sutter Home’€™s new White Zinfandel became wildly popular, selling six times as much as its red Zinfandel and all of its other wines. Many other California wineries jumped on the bandwagon. Sutter Home remains one of the largest producers of white Zinfandel, selling more than four million 12-bottle cases annually. When I asked Bob Trinchero, owner and chairman of Sutter HomeWinery and Trinchero Family Estates, to account for Sutter Home White Zinfandel’€™s success, he replied:

‘€œOur team strives for quality and consistency, vintage after vintage, to always deliver the consumer the experience they expect from Sutter Home.’€ A further factor, he believes, is the wine’€™s ‘€œclean, fruity style that continues to be sought after by our loyal consumers.’€ Another factor is the wine’€™s penetration of the market. ‘€œWe need to recognize the important support we receive on an on-going basis from our wholesaler network in keeping our White Zinfandel easily accessible to retailers and restaurateurs all over the U.S.,’€ stated Trinchero.

White Zinfandel’€™s popularity rests on its fruitiness, moderate alcohol, no tannin, and mild taste on the palate. Its color ranges from pale pink to medium rose, and its sweetness level goes from off-dry to quite sweet, depending on the producer. White Zin is best consumed chilled, which suits the way that many Americans like their beverages.

Despite Sutter Home’€™s amazing success, ‘€œBeringer’€™s White Zinfandel continues to be the best-selling White Zinfandel across the United States by dollar value,’€ commented Elizabeth Hooker, Director of Beringer’€™s Public Relations-Fine Brands. ‘€œThe wine’€™s light and refreshing profile has made it a favorite with consumers since its launch in 1983,’€ continued Hooker. ‘€œBeringer’€™s White Zinfandel is vinified as a true Blanc de Noir Rosé, from grapes harvested from California vineyards at higher Brix for maximum flavor and ripeness. The resulting wine is both approachable and affordable, and a trusted choice from a winery with a rich, classic heritage.’€

Today, Beringer Vineyards produces the largest-selling white Zinfandel; it’€™s pale pink in color and dryer than most other Zinfandels. Other leading white Zinfandels include De Loach Vineyards; Woodbridge (by Robert Mondavi); Terra d’€™Oro (formerly Monteviña; owned by the Trinchero family, owners of Sutter Home); E. & J. Gallo (who also produce Turning Leaf White Zinfandel); Fetzer’€™s Valley Oaks; and Glen Ellen. White Zinfandel remains California’€™s third-largest selling varietal wine today, after Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Apart from the blush wine category, many rosé wines in the U.S.’€” especially California ‘€”are now being made in a dry or off-dry style, and they are in demand. By 2007, rosé wines had increased in sales over 50 percent in a five-year period, and are still going strong, despite the general slowing down of wine sales in the past few years. One main reason is the attractive retail price of rosés. White Zinfandels are mainly in the $5 to $10 range, with most closer to $5; and the dry-style rosés are primarily in the $12 to $20 range.

California’€™s dry rosés come in many varieties; the four most-popularly used varieties are Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Grenache and Syrah (the last two often combined). Grape varieties are often, but not always, listed on the wine label.

It is no accident that rosé wines have captured the fancy of wine consumers. It is a modern wine: pretty to look at, easy-drinking, food-friendly and very affordable. And it’€™s available in dry, off-dry, and sweeter styles. Viva Rosé!

Favorite Dry-Style California Rosés

A Donkey and a Goat Winery, ‘€œIsabel’€™s Cuvée,’€ Grenache Rosé (McDowell Valley, Mendocino County)

Alexander Valley Vineyards, Dry Rosé of Sangiovese (Alexander Valley)

Bonny Doon, ‘€œVin Gris de Cigare Rosé’€ Carignane (Santa Cruz Mountains)

Chateau Potelle, ‘€œRiviera Rosé’€ (Paso Robles)

Edmunds St. John, ‘€œBone Jolly Rosé,’€ Gamay Noir (El Dorado, Sierra Foothills)

Emmolo, Syrah Rosé (Napa Valley)

Etude, Rosé of Pinot Noir (Carneros, Napa Valley)

Heitz Cellars, Grignolino Rosé (Napa Valley)

Hitching Post, Pinot Noir Rosé (Santa Barbera County)

I’€™M Wines (Isabel Mondavi), Rosé of Cabernet (Napa Valley)

Lazy Creek, Rosé of Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley, Mendocino)

Lynmar, Rosé of Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley)

McDowell Valley Vineyards, Grenache Rosé (McDowell Valley, Mendocino)

Pietra Santa Rosato, Dolcetto (Cienega Valley, San Benito County)

St. Francis Winery, Rosé, Merlot/Syrah (Sonoma County)

Saintsbury, Pinot Noir Rosé (Carneros, Napa Valley)

Scherrer Winery Vin Gris Dry Rosé, Pinot Noir/Zinfandel (Sonoma County)

Tablas Creek, Estate Rosé, Mourvedre/Grenache/Counoise (Paso Robles)

Terra d’€™Oro, Rosé, mainly Nebbiolo (Amador County, Sierra Foothills)

Valley of the Moon, Rosato di Sangiovese (Sonoma County)

Ventana Vineyards, ‘€œRosado,’€ mainly Grenache (Arroyo Seco, Monterey) Favorite Dry-Style California Rosés

A Donkey and a Goat Winery, ‘€œIsabel’€™s Cuvée,’€ Grenache Rosé (McDowell Valley, Mendocino County)

Alexander Valley Vineyards, Dry Rosé of Sangiovese (Alexander Valley)

Bonny Doon, ‘€œVin Gris de Cigare Rosé’€ Carignane (Santa Cruz Mountains)

Chateau Potelle, ‘€œRiviera Rosé’€ (Paso Robles)

Edmunds St. John, ‘€œBone Jolly Rosé,’€ Gamay Noir (El Dorado, Sierra Foothills)

Emmolo, Syrah Rosé (Napa Valley)

Etude, Rosé of Pinot Noir (Carneros, Napa Valley)

Heitz Cellars, Grignolino Rosé (Napa Valley)

Hitching Post, Pinot Noir Rosé (Santa Barbera County)

I’€™M Wines (Isabel Mondavi), Rosé of Cabernet (Napa Valley)

Lazy Creek, Rosé of Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley, Mendocino)

Lynmar, Rosé of Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley)

McDowell Valley Vineyards, Grenache Rosé (McDowell Valley, Mendocino)

Pietra Santa Rosato, Dolcetto (Cienega Valley, San Benito County)

St. Francis Winery, Rosé, Merlot/Syrah (Sonoma County)

Saintsbury, Pinot Noir Rosé (Carneros, Napa Valley)

Scherrer Winery Vin Gris Dry Rosé, Pinot Noir/Zinfandel (Sonoma County)

Tablas Creek, Estate Rosé, Mourvedre/Grenache/Counoise (Paso Robles)

Terra d’€™Oro, Rosé, mainly Nebbiolo (Amador County, Sierra Foothills)

Valley of the Moon, Rosato di Sangiovese (Sonoma County)

Ventana Vineyards, ‘€œRosado,’€ mainly Grenache (Arroyo Seco, Monterey)

Three Top-Value Rosés Retailing for Under $12

Folie à Deux Winery ‘€œMenage à Trois’€ Rosé (California)

Pedroncelli Dry Rosé of Zinfandel (Sonoma County)

Toad Hollow Vineyards ‘€œEye of the Toad’€ Dry Pinot Noir Rosé (Sonoma County).

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