ROSÉ IS OLD SCHOOL
PRODUCING PINK JUICE
PEOPLE AND PLACES
WHY AND HOW TO DRINK PINK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR
RETAIL SHOPS WITH GREAT ROSÉ SELECTIONS
ABOUT THE PUBLISHER
I HAD MY FIRST TASTE OF WINE WHEN I WAS NINE YEARS OLD. WHEN MY Grandma Willie wasn’t looking, I snuck a swig from her glass. She was a big fan of sitting on the porch at night, reading romance novels, and sipping White Zinfandel. Cooled down with a cup full of ice, the pink drink seemed like such a pleasant escape.
Years later at twenty-one, I would take my first legal sip of rosé. I was feverishly studying for my sommelier exam and tasting up to one hundred wines a day. Taste. Swoosh. Think. Spit. Every day I would go through the painstaking process of trying wines from around the world to register their characteristics. Although barely legal, I passed my exam and became the youngest sommelier in the country.
A few years passed. My obsession with exams dwindled as I traveled to some of the most beautiful places in the world, like France, Portugal, Chile, Italy, California, and Switzerland. I worked in vineyards alongside winemakers learning about the heart and soul of wine. Long lunches flowed into dinners filled with laughter and stories. I fell in love with centuries of tradition and the humble farmers who dedicated themselves to their land, and still do.
Wine is one of the most competitive industries in the world. It is a constant battle to stay relevant. Every day I tackle a bit more of the never-ending world of wine, making sure my knowledge is always up to date. I think these pressures eventually wear down a lot of sommeliers.
However, I have a trick: Drink more rosé. For me, no other wine embodies the joie de vivre like rosé. There is nothing daunting about pink wine. It does not force you to recall complicated French classifications put in place during the 1800s or rules governing vineyard management.
After a few sips of rosé, I am reminded that this is what wine is all about, pleasure and simplicity. Although my palate has evolved past White Zinfandel, I still hold onto my childhood delight in pink wine.
ROSÉ IS OLD SCHOOL
The history of the pink drink goes back a lot further than you might think. From Ancient Greece to California, it has always been a part of wine culture.
THE GREEKS AND THE ROMANS—THE BIRTH OF ROSÉ
(EIGHTH CENTURY BCE—MID 100s BCE)
Amphictyon, a Greek God that some traditions note as having been born from the earth, created pale wines of rosé color by simply mixing red wine with water. This less potent beverage helped minimize quarreling during meetings of his councilors who often leaned too heavily on wine for confidence.
In ancient Greece, white and red grapes were harvested together and pressed quickly to allow fermentation to begin. The impatience for drinkable wine usually outweighed the desire to explore higher quality winemaking. As a result, almost all wine was a natural light pink color.
Eventually, the Greeks and Romans explored separating grapes by color. They also allowed the skins to macerate with the juice for pigment, eventually creating red wines. However, these early examples were often tannic and hard to drink. For quite some time, the general preference leaned toward the less harsh, lighter-colored wines. Rosé remained the beverage of choice for centuries.
THE FIRST WINES IN FRANCE WERE ROSÉ.
(SIXTH CENTURY BCE—EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY)
In the sixth century BCE, people known as the Phocaeans, from an ancient Ionian Greek city, set sail. From Greece, they brought grape vines to Massalia (modern day Marseille) in southern France. The wines they made there were naturally light pink in color. Why? Well, pigment in wine comes from the grape skin. (Next time you are eating a grape, bite it in half and look at the inside. You will notice the pulp and juice are clear.) By not letting the skins of the grapes sit with the juice, the finished product only picks up a bit of color. These rosés would forever have a home in the South of France.
In the second century BCE, the Romans landed in Provence. They had already heard all about the “pink wines of Massalia.” They took these coveted wines and used their super-connected trade networks to make them popular around the Mediterranean.
In the Middle Ages, it was rumored that Bordeaux created violet-colored rosé. The wine picked up a nickname known as “Clareit” (in Latin, claritas means clarity). These gently colored wines soon became fashionable around France.
In the twelfth century, Bordeaux came under British rule. The English loved their newfound pink wine dearly. Writer Samuel Johnson famously stated, “He who aspires to be a serious wine drinker must drink Claret.” Until the late 1900s, the English and their precious “Claret” were inseparable.
In the nineteenth century, French tourists started to flock to places like the Côte d’Azur in southern France. After a long day of playing pétanque and swimming in the sea, they would relax with a chilled glass of rosé. All of a sudden, these local wines became a symbol of glamour, leisure, and summer.
For many, rosé also became a simple vin de soif (wine to quench thirst), something to drink while you were cooking or to serve as an aperitif before dinner. It was not a fussy wine. Many parents would even serve it to their children as a treat.
Jacques Pépin told me that he first drank rosé when he was only six or seven years old. “It was wonderful. My father would start putting a tablespoon of rosé in a glass of water, just to change the color a little bit and get a taste of what it is. You have to understand, back then, there was no soda or anything. There was water and then there was wine, that was it.”
PORTUGAL: MATEUS AND LANCERS
If you have never heard of Mateus and Lancers, you might be surprised to know that these products are what many blame for ruining rosé’s reputation. Let’s take a look at both of them a bit more.
Fernando van Zeller Guedes said he created the infamous Mateus rosé because of bed bugs. While traveling around the Douro in Portugal in the 1940s, Guedes rarely slept due to bed bug infestations at the local hotels. As a result, he would stay up at night, constantly thinking and reviewing his notes on wine. Apparently, on one of these sleepless nights, he came up with the idea of a wine that would appeal to both “women and younger generations.” He also decided to create a bottle shaped like a soldier’s canteen. Some viewed this as fuel for the war on “serious” wine.
This sweet and pétillant (slightly sparkling) wine hit the market in late 1943. It was an overnight success. Mateus became rich and everyone else grew up thinking rosé was nothing more than cheap, poorly made juice.
Around the same time Mateus came onto the market, an American wine merchant named Henry Behar sailed to Portugal to visit the estate, Maria da Fonseca. Port is a fortified wine, dark in color, full in body, and loaded with sugar. While there, Behar tasted a wine named “Faisca,” which was slightly sweet and pink in color. He found the wine quite refreshing. At the time, it probably was. He had spent all day tasting heaving wines! Maria da Fonseca struck a deal with Behar, and he brought Faisca back to the United States, distributing the brand that would soon become an icon.
Since the name Faisca was considered to be too close to fiasco, for the American market, Behar instead named it after his favorite Velasquez painting, “Las Lanzas.” The bottle shape and material were also what set it apart from other wines on store shelves. It was a squat ceramic bottle. Americans couldn’t resist it. Before too long, disaster struck, though. There is a reason that wine, especially a youthful rosé, is bottled in glass: to protect it from oxygen. In ceramic, the wine quickly oxidized (turned brown and gross). Not good for something that was supposed to be easy-drinking and versatile.
Eventually the bottle changed to thick glass and then to frosted glass. To this day, Lancers is still quite popular in Central Europe simply because most people think it is liquor instead of wine. It is also very cheap and very sweet, which some people like.
Slowly, people started to turn their noses up at the quality of Mateus. Sales dropped. In an effort to revive the brand, compelling advertising campaigns featuring everyone from Jimi Hendrix to the Queen of England ran all over the United Kingdom and leaked out to the rest of the world. The wine was instantly back in fashion. After the Carnation Revolution in 1974, when democracy returned to Portugal, the United States rushed to import twenty million cases of Mateus in the hope of continuing their established relationship with the brand. Americans were not keen to lose their pink fix.
Kermit Lynch, of Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, started his now-famous business in the 1970s, in a small shop in Berkeley, California. He says,
When I opened my business, and when I grew up in wine, rosé had a terrible reputation. In the serious wine community, people did not drink rosé, it wasn’t considered real wine, it was just something made from the rotten grapes that could not go into the red. That was the attitude of the serious wine community. There were a few rosés, back then, one of them in a weird jug, they were just wretched! When I started, I didn’t have any rosé for sale, of course I had a teensy store, I wasn’t attracting the Lancers crowd. I had people come in and ask for Meursault and Echezeaux, things like that.
Mateus and Lancers changed the way people think of rosé. These novelty items made the public think all pink wine was inexpensive, sweet, and made in bulk. Many recall times fondly referred to as “Lancers poisoning” or the “Mateus hangover.”
A few coming-of-age stories worldwide would not be complete without the beverage. It is the “Two Buck Chuck” of the world. Very few of us are fortunate enough to start our drinking careers in Bordeaux or Burgundy. More often than not, teenagers will scrape together whatever loose change they can find and send their oldest looking friend into the wine shop to buy a bottle. More often than not, youthful palates love wine that tastes more like juice (their beverage of choice in the not-so-distant past).
So thank you, Mateus and Lancers, for giving our parents, grandparents, and their friends a cheap way to get tipsy. We are glad you didn’t tarnish our palates forever, although you sure came close.
HOW AMERICA LEARNED TO LOVE ROSÉ
Rosé is kind of fashionable now in the United States. It wasn’t forty or thirty years ago, but I would always have rosé around.
George West of El Pinal Winery in Lodi, California, made what is documented as the first White Zinfandel in 1869. The viticultural commissioner at the time found the wine impressive and began to advocate Zinfandel’s use outside of red wine. For over a century, this pink wine gained little traction.
It’s the 1970s in California, and a winery called Sutter Home is famous for its dark and intense Amador County Zinfandel. One day, the winemaker, Bob Trinchero, decides he wants to make this wine even more concentrated and inkier. But how does he do that with just grapes? He comes up with the idea of pressing the grapes as he normally would, but capturing the first bit of juice that comes out and separating it. This “free-run juice” is light in color, since it hasn’t had a lot of contact with the grape skins. Now the remaining grapes are ready to be pressed and make a wine of extreme intensity. Without that watery pink juice lightening up the batch, his Zinfandel became much more powerful.
So what did he do with this light-pink free-run juice? Sure, he could have thrown it away, but Trinchero, ever the admirer of French rosés, fermented and barrel-aged the liquid. Since there was so little of it, there was no point in shipping it off to customers. Instead, it was relegated to the winery tasting room for the first year.
I wasn’t alive at that time, so I am not sure what the wine tasted like, but it was probably the most “French-style” (i.e., mineral-driven, dry, low alcohol) rosé Sutter Home ever produced. Trinchero even gave his first experiment the nickname of Oeil de Perdrix which in French translates to “eye of the partridge.” This term dates back to the Middle Ages in the Champagne region of France. Wines with a pink color were called this as a reference to the pale pink color of the eye of a partridge struggling in death’s grip. Such a grave name for a marvelous wine!
The United States government wasn’t having Trinchero’s pet name, and they insisted that a description of the wine be printed in English on the label. As a result, in very small print, “a white zinfandel wine” was included on the bottle.
In 1975, everything changed. The story the winery tells is that a “stuck fermentation” occurred. In essence, the sugar could not fully convert to alcohol. As a result, the wine produced was slightly sweet. Instead of trying to fix the problem or relegate the product to the tasting room only, they decided to take their chances. They opened the floodgates and released (slightly sweet) Sutter Home White Zinfandel. Americans absolutely loved it. After all, this idea came from how the beloved Mateus and Lancers were made. Now, though, White Zinfandel could support local farmers.
White Zinfandel spread like wildfire. In the 1980s, it was one of America’s most popular wine brands. Eventually, people like my Grandmother Willie were buying bottles in bulk. In the 1990s, the world of rosé and the world of fine wine were completely separate. Sommeliers would never serve a bottle of White Zinfandel because serious wine drinkers would never ask for it. Rajat Parr, previously the Wine Director for Michael Mina restaurants, was a sommelier at that time in San Francisco.
No one cared about it, no one thought about it, no one drank it. At the time, there wasn’t rosé made for the purpose of being rosé. A winemaker maybe had some leftover grapes or something that didn’t ripen and that was what the rosé was. No one was going out and saying, “I am going to make great rosé.”
Relegated to cafés and cheap restaurants, the wine lay dormant for almost fifteen years. “From 1996 to 2009 I didn’t serve a single rosé. Never ever. It wasn’t until we opened RN74 in San Francisco that we started to serve rosé,” Parr adds. Now, he is the winemaker/partner at Domaine de la Côte and Sandhi in Santa Barbara. At Sandhi, they have made high-quality and delicious still and sparkling Pinot Noir rosés. Something Parr would never have been able to do twenty years ago.
ROSÉ TODAY AND TOMORROW
Not too long ago, a guest at the restaurant where I work as the sommelier was fervently flipping through the pages of the wine list. When I offered to assist him, he sighed in relief. A very thick French accent accompanied his words, “Last year I had the most amazing rosé here. I could not find it anywhere in Europe. It is from Clear Lake. Do you still have it?” He was referring to an Arnot Roberts Touriga Nacional Rosé from California that we luckily had a bottle or two of left. I couldn’t believe this gentleman was so excited to taste an American rosé again. But then, again, why not? It was delicious.
Some argue that the rosé craze in the United States is just a phase. But many experts disagree. They see this not as a trend but rather as the introduction of a new style. Kermit Lynch, one of the top importers of French and Italian wine in the United States, adds, “I think now rosé has its place, just like white and red and sparkling.” Americans are slowly learning more about wine and gaining a deeper appreciation. Rosé is simply a result of this education.
In the early 2000s, rosé’s popularity started to build. Resorts and beach destinations around the United States started stocking pink French wine. The Franco-fascination grew, and many places like André Balazs’ Sunset Beach property on Shelter Island in New York starting sporting pétanque courts. Keen on living the authentic southern French lifestyle, rosé starting flowing endlessly. Celebrities like Drew Barrymore and Angelina Jolie along with Brad Pitt started making rosé.
Rosé was suddenly mainstream. Social media turned the pink beverage into a superstar. Instagram stars like Josh Ostrovsky (“The Fat Jew”) claimed, “Rosé is like puppies, if you hate it you are an absolute monster.” He went on to collaborate on a product called “White Girl Rosé,” a California Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel blend. Hundreds of thousands of bottles have been sold.
In France, clever collaborations also have taken place. Jeremy Seysses of the highly acclaimed Domaine Dujac and Aubert de Villaine of the outstanding Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, where some of the most expensive wines in the world are made, co-founded Domaine Triennes. Located in the Var, not too far from the Jolie-Pitt owned Château Miraval, Seysses and de Villaine started producing tasty rosés. Sommeliers from all over the United States rushed to include the wine on their lists. In the summer of 2014, almost every restaurant I went to was pouring it by the glass.
Like the baguette or the beret, we have adopted rosé into American culture. The charming nature of the beverage is hard to deny. As domestic and international examples have drastically improved in quality, it is no longer considered a guilty pleasure. Men have looked past the pink coloring and embraced “brosé” remarks. Rosé is exactly what the wine world needed, a unpretentious but delicious option.
So is the rosé trend fleeting or forever? Sommelier Rajat Parr assures us, “Oh no, rosé, it’s here to stay.”
PRODUCING PINK JUICE
How is rosé made exactly? To achieve a specific style, careful decisions must be made by the winemaker. Although some argue certain methods are better than others, each has its own merits.
HOW ROSÉ IS MADE
Crafting a delicious rosé is no mere accident. Although it might be fun to think of the creation of rosé as a magical process, the methods for making this enchanting wine are actually straightforward.
Today, wine drinkers are demanding high-quality rosé. As a result, winemakers are putting a lot of thought into how to make exceptional pink wines. They are paying attention to vineyard sites, yields, winemaking techniques, and vineyard management. But all that complicated stuff aside, how exactly do you make rosé, anyway? There are essentially three main ways you can go about it.
In French, saignée translates to “bleeding,” which is exactly what our little grape friends do. The first juice that runs off from pressing red grapes is isolated. This light-red wine is separated from the darker juice and it is reborn as rosé. Many will argue that this is the best way to make rosé. Since the process is extremely gentle, the resulting wines tend toward softness and elegance.
In this process, the rosé is not the ultimate goal but rather a by-product. The darker colored juice after saigneé will be turned into red wine. Back in the day, a lot of winemakers, like Bob Trinchero from Sutter Home Winery, used this method to concentrate their red wines. In the saignée method, only a little bit of wine is bled off and therefore only a bit of rosé is made.
Perhaps the reason saignée rosés are prized is due to supply and demand. Since less is made, the scarcity alone drives up the value. Or perhaps it’s because they are delicious. Either way, keep in mind that other methods hold merit, too, and are more common.
2. SKIN CONTACT
Some top-notch winemakers will treat their red grapes like they are white. That is, they will pick them and press them right away. The skins, therefore, don’t have a lot of time to add color to the juice. The resulting wine is a very light shade of pink. If a darker and more powerful style of rosé is desired, the winemaker can choose to macerate the skins with the juice before pressing. This is a tricky game to play. Although the juice will pick up more color and aromatics as it sits with the skins (this is how red wine is made), it will also pick up some tannin and bitterness. The latter two characteristics are usually found undesirable in rosé. Therefore, the producer must be careful in monitoring the maceration process. The skin contact method is sensitive, but can create a wide range of styles, from structured and powerful rosés to fine and delicate ones. The versatility of this method tends to make it the most popular.
This method is one of extremes. It is used for low-quality wine but also for some of the best and most expensive rosés on the market. Essentially you take some white wine and mix it with red wine. Voilà! Pink wine. This is considered an unfavorable means of production in most places, though. The resulting wines are usually bland and of low quality. In fact, in France, this method is illegal. If you do this, you cannot call it rosé there. There is one exception in France, however: the region of Champagne. Here, blending is considered an art form since Champagne belongs to an elusive category of wines.
Elsewhere in France, winegrowers are called vignerons. This translates to “a person who cultivates grapes for winemaking.” Vignerons will argue that the wine is made in the vineyard. The better your terroir (region, climate, soil, etc.), the better the wine. When the grapes get to the winery, they do their best to not mess up what Mother Nature created. This is very different from the New World notion of winemakers.
In Champagne, however, the vigneron is more of a winemaker. They craft a style that has been a part of the culture there for centuries. To achieve the desired flavor profile, extensive measures are taken. One of the ways Champagne is manipulated is when it’s used to create rosés. This process tends to be more labor intensive and requires much more skillful blending. The chef de cave, the person who tastes and makes the blend, must use their expertise in crafting a wine from different vineyards as well as vintages.
The whole process is mind-boggling. Hundreds of vineyard sites are separated and made into different wines. These are tasted individually and then skillfully blended together in varying proportions. In addition, wines from many vintages are added. In a non-vintage Champagne, up to twenty different years can be represented. This is how they maintain a signature “house style.” So every time you pick up a NV (non-vintage) bottle of Champagne from a certain producer, it will taste the same. This is a difficult thing to achieve since every year and vineyard plot yields different results.
Usually in this blending process, still red wine is added to the final blend in order to achieve a rosé. This final addition in the recipe adds more red-fruit aromatics and makes the bubbly drink a bit more vinous. These rosés defy the whole category of pink wine. They have traditionally been some of the most expensive wines you can buy and some of the most sought-after by collectors. This is the one place in which blending can produce a high-quality rosé.
DOES ROSÉ AGE?
“Probably, but so what?” Bruce Neyers responded when I recently asked him this question. As the National Sales Manager for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, he sells some of the best rosés on the market. Kermit Lynch was one of the first to export high-quality European rosés to the American market. Some feel as if aging rosé is not what is important—its youthful freshness can be the key to its charm.
Others, like Rajat Parr, one of the most respected sommeliers in the industry, will argue that many rosés can improve with age. Wines from Bandol in France, like Domaine Tempier, are especially prized when re-visited after a few years.
Parr notes that denser wines like Bruno Clair’s Marsannay rosé made from Pinot Noir in northen Burgundy get better after four or five years. “Corsican rosé, too, I bet some of the serious ones with a few years of bottle age could be really interesting.”
Kermit Lynch himself added:
I have had forty-year-old Domaine Tempier rosé that was lovely, nothing like the new vintage, but still alive and a great pleasure. Also, this past year I had a 1947 rosé from Bourgueil in the Loire. It was still alive, and just fabulous and beautiful. It was Domaine Lamé Delisle Boucard. I don’t import them but I did way back when. I paid them a visit and the son pulled out two 1947 reds and the rosé. I liked the rosés better than the reds, the quality of the aroma, which of course completely blew my mind. Who could imagine that could be? Well, I couldn’t imagine but that’s the way it was.
As the category of rosé starts to become more familiar to drinkers, questions like ageability start to arise.
Does it age? Does it matter? Should we be stocking our wine cellars with rosé? Who can resist the temptation of drinking a bottle of rosé chilling in their refrigerator, anyway?
Let the debate continue.
PINK WINE PRODUCTION
In August of 2014, panic struck: The Hamptons had run out of rosé. The shortage showed us for the first time something we might not have realized before: Americans love rosé.
As our fascination with the pink beverage grows, so does production. Winemakers are rushing to meet demands. The smart winery focuses on producing the best possible rosé they can make, in the hope of winning over consumers and gaining traction in the market.
Sadly, many wineries don’t think long term. Instead, they are pumping out cheap blush wines and hoping that the consumer will chill it down so cold that they can’t taste its flaws. Rajat Parr notes that “as people start to make serious rosé, the category will grow. For now, there is a lot of interest in doing so. But there is not enough to quench everyone’s thirst so many producers rush to bottle and sell. There’s always a push and pull.”
Jeremy Seysses, winemaker of the acclaimed Domaine Dujac in Burgundy and Domaine de Triennes in Provence has expressed his worries to me.
We are seeing a massive increase in bulk pricing. While this is a boon to the growers, this means that a number of clients are now turning to other areas for their supply, not all of them with grape varieties or climates suited to rosé. In France, we are seeing a new wave of very mediocre rosé hit the shelves and I am concerned that this will kill enthusiasm for the category.
But all hope is not lost. Many winemakers are kicking it old school and returning to the roots of rosé winemaking. Kermit Lynch loves to talk about this throwback mindset. “I think the best methods for producing rosé are the ones that some winemakers are going back to. We are going through a period, not just for rosé, but for all wines, a period of enologically correct, technologically correct wines. Winemakers are finding out that that’s not really making wines with as much interest as the old way of making wine.”
Lynch goes on to add, “I really think, to my own palate, modern rosés don’t remind me of wine. They smell technological to me. In the old style, the rosé smells like wine, it tastes vinous. Today, when they’re done with all this blockage, sulfur, and industrial yeasts, they no longer smell like wine. They’re more like a cocktail or concoction.”
According to the Rosé Wine Economic Observatory between 2002 and 2013, rosé production in France increased by 31 percent. Drinkers were not far behind. In France, consumption has nearly tripled since 1990. In 2013, America was second in the world, just after France, in consumption of the pink drink.
It is sad to think that the romance of rosé has been lost, in a way. In a rush to meet demands, winemakers are creating these sterile examples that all taste the same. They have no soul, no sense of place, and are not a reflection of the centuries of tradition that made the wine what it once was.
How do we beat this influx of soulless rosé? By demanding the good stuff. Let that pink bathwater stay in the tub. Look for high-quality producers and celebrate how amazing rosé can be.
I’m not sure how many people, if blindfolded and served a white and rosé, could tell the difference. I will bet you anything that most people wouldn’t be able to.
When asked what I would pair with a certain dish, I often recommend rosé. My guests’ reactions vary. Sometimes they will take a sharp breath in and gently mention they prefer red, or they’ll scoff and dismiss the category altogether. But when they give the wine a chance, they are often pleasantly surprised.
In 2002, Calvin Trillin wrote an article for The New Yorker, “The Red and the White.” He spoke about a blind tasting in which the subjects were actually blind. They were still blindfolded, and as an extra precaution, the wine glasses were completely black. With the color of the wine a mystery, they had to trust their other senses to deduce what was in the glass.
When I spoke to Trillin recently about this article, he mentioned that rosé had never come to mind. Instead, he performed these experiments with red and white only. Well, of course, I had to try it out myself. What if people couldn’t actually tell the difference between the three colors? Perhaps their biases were all in their heads.
On an early October morning in New York City, I put this notion to the test. With a group of some of the best tasters around, I served them a combination of red, white, and rosé. The wine was served in black glasses and they were also blindfolded.
I used the same red wine that Trillin had used, a Pinot Noir from Sancerre. I also threw in two rosés, one light-bodied from Corsica and the other a bit fuller from California. For the white I served a more neutral but richer Chenin Blanc from California.
“It’s funny how color affects your perception. I have never done this in my entire career,” Jeff Porter, a seasoned professional who runs the beverage programs for Mario Batali’s restaurants around the country, commented while tasting blind.
After all, in the early 1990s when Crystal Pepsi, a clear-white version of the popular soft drink, was released, people weren’t having it. They had long associated the beverage with its brown color. Despite the similar flavor, people had serious trouble wrapping their head around a colorless version. People decided they didn’t like it and the product failed.
While none of the sommeliers mistook the red wine for white or rosé, many had a hard time telling the difference between the white and rosé. Some even thought the California rosé was red.
Jane Lopes, a sommelier at the highly acclaimed Eleven Madison Park in New York City, added, “Rosé versus white wine is difficult. Red distinguishes itself more.” She described rosé as “white wine with red fruit.”
Others found comfort in being blindfolded. Ryan Totman, who works at Corkbuzz Wine Studio in New York City, who pushes himself daily in tasting and studying for sommelier tests, said, “You have growing pains going for all of these exams. It is nice when you can let the wines be ‘anything.’”
There is certainly a sense of relief to be felt when you stop worrying about color. You have the opportunity to shed preconceptions and enjoy the wine for what it is, a delicious beverage.
PEOPLE AND PLACES
Where the good stuff grows.
ROSÉ SETS DOWN ROOTS
GAINING A SENSE OF PLACE
Back in the day rosé was just rosé. It didn’t really matter. Now, there’s typicity, there’s terroir, there are certain styles.
Twenty or thirty years ago you would walk into a restaurant and order a glass of house red. Now, you know where that red comes from. You have heard of Napa and you have heard of Bordeaux. You know what Cabernet Sauvignon tastes like. You know why you might or might not like it.
In the same way that we have become educated on red and white wine, rosé will follow. When I first started pouring a Corsican rosé by the glass at my restaurant, people were intrigued. Many had never had a wine from this French island and they were impressed by the quality.
Months later, I switched to a Loire Valley rosé. Guests who came in and ordered a glass of rosé, as they normally had, were taken aback. The wine tasted differently. Some loved the new pour and others disliked it.
Now, those same guests return and ask, “Do you still have the Loire rosé by the glass?” or “Is the Corsican rosé still being poured?” People have come to understand that just like any other wine, rosé has a taste that belongs to a sense of place.
As the category of pink wines grows, so do the number of drinkers who pay critical attention. People are concerned with producers and origin, which in turn will pressure producers to focus on quality. Gone are the days of ordering any pink swill the bar has.
REGIONS AND PRODUCERS FAMOUS FOR ROSÉ
Rosé is made in almost every region where grapes are grown. With that many options, it’s hard to know what’s good and what’s not. What follows is a breakdown of the most common places to find rosés and the people who produce them throughout the world. Included are the best rosés, the most important rosés, and my favorite rosés.
The Birthplace of French Wine
No other region can boast the history that Provence holds with pink wine. The style has been made here before France was even France. Today, when people think of rosé, the Provençal style is usually what comes to mind. But be careful! A ton of pink bathwater is also made here. For the good stuff, you’ll have to do a bit of searching on the shelves.
A lot of rosés here are bottled in the traditional, hourglass-shaped bottle known as a skittle. This might look and sound cool but it doesn’t mean the wine is of any higher quality. Also, if something sounds gimmicky, it probably isn’t worth drinking. Run when you see wine names that use words that are stuck in the 1990s like “angel” or “whisper.”
Provence is a region that has struggled to supply demanding consumers while maintaining quality. At Domaine Triennes, Jeremy Seysses notes, “It is both tempting and easy to pick too late in a sunny region like Provence,” but adds that they are “sticklers when it comes to the timing of harvest.” This attention to detail is what separates quality-minded producers from bulk wineries.
Seysses adds, “We have grown a lot ourselves, conscious that this growth could not come at the expense of quality, but on the contrary, provide investment in order for us to gain access to better supply, better equipment, and help us grow in quality as well as volume. We now have better suppliers, better presses, and better temperature control than we had ten years ago.”
When the wines from Provence are good, they’re really good. Take, for example, Domaine Hauvette. Near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where Van Gogh painted his famous Starry Night, the wines are just as captivating. Their rosé smells of garigue, the wild Mediterranean herbs that coat the countryside. These small vignerons demonstrate that Provence can still make great wine, even after 2,600 years.
GRAPES: Mostly Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Tibouren, but also Ugni Blanc, Counoise, Clairette, Vermentino, Sémillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carignan
FAVORITES: La Commanderie de Peyrassol, Domaine Triennes, Domaine Hauvette, Château de Roquefort, Domaine de Sulauze, and Clos Cibonne
Nestled within Provence, along the coast, this tiny region is oftentimes forgotten, but this is one of the most beautiful places you will ever see. Let a glass of wine transport you there, and as often as possible. The wines here use less Mourvèdre than neighboring Bandol, and therefore are less powerful, possessing less tannin. They also have lower levels of alcohol and are lighter in style. Overall, I like to think of the wines as Bandol’s delicate cousins.
Highly drinkable, the wines gain salinity from the proximity to the sea. This iodine character makes them perfect for seafood dishes. Jonathan Sack-Zafiropulo of Clos Sainte Magdeleine explains that the ancient fishing village of Cassis is also famous for its unique limestone soil. His winery is actually located in the Les Calanques National Park, a breathtaking and steep limestone outcropping that rises out from the Mediterranean.
GRAPES: Mostly Cinsault, Grenache, and Mourvèdre, but also Bourboulenc, Clairette, Ugni Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pascal Blanc, Marsanne, Barbaroux, Carignan, and Terret Noir
FAVORITES: Clos Sainte Magdeleine and Domaine du Bagnol
This tiny region in Provence is dominated by the exceptional Château Simone. There are five other wineries but quality is variable and the wines are not seen in stores very often. So why talk about a region when only one producer is of note? Once you try their rosé, you’ll understand.
Château Simone has been in the hands of the Rougier family for two centuries. Their vineyards sit on limestone soils on the slopes of the Montaiguet Mountains. Some of their vines are over a century old—an extreme rarity. The older the vines, the more concentrated and, theoretically, the higher quality the fruit.
Before it was fashionable, they practiced organic viticulture, because it was “the right thing to do.” You can sense this forward thinking in their wines. Jean François Rougier has mentioned to me that organic is not a trend for them but rather a continuation of history. “Our rosé has not changed, we are faithful to our traditional practices.”
Many argue that this is an example of a rosé that improves with age. Sommeliers and wine writers will brag that they have had ten- or twenty-year-old bottles that belied the notion of young consumption.
The Rougier family only exports small quantities of their wine to the United States, so if you see a bottle, snatch it up.
GRAPES: Mostly Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault, but also Brun Fourca, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Castet, Durif, Muscat de Hambourg, Muscat à Petits Grains Rouge, Petit Brun, Syrah, Téoulier, Terret Gris, Tibouren, and a lot of other lesser-known grapes
FAVORITE: Château Simone
Bandol, regarded as the “Grand Cru” of Provence, produces rosés using the Mourvèdre grape. This dark-ruby grape makes wines full of black fruit, purple flowers, garigue, and an overwhelming wild note usually described as earth, cured meats, and leather.
Lucien Peyraud, who began the Domaine Tempier winery, is the reason that Mourvèdre dominates in Bandol. He championed for the grape at a time when it was being ripped out and other varieties were being planted that produced higher yields—because more wine meant more money. Along with other vignerons, he established Bandol as its own region, within Provence.
Domaine Tempier has been a hub of the Provençal lifestyle since 1936. Just outside the seaport village of Bandol, culinary superstars like Richard Olney and Alice Waters spent time in Lulu Peyraud’s (Lucien’s wife) hearth kitchen. Creating magical lunches and suppers for hundreds, she focuses on traditional dishes like pisaldiere, bouillabaise, and olive tapenade. Today she is ninety-nine years old and still a firecracker, as are her wines.
Even in the 1970s in America, at a time when rosé was not popular, restaurants like the highly acclaimed Chez Panisse in Northern California poured Domaine Tempier rosé. Alice Waters, the innovative chef and owner of Chez Panisse has told me, “We were pretty open to anything that came from Domaine Tempier. We were such admirers and friends. I loved the color of the rosé and just thought what a beautiful way to welcome people into the restaurant. I started serving it to all of my friends.”
Alice Waters met the Peyrauds in their home in Bandol in the 1970s with food writer Richard Olney. It was there that she fell in love with the Provençal lifestyle and gained inspiration for Chez Panisse. She spent her mornings going to the market with Lulu and in the Peyrauds’ gardens. At night, around their dinner table, she fell in love with the family and the wines.
The wines, as Alice Waters noted, are very hard to separate from the family. They embody the Provençal lifestyle. They are in themselves an experience. When Kermit Lynch was looking into other rosés to import from France, he had a hard time finding anything similar. “I went around tasting so many rosés, but I wasn’t finding the same quality as I was at Tempier. It took me awhile to figure out, to ask winemakers, how do you make your rosé? And then I found out that Domaine Tempier wasn’t doing things like other people.”
For one, they were making rosé for the sake of making rosé. It was not an accident or something they made from rotten grapes. Indeed, there was a special section of the vineyard that was always destined to make this wine. With care and precision they crafted it into a pink wine. When doing so, they also used indigenous yeasts, so it was truly a wine that tasted like the environment.
Some producers do this today, but more often than not, they will ship in manufactured yeasts. That is why so much wine tastes the same. It is not made from the natural yeasts that are found in the atmosphere—what naturally fermented wine for centuries.
Domaine Tempier also allows their rosés to go through both fermentations. A lot of wine goes through two fermentations—alcoholic fermentation and malolactic fermentation. You might think you don’t want to get into the science of it, but I think it’s pretty neat. Basically, after the sugar has been converted to alcohol, another fermentation naturally takes place. The malic acid (think Granny Smith apple—tart acidity) will transform to lactic acid (think a glass of milk—rounder acidity). This makes the wine lusher and more supple. Almost all red wine goes through this process, but nowadays, only a handful of whites. Rosés, well, very few.
We didn’t even know this second fermentation existed for the longest time. People picked their grapes and turned them into wine. But now, as science has caught up, a lot of winemakers are purposely blocking malolactic fermentation. “When you block the malolactic, you don’t just tell it to stop, you have to do something to make it stop. Usually that is sterile filtration, and a good dose of sulfur dioxide,” Kermit Lynch reports. These two things can really mess with a wine and make it taste mass-produced—soulless.
Tempier rosé has now gained cult status. Collectors will stash away cases to drink five to ten years later. Wineries in California like Railsback Fréres and Bedrock Wine Company have crafted rosés of a similar style as an ode to Lulu herself.
Within Bandol, you see a concentration of quality. Delve deep into the region and try as much rosé as you can find. Make sure to pair it with southern French cuisine that would make Lulu proud.
GRAPES: Mostly Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Grenache, but also Bourboulenc, Carignan, Clairette, Syrah, and Ugni Blanc
FAVORITES: Domaine de Terrebrune, Domaine Tempier, Domaine du Gros Noré, Château Pibarnon, and Château Pradeaux
The Original “Brosé” Wine Was a Favorite Among Ernest Hemingway and Kings
This is a wine of mythic proportions. It has been called the “Rosé of Kings” and the “King of Rosés” due to its fan club members—Louis XIV and Philippe IV just to name a couple. Situated in the Rhône valley in France, this region is almost exclusively dedicated to rosés.
The vineyards in Tavel soak up the summer heat. Without protective winds like the mistral, the grapes would bake. These hearty grapes hold a good bit of sugar resulting in wines with a bit more alcohol and body.
Here, winemakers tend to leave the grape juice in contact with the skins for a bit longer. This leads to a deeper color of rosé and a bit of tannin, allowing some wines to improve with age like those from Bandol. At times, I think this can be exaggerated. Still, tasting a bottle with a few years of age can be quite nice. Bruce Neyers, who does national sales for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, notes that the first rosé he remembers tasting (and enjoying) was a Tavel rosé in 1972.
Only a small bit of Tavel rosé actually makes it to the United States. Sadly, what does make it across the ocean is usually lower in quality. Make sure to stick to solid producers, like the ones listed below. Maybe stick a few in your wine cellar and forget about them. See what happens after a few years of bottle age.
GRAPES: Mostly Grenache, but also some Clairette, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Piquepoul, Syrah, and Carignan
FAVORITES: Château de Trinquevedel, Domaine L’Anglore, and Domaine Moulin La Viguerie
France’s Little Island with Fiercely Independent Winemakers
In general, there tend to be two styles of rosé, one heavier, denser and one lighter, crisp style. Corsican rosé is perfectly in the middle. It has richness but also is fresh and clean. Now it is my go-to rosé, there’s nothing like it. Its pretty incredible how complex they are, how structured and rich. My favorite is probably from Clos Canarelli.
It’s true. Rosés from Corsica can convert even the snobbiest of wine drinkers. I always sneak one in during a tasting menu at the restaurant. The guests, who already agreed to the wine pairing, might wince when they first see the color, but only empty glasses have been returned. One regular diner now comes back just to try the various Corsican rosés we pour with all of our dishes.
The rosés produced here are refreshingly innovative. Made usually from a mix of Spanish, French, and Italian grape varieties, they are not like mainland wines. A visit to the winery of Domaine Comte Abbatucci demonstrates this fact. Kermit Lynch and his notes online (see “Resources”) will tell you that the estate is named after local French Revolutionary hero General Jean-Charles Abbatucci and friend of the most famous Corsican, Napoléon Bonaparte. Today, the estate is owned by Jean-Charles Abbatucci (a direct descendent of the General), who, like all islanders, is a proud defender of its traditions and its land.
Abbatucci has saved many ancient Corsican grape varieties from extinction, climbing high up into the mountains to source cuttings of old vines. A staunch advocate of biodynamics as well as the traditional Corsican polyphonic songs, he will blast the music through the vineyards claiming it “keeps the vines happy.”
A bit farther north, in Patrimonio, Yves Leccia is a founding member of A Filetta, an apparently very famous Corsican polyphonic singing group. He also creates some of the most elegant and sophisticated wines on the island. His rosés focus on the Nielluccio grape, which is genetically related to Sangiovese. Indeed, these wines do share a similarity to their Tuscan relative, but have an expression that is entirely their own.
Far south, in the ancient growing region of Figari, Yves Canarelli at Clos Canarelli is a true pioneer. An intellectual and experimentalist, he has ripped out entire vineyards of foreign varieties and replanted them with native varieties. These painstaking, expensive actions have eventually paid off. Canarelli produces a symbol of what Corsican rosé can be—fiercely independent, vibrant, and precise.
GRAPES: Mostly Grenache, Nielluccio, Vermentino, and Sciaccarello, but also Carignan, Aleatico, Carcajolo Nero, Morrastel (Minustello), Barbaroux (Barbarossa), Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Cinsault
FAVORITES: Domaine Comte Abbatucci, Antoine Arena et fils, Clos Canarelli, Yves Leccia, Domaine de Marquiliani, and Domaine Orenga de Gaffory
A Mistake Led to One of the World’s Most Expensive Styles of Rosé
In the Middle Ages, winemakers in Champagne created a gris style of wine, the result from pressing red grapes for white wine. Without modern technology, the juice naturally had a pink color to it. Some twisted person decided it looked like the eye of a partridge, bloodshot before its death. The disturbing name—Oeil de Perdrix—became the colloquial name for the rosé.
It has recently been discovered that the first Champagne house to sell rosé Champagne was Ruinart. A document from March 14, 1764, notes a sale of a batch of Oeil de Perdrix. The current Chef de Cave, Frédéric Panaïotis, speculates that this was probably an accident, perhaps a maceration that went a little too long.
Today, the vast majority of rosé Champagnes are made using blending. This is all thanks to the Veuve (Widow) Clicquot. When her husband passed in 1805, she took charge of their Champagne house, revolutionizing many techniques in the region. She particularly disliked rosé Champagne made by maceration. Through exhaustive experimentation she discovered that blending yielded the best results. This takes place prior to the second fermentation (where the bubbles are created). In 1818, she added still red wine to the cuvée. Higher-quality rosé Champagne was born.
In the latter part of the eighteenth century, the wine was nicknamed “rounceet” which eventually morphed into “rosé.” The ancient term of Oeil de Perdrix is rarely seen anymore in Champagne. Doyard is the most notable house that still uses the term on the label.
Funnily enough, the name spread to Switzerland where today, in the canton of Neuchâtel, it is still a very popular name for dry rosé. Sadly, it is not exported to the United States. The Swiss are very protective of their wines and did not take well to Bob Trinchero from Sutter Home stealing the name Oeil de Perdrix for the early White Zinfandel. They famously scoffed that this wine is for “blue-haired ladies.”
Today, rosé Champagne is often considered one of the finest offerings in the wine world. It can be astronomically more expensive than its blanc counterparts. The process in creating pink versions can require more precision and is very time consuming. Since a bit of still red wine is usually added, the final product is considered more vinous, as in it tastes more like regular wine. The added still red wine also adds tannin, giving it a bit more structure and the ability to hold up to age well.
Even though this is a pricey beverage, affordable options exist that are incredibly tasty. Options from growers can be very value-driven. Look for a little “RM” on the label; this means it was made by a farmer, not a big company.
Rosé Champagne is one of the most versatile wines in the world, going with any food and any occasion. I highly suggest drinking it throughout dinner.
GRAPES: Mostly Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier, but also Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Arbane, and Petit Meslier
FAVORITES: Marc Hebrart, Doyard, Paul Bara, R. Geoffroy, Henri Billiot, Jean Lallement, Chartogne-Taillet, Billecart-Salmon, Jacques Selosse, Krug, Ruinart, J. Lassalle, Veuve Fourny, Pehu Simonet, Varnier-Fanniere, Le Chapitre, La Caravelle, Egly-Ouriet, and Gaston Chiquet
ROSÉ DES RICEYS
A rare find, but this is still a rosé made in the Champagne region. You might not come across a bottle of this whimsical wine in your lifetime. But if you do, it’s worth checking out. Here, Pinot Noir, from farther south in the Aube region of Champagne, is crafted into a still rosé. The wine has been made since the 1100s by Cistercian Monks. Like in Burgundy, these monks studied where the snow would first melt in the spring. There, on southern-facing hillsides, they planted Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir can have trouble ripening this far north, so if it can’t be successfully made into this beautifully aromatic rosé, it is instead sold off to make Champagne.
Only about twenty producers make Rosé des Riceys. You might be able to find it in a wine bar in Paris, but even then, good luck. Even Louis XIV, who is said to have discovered this wine, had to have special shipments sent to him from Riceys. Most collectors today make an annual pilgrimage to the region to stock up for the year.
No other wine region boasts regulations as strict for rosé as here. Steeped in tradition, the proud growers are staunch advocates of producing the expressive and delicate wine properly or not at all. It must be produced by the saignée method and the grapes must be picked at a specific level of ripeness from vines that are at least twelve years old.
Should you come across the wine in your travels, make sure to give it a shot. Besides being delicious, it is an emblem of commitment to tradition.
THE LOIRE VALLEY
The Garden of France
This area follows France’s longest river, the Loire. It stretches from the Atlantic coast all the way to central vineyards around Sancerre, just two hours south of Paris. Almost every subregion within the Loire Valley produces a rosé of some kind, ranging from rustic to whimsical. The amount of grapes and styles is enough to make anyone lose their balance. Just breathe in and explore a bit at a time.
A recent resurgence of an ancient tradition is pétillant naturel (pét-nat or naturally sparkling wines). These wines are fun, slightly fizzy, and ideal for picnics. They are glou-glou wines, the kind you want to gulp-gulp. Think of soda pop but with alcohol. New York wine writer Zachary Sussman writes about the trend:
One is left with the curious impression that pét-nat represents two contradictory things: on the one hand, it’s the latest hipster-approved wine trend—the kind of effortlessly drinkable stuff designed to be knocked back with abandon. And yet, on the other, it’s designed to be some sort of old-school vinous throwback steeped in tradition.
These wines are made in a method that pre-dates Champagne known as “ancestral.” When wine is made, carbon dioxide is always naturally produced. Usually, it disappears and escapes into the air, so you don’t notice it. However, in this method, the winemaker traps the carbon dioxide in a wine bottle, so there is a natural fizziness leftover. There is usually a bit of residual sugar and the yeast cells, once exhausted from their duties, fall gently to the bottom of the bottle. Don’t be alarmed by the slight sweetness or cloudy appearance, just embrace it.