A Rosé by any other name would taste as Dry!
When I started drinking wine, Rosé’s were usually in a funny shaped bottle from Portugal, or called “Vin Rosé” and came from one of those Central California wineries whose other choices were “Burgundy”, “Chablis” and “Chianti”. Rosé was always sweet, Chardonnay was always dry, Zinfandel was always red (but could be somewhat sweet and 17% alcohol), and the word “Meritage” had not yet been coined.
Since then, Rosé has gotten much drier, Chardonnay has gotten slightly sweeter, Zinfandel went nearly white, then pink, got sweet, then back to red, turned dry (for the most part) and the alcohol levels went all over the place, and Meritage is both commonplace, and commonly mispronounced (it rhymes with heritage, not garage).
Rosé today is dry, or just slightly off-dry, but because it is bottled at a young age, it has a fresh fruit flavor, that some mistake for sweetness. The great thing about Rosé is that it can be made from virtually any red wine grape. You see, most Rosé is not a blend of red and white wines, but a white wine made from red wine grapes. There are two ways to make red wine grapes into pink wine. In the “Skin Contact” method, you crush the red wine grapes, thereby letting the red-purple skins infuse their color into the clear juice inside. Then you let them sit together for several hours to a few days, depending on the pink-ness (and amount of tannin) desired. Press off the skins and seeds, and treat as a white wine from then on. In the Saignée method, you start making red wine, and then to create a greater skin-to-juice ratio, you bleed off some juice, and make Rosé wine from it. Saignée is the French word for “bleed”. Both methods can make great Rosé, but I have found that the Skin Contact method often has greater success rate, because it is the intent of the winemaker to make a Rosé, rather than a by-product of the red wine making program.
Just as Zinfandel has ZAP, and Syrah and Grenache have the Rhone Rangers, Rosé, too has an advocacy group called RAP. RAP stands for Rosé Avengers and Producers. Last month I went to their 8th annual “Pink Out” at the Butterfly Restaurant. There were over thirty wineries pouring forty wines. No, it’s not on the scale of ZAP, but it is a lot of fun. There were Sparkling Rosés, still Rosés, Rosados, Rosatos and even a Pink Port. Most of the Sparkling Rosés were made from Pinot Noir. Since Pinot Noir is one of the three primary grapes of the Champagne area, this makes a lot of sense. My favorite Sparkling Rosé of the day was from Handley Cellars, from Pinot Noir. As far as the still wines were concerned, the Rosés of primarily Grenache or Sangiovese tended to have more fruit, while remaining dry, crisp, and refreshing than those made from Pinot Noir or Syrah. I particularly liked the CVNE (Cune) Rioja Rosado, a Tempranillo and Garancha (Grenache) blend and the Rosato di Sangiovese from Muscardini Cellars. Virtually all the Rosés were dry, except the Pink Port which the people from Croft insisted on serving over ice, with lemon – an interesting cocktail, but it made it difficult to actually taste the wine. The one other Rosé with sweetness was a Rosé of Merlot from Korbin Kameron, which I can honestly say marked the first time I have ever associated the aroma of bananas with a wine.
Now that the weather is warming up, it is a great time to have some Rosé. What food should you pair with Rosé? Well if red wines go with red meat, and white wine goes with white meat, then pink wine should go with pink meat. Lo and behold, it does. Dry Rosé is terrific with ham, especially Prosciutto, Speck, or Serrano, and it does pretty nicely with sautéed or poached Salmon as well. But try a Rosé with Thai spring rolls or Chinese pot stickers too. So, think pink.