For years rosé wines were reviled by wine aficionados, relegated to the rank of “pink” or “blush” wines, equated to “White Zinfandel” status, especially in the United States. They enjoyed a brief stint of popularity in the 50’s, but that dissipated rapidly. The rosés produced in that era were largely made in an effort to use excess wine or “bled off” light colored wine that was removed to give the remaining red wine more concentration. The rosés that are produced today are lovely wines that are special in their own right, not just an afterthought to bring in revenue while the red wine aged. Today’s rosés are dry, crisp, light and refreshing. They are made most often from juice of red skinned grapes that are only left in contact with the skins for a short period of time. These grapes are picked early, to keep the acidity high and the alcohol content low. While the recession of 2008 helped to rocket these moderately priced wines to fame, they are the perfect summer wine that the world has fallen in love with. Rosés priced over $11/bottle were the fastest growing segment of the wine market last year with increases of almost 60%. These are not the heavy “serious” wines we are used to fretting over about food pairings and when the bottle should be opened and decanted. These wines are relatively inexpensive and perfect to pop a cork on and enjoy very cold when you are sitting by the pool on a hot summer afternoon.
Rosés have become so popular in the last few years that 500 million bottles are consumed in the US alone annually. The French, who have enjoyed rosé for decades, now drink more rosé than white wine. Rosé, it seems, has always been the official summer wine of the Côte d’Azur. While France still produces over 30% of the rosé in the world, primarily in the southeast of the country in Provence from Mourvèdra, Cinsault and Grenache varietals, other French wine region are now making rosé from a wide variety of grapes. The Rhone Valley in France now exports rosé made primarily from the varietals in Provence as well as Syrah that makes up 15% of the wine from this region sold in the US. These wines come from the regions of Lirac and Tavel (where only rosé is produced.) Italy is producing rosé made from Lagrein, Sangiovese, Barbera, Marzemino, Gropello, Rossese, Rodinella, Nebbiolo, Canaiolo and more. Spain is producing rosé made from Garnacha, Monastrell and Tempranillo. There are rosé from Australia made from Shiraz, from Greece made from Agiorgitiko, from California made from Pinot Noir, and others from Chili, Lebanon, the prior Soviet state of Georgia, as well as our own Southern state of Georgia.
In the midst of this ocean of rosé, there are a few superstars. The Rhone Valley’s Domaine Tempier’s splendid Bandol rosé is one of those. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s Provence Château Miraval is beyond hot. BUT, the biggest success story by far is that of Château d’Esclans. The property was purchased in 2006 by Sacha Lichine, of the famous Bordeaux estate, Château Prieuré-Lichine. Sacha Lichine is the son of the famous, Alexis Lichine, who, as a Château owner, author and importer, was a pivotal figure in educating Americans about French wine. Lichine hired Patrick Léon, the previous winemaker at Château Mouton Rothschild, to help him make a phenomenal rosé. Their lowest priced offering, Whispering Angel, has become the wine of choice in South Beach, Nantucket and the Hamptons. Shortages of this wine in the Hamptons last summer produced a huge ruckus and only served to make it more popular. Production figures have risen from 11,000 cases in 2006 to 280,000 cases in 2015. Rock Angel, which debuted in 2016, is their mid range offering, a step up in price and structure, and is also wildly popular. At the top end, Château d’Esclan’s Garrus, produced from 80 year old vines, with production of only 25,000 bottles annually, is one of the most expensive bottles of rosé in the world.
These new rosés are lovely and a lot more enjoyable and interesting than “pink” implies. But, if you really want to experience rosé at its VERY BEST, try a vintage rosé Champagne from any of the great Champagne houses. Non vintage rosés are also a treat. Rosé Champagnes are always Brut (dry), and come in a variety of shades from pale onion skin or salmon to a deep rose. They are generally created by leaving the juice in contact with the skins of Pinot Noir grapes for a short time. Most have flavors and a nose of strawberries and are full bodied, making them a great accompaniment to a meal. They are generally more expensive than white Champagne and constitute only a small percentage of the total Champagne production.
So, enjoy your summer! If you come to my house, one of the standards offered will be a rosé!
Written by Pat Daniel. Permission to publish by Columbus & the Valley Magazine.