“The times, they are a’changing,” Bob Dylan warned us in the ‘60s. Who would’ve thunk--five or six years ago--that pink wines and Champagnes would be a hot, in-demand item in stores and restaurants today?
I thought that pink-colored wines had had their day. They emerged in the U.S. market in the ‘60s and ‘70s with the wild appeal of two Portuguese rosés, Mateus, in the funny-shaped bottle, and then Lancers, in the salmon-colored crock. That phase was then followed by the amazing popularity of so-called “white” Zinfandel in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
As we entered the 21st century, I said to myself, “Thank goodness that silly craze for insipid, sweet pink wines is over” (although my oldest daughter, and apparently many others, are still drinking white Zinfandel, of course). White Zin is third in sales of varietal wines in the U.S. In fact, during its heyday in the ‘80s and ‘90s, white Zinfandel was the biggest-selling wine in the U.S. after Chardonnay, well ahead of red wines.
Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy rosé wines, and have always loved rosé Champagnes--but I like rosés on the dry side, perhaps with just a little touch of sweetness. I have had to turn to Europe--especially France, Italy, and Spain--for the dry rosés. The United States, particularly California, never really made an effort to make dry-style rosé wines; perhaps, producers figured, with the popularity of white Zinfandel and blush wines, why bother? But they’re making rapid strides with this style now, as rosés definitely are in fashion throughout the wine world.
Dry rosé wines never really caught on until recently in the U.S. (they’ve always had a following in Europe) among American wine drinkers because they used to associate all pink wines with white Zin and its blushing cousins, thinking that all rosés would be sweet, bland, and simple. I have a few theories to explain rosé wines’ current popularity; more young people are drinking wine; more casual drinkers are trying wine; and people are generally eating lighter-styled foods, that complement rosés more than robust red wines.
France, Italy, and Spain have historically championed dry-styled rosé wines. In the following section, I review the leading rosé wines in these three countries, and end with a listing of some of my favorite dry rosés now being produced in California.
Undoubtedly rosé wines are more popular in France than any other country. They have been established here for hundreds of years. The attitude towards rosé wines and Champagnes has also changed among producers. Fabrice Rosset, Managing Director of Champagne Deutz, told me two years ago, “We in Champagne always considered Rosé Champagne as frivolous, not a serious wine. And now, we can’t make enough of it.” Champagne Lanson, invariably the sales leader in rosé Champagnes (until Moët, Champagne’s largest house, surpassed them recently) could not keep up the worldwide demand for its Brut Rosé, even after it raised its price considerably.
I can easily understand Rosé Champagne’s popularity. After all, it’s basically similar to white Champagne, just as dry, generally a bit more full-bodied--but with such a pretty color. Who wouldn’t love it?
Rosé wines are made throughout France, but four regions, in addition to Champagne, really stand out for its rosés: Provence; the Southern Rhône Valley; Languedoc-Roussillon; and the Anjou district of the Loire Valley.
Rosé wine consumption thrives in warm, mild climates. When it’s warm, a rosé just seems to suit the occasion more than a red. Is it any wonder that rosés are the biggest-selling wines in Provence, making up more than half of its wine production? Provence, especially the Riviera, is the perfect venue for rosé wines. Not only is the climate mild year-round, but the cuisine also fits perfectly: Fish, seafood, pizza, and fresh vegetable dishes predominate. Rosé wines from Provence are made from three main varieties, Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre. Some of the more serious Provence rosés include Syrah in the blend.
Most Provence rosés came from its largest district, Côtes de Provence, although you can also find them in Bandol, probably Provence’s most renowned wine district. And the good news is that Provence rosés are widely available in the U.S.; most retail in the $12 to $24 price range. Some of my favorite Provence rosés that I have tasted recently include the following:
Château de Saint-Martin
Domaine de Brigue “Signature”
Domaine de La Sanglière
Château D’Esclans (Domaines Sacha Lichine) *
Domaines Ott (Bandol) *
Domaines Ott, Château de Selle*
Domaine Sorin (Côtes de Provence and Bandol)
Mas de Cadenet, “Arbaude”
Château Marqui (Côteaux Varois en Provence)
Château Les Valentines
Château Sainte Roseline
* more expensive
Provence Rosés--in fact, most rosés--are best when they are young. Drink them within two years of the vintage (2009 or 2010, but no older than 2008).
Two of France’s oldest rosé wine districts are in the Southern Rhône Valley, Tavel--where only rosé wine can legally be produced--and Lirac. Syrah and Mourvèdre usually make up a greater part of Tavel and Lirac rosés, complementing Grenache and Cinsault. As a result, Tavel and Lirac, especially the former, tend to be dryer and have more body and structure than other French rosés. They’re also slightly more expensive than Provence rosés.
Languedoc-Roussillon produces more wine than any other region in France, including many rosés. Languedoc rosés, made from the same varieties as in Provence, are typically light and dry, and are invariably great values. One of Roussillion’s fuller-bodied rosés comes from the village of Iroueguy in the Basque region--the southwest corner of France, near the Spanish border.
Anjou is the rosé wine center in the Loire Valley. Anjou’s rosés are more full-bodied than most 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; the largest style produced
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.
Known as rosato in Italy, rosés can be found in every region of Italy. If I had to choose, my four favorite Italian rosato regions would be, from north to south, Alto Adige, Veneto, Abruzzo, and Sicily.
Even though Lagrein, an indigenous variety in Alto Adige, is best known as a red wine, I actually prefer it as a rosato. As a red, Lagrein can often be too tannic. But a rosato Lagrein is “just right,” like the baby bear’s porridge in Goldilocks; it’s dry, medium-bodied, and delicious. Not a wimpy rosé.
When I visited the town of Bardolino, on Lake Garda in the Veneto, last year, I re-acquainted myself with a delightful, dry rosato, Chiaretto. Its full name is Bardolino Chiaretto; it’s the rosé version of Bardolino, a light-bodied red wine made mainly from Corvina--the principal variety in Valpolicella and Amarone as well. Corvina adapts very well as a rosé in Chiaretto wines; it’s ideal on a warm day, sipping a chilled Chiaretto with some lake fish or pasta. Chiaretto is also being made as a sparkling wine now.
My favorite Italian rosato comes from Abruzzo. It’s called Cerasuolo, and it’s made from the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo variety, Abruzzo’s most popular red wine. The word “cerasuolo” refers to cherries; the wine is suitably named, because Cerasuolo has a deep cherry color, resembling a light red wine. Cerasuolo is very aromatic, in fact much like cherries. It is very dry and full-bodied for a rosé, and can be served throughout dinner in most cases. Cerasuolo, unlike most rosés, can even age for a number of years.
My two top producers of Cerasuolo are the legendary Edoardo Valentini and Cataldi-Madonna. Valentini died in 2006, but his wines are in capable hands of his son, Francesco; Valentini’s Cerasuolo is lighter in hue than most other versions, but it has the structure of a red wine and can age for ten years or more. Valentini’s Cerasuolo might be the world’s most expensive rosé; it retails for $90. Think of it as a great wine--not a rosé. Cataldi-Madonna makes two Cerasuolos; its standard one, quite good, retails for about $16, a real bargain. Cataldi-Madonna’s premium Cerasuolo, “Pié della Vigne,” is simply awesome! So flavorful. About twice the price as the standard Cataldi-Madonna, and difficult to find. It’s simply one of my favorite wines, regardless of color.
The best rosato wines from Sicily are made from its premium red variety, Nero d’Avola. One of my favorites is produced by Tasca d’Almerita under the brand name Regaleali; its rosé retails for about $13/$14.
Navarra and Rioja are the two important regions for rosado, the Spanish name for its rosés. Navarra, the home of Pamplona, where Ernest Hemingway is said to have run with the bulls while drinking rosado, makes the most rosé wines, from the Garnacha (Grenache) and Tempranillo varieties. They are light-bodied, dry, and good values, in the $12 to $20 price range.
Most Rioja houses also produce a rosado, from the same varieties and in the same price range as those from Navarra. One Rioja rosado that truly stands apart from all other Spanish rosados is the one produced by the traditional house, R. Lopez de Heredia. Its “Viña Tondonia” rosado makes my short list of the world’s best rosé wines. It is very dry, structured like a red wine, can age extremely well (ten years or more), and can be used at the dinner table in place of a red wine. Viña Tondonia Rosado retails for a very reasonable $27, considering its quality.
California produces dry rosés from various grape varieties. Some of the most popularly used varieties include Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Grenache, and Syrah. Pinot Noir seems to work particularly well in California as a rosé wine. Grape varieties are often, but not always, mentioned on the wine label. Here are some of my favorites, listed alphabetically:
A Donkey and a Goat Winery, “Isabel’s Cuvée,” Grenache Rosé (McDowell Valley, Mendocino County)
Alexander Valley Vineyards, Dry Rosé of Sangiovese (Alexander Valley)
Bonny Doon, “Vin Gris de Cigare Rosé” Carignane (Santa Cruz Mountains)
Chateau Potelle, “Riviera Rosé” (Paso Robles)
Edmunds St. John, “Bone 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, “Rosado,” mainly Grenache (Arroyo Seco, Monterey)
Two on the above list that are particular favorites of mine because they fit my definition of what a rosé should be: Tastes good, are dry, not too “serious,” and are reasonably priced. These are Pietra Santa Rosato, made from Dolcetto ($15), and Heitz Cellars Grignolino Rosé ($18). Both Dolcetto and Grignolino, high-acid, light-bodied Italian varieties, are perfect as rosé wines.
For the value-conscious (and that’s most people nowadays), I give you Toad Hollow Vineyards’ “Eye of the Toad” dry Rosé of Pinot Noir from Sonoma County, retailing for $10.
I do hope I’ve whet your appetite to try some rosé wines, including Champagnes. There is a rosé for every price range. There are reasons that these wines are popular now: they’re easy-drinking, food-friendly, and affordable. And they’re pretty to look at.