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Thursday, June 14, 2018 12:01 am

Rosé all day


Sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing. It wasn’t long ago that the selection of good dry rosé wines was limited in wine shops and practically nonexistent in grocery stores. Now, entire displays are set up at big box grocery stores with dozens of pink-hued bottles from regions all over the globe.

For years, many American wine drinkers associated rosé wine with the sugary sweet white zinfandels that dominated the American wine market in the eighties and nineties. White zinfandels have been much eschewed by wine snobs over the years, myself included, not just because of their sweetness, but because they’re usually made from poor quality grapes with lots of additives and sugar, then blended into a uniform house style that is valued more for its consistency than its quality. The first white zinfandel was created by accident by Sutter Home winemaker Bob Trinchero in 1972. He had been attempting to make a dry-style white zinfandel, but the batch stopped fermenting before all the sugars in the juice had been converted into alcohol, leaving a bit of residual sweetness (known as a stuck fermentation). Often in such cases, the winemaker will try to get the fermentation going again by adding more yeast or adjusting the temperature. Trinchero, however, decided to bottle it and by 1987 Sutter Home White Zinfandel was the best-selling premium wine in the United States.

And so, by the time I began to work in wine retail in the mid-2000s, if I offered a tasting of a rosé to a “serious wine drinker,” I’d get a look of disgust and hear, “No thanks, I don’t like sweet wines.” We struggled to introduce customers to the crisp, salmon-hued wines of southern France, bone dry but bursting with berries, minerality and enough acid to complement a wide array of foods, from sushi to fried chicken to artisan cheeses. Nonetheless, thanks to its reputation as sweet box wine, folks had a hard time getting past the hangup that drinking rosé was about as sophisticated as an El Camino on blocks in the front yard.

Then, something changed. Wines we couldn’t give away 10 years ago are flying off the shelves today. What happened? For one thing, celebrity star power gave pink wines a boost. In 2008, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie purchased Chateau Miraval in southern France (they were later married in the estate’s chapel in 2014) and hired the Perrin family, who have been making critically acclaimed wines for five generations. Though it generally takes years to establish a wine brand, thanks to Brangelina’s star power, the first release of Miraval Rosé sold out in France in less than an hour. In August 2014, a widely shared New York Post article stated that the Hamptons were running dangerously low on rosé, and that supplies might not last through Labor Day. Glasses of rosé backlit by afternoon sun started popping up in photos all over social media with the hashtag “#roseallday.” Rosé had become a lifestyle.

Rosé wines have always been common in southern France, where the warmer weather dictates a demand for dry wine refreshing enough to be enjoyed under a terrace in the hot afternoon sun, while also paying tribute to, and making use of the red grape varietals that grow so well in the region – Grenache, Cinsaut, Syrah, Mouvedre and Carignan. In addition to classic examples from Provence, excellent rosés are produced in various wine regions throughout France, as well as Spain, Portugal and Italy. Rosés have popped up throughout the New World wine regions as well, with solid wines now coming out of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, California and South America.

Rosé wines are made from red grape varieties by either limiting the juice’s skin contact to achieve the desired color before pressing, or by the saignée method – essentially a byproduct of red wine production where a small amount of pink juice is removed from the must at an early stage and fermented separately as a rosé. They are usually served chilled and are extremely food-friendly.

I stopped by the Corkscrew, a locally owned wine shop in Springfield, to chat with owner Danielle Anderson about what a savvy wine shopper should keep in mind when trying to sort through the ocean of rosés available this summer.

“The first thing I tell people is that it’s not sweet,” Anderson told me. “And then from there, the color will tell you a lot about the wine – the darker the wine the heavier it will be. Generally when you think of rosés you want something light and refreshing. Think about regions where they have a history with rosé. You’re always safe to go with wines from Provence and Rhone, and there are some Spanish rosés that are very good; Muga makes some very elegant wines.”

When it comes to pink wines from New World regions, Anderson generally prefers rosés from cooler climates, opting for Pinot Noir rosé from Oregon over the more in- your-face wines on offer further down south in California. Similarly, she finds the rosés from New Zealand and South Africa tend to be a bit more elegant than those from Australia, which can be heavier and higher in alcohol.

The most important advice when it comes to exploring new wines is that the best wine is what you like, served with good food among friends. If white zin is your thing, own it and be proud. After all, Sutter Home’s happy accident back in the seventies proved to be the gateway to wine appreciation for a generation of Americans. That said, with the wide array of wines from all over the world available today, it’d be a shame not to take advantage and discover something new to tickle your fancy.  

Contact Ashley Meyer at ashley@realcuisine.net.


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