It seems that every year around this time, some critic or another says that pink wine's heyday has arrived. Well, alright, no critic ever says that, as in the wine world calling a spade a spade is not the modus operandi — in fact, pink wine is almost invariably referred to by the French moniker, rose, as if the French brings a certain class to the drink. (Pink wine is for hobos, rose is fit for Marie Antoinette!) Anyhow, every year I hear this proclamation and expect sales to skyrocket — and every year, I am just a little let down. Sure, the public is warming to it, but too many are still quite put out by the suggestion of a pink wine, whether for fear of ruining their meal on a lark or judgmental looks from friends and loved ones. This is a crying shame, as this much abused and misunderstood pale-redheaded stepchild of the wine world is quite varied in style and often an amazing pair at the table.
Though it looks like a blend of red and white wines, most proper pink wine, Champagne notwithstanding, is no such thing. It is better to think of pink wine as white wine made with red grapes — the major difference from white being that pink wines spend a brief period of time during fermentation in contact with their grapes' dark skins. This period may be as brief as several minutes to as long as 8 hours. During this time (known as maceration) the skins impart their pigments and other compounds to the nascent wine, giving it a color anywhere from blush to salmon to ruby red.
(Speaking of blush, do not confuse "rose" with White Zinfandel, et al. The former is a rather dry but flavorful wine with a storied history and international pedigree — the latter is a sweet but bland concoction born of a successful marketing campaign.)
Pink wine may be found in almost any region where red wine is made, representing a light and refreshing counterpoint to its darker and more esteemed cousin. In northern Italy, dark, dense, almost tannic rosatos are the summer quaff of the Piedmontese. In southeast France, rose may take on an orange hue and have a refreshingly salty edge, making it perfect with the area's famous shellfish. In California intensely fruity, magenta colored, high alcohol pinks are the norm, but by no means the rule.
While there is a pink wine for every season, it is best they are consumed within their own. With the very rare exception, rose is at its finest within the first year of its life — i.e., within the calendar year following the vintage. Right now the 2007s are just trickling in from all over the world, and I've had the pleasure of sampling a few. Here are my favorites thus far:
Domaine Bellevue Touraine Rose 2007 (France)
(About $12 — Common locally)
Made in the Loire region from Cabernet Franc, this light orangish-pink wine is bracingly acidic with a lightly fragrant nose of red berries. Though an ideal back porch quaffer, the bright acidity and light red fruit make this wine a great pair with foods heavy on the cheese and oil — consider this and others of its like next time Mexican food is on the menu.
Domaine de la Petite Cassagne Costieres de Nimes Rose 2007 (France)
(About $10 — Widely available)
Fresh from the southern Rhone valley and brought to you by local importer Robert Kacher, this wine is a perennial favorite of mine. Blended of the traditional varietals Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvedre, this deep pink wine explodes from the glass with strawberry and herbs, giving way to a forceful and darker-fruited palate and a slightly chalky/earthy finish. This wine has the heft to make it a great barbecue pink. Next time you are grilling burgers and not relishing the idea of drinking red wine in the springtime heat, give this one a go.
Librandi Ciro Rosato 2007 (Italy)
(About $10 — Widely available)
This bright coral colored pink from Calabria (the "toe" of Italy's "boot") is made from 100% Gaglioppo, a grape not easily found outside the region. Tangy cherry and pepper on the nose give way to bright red fruit, vanilla, and an almost effervescent tingle on the palate. This unique texture and flavor profile make this wine a wonderful match with salty cured meats like prosciutto and salami.
Marques de Caceres Rioja Rosado 2007 (Spain)
(About $10 — Very widely available)
While I am not typically a fan of this winery's ubiquitous Rioja rojo, the rosado this year left me very impressed. Made from the traditional Rioja varietals Tempranillo and Garnacha, this strawberry colored wine has a bright, fruit driven nose of raspberries and flowers, with more pure raspberry on the palate. What I love about this wine is the balance — plenty of fruit throughout, but with enough acidity to keep it from coming off sweet. This is the quintessential wine to pair with a traditional paella, particularly if smoked meats are involved — bright, fruity and cold, this is the perfect foil to saffron and sausage.
Christian Lauverjat Sancerre Rose 2007 (France)
(About $20 — Common locally)
From an appellation renowned for its whites comes this very elegant 100% Pinot Noir rose. Typically light in color for a pink Pinot, this wine is very subtle on the nose, giving up notes of rose, currants, and a hint of mineral, leading up to a very dry palate of berries and straw with a lengthy, tart finish. This understated example of the type is a great match with anything from white fish in a light cream sauce to Chicken Francaise.
The new stuff aside, this is actually a great time of year to pick up some of last year's pink wines at deep discount. As the weather gets warmer and the new vintages are just being released, retailers and wholesalers alike scramble to get the old stuff out of storage in preparation for what's to come, and prices are slashed by as much as half. When shopping for cut rate rose, follow a few basic rules:
1) Go dark! The darker the wine, the more well it has likely held up over the winter months. Avoid the pale stuff and seek out the practically red.
2) Caveat Emptor! If the wine's price seems just too low, it has probably already turned. If you buy a pink wine for $3 a bottle, expect it to be all but vinegar.
3) Get that sucker cold! Even if your discount pink wine is a little tired, if served ice cold it may still make a great evening refresher.
4) Ask the employees! In a market as competitive as this, retailers can't afford to lie to their customers, and nor in most cases do they want to. Ask the salesman outright whether he thinks the wine is up to snuff: 90% of the time, he will be honest.
5) If its gone bad, bring it back! Most wine shops have a fair policy when it comes to returned bottles of bad wine, and will at least give you store credit for the faulty product. Don't abuse this policy and you will likely be given the benefit of the doubt.
More on the pink stuff as the season progresses. In the meantime, if you have been a bit shy about pink wine in the past, I hope that this year you give the old boy a turn. If there is anyone out there with a favorite pink wine, new or old, I'd love to hear your thoughts.