While it’s still warm out, I want to tell you about a much overlooked breed of wine: rosé. I know what you’re thinking, but keep reading; we’ll get to that in a minute.
I love rosé, but probably not as much as my wife loves it. She can’t wait for the warm afternoons of April, when relaxing with a nice glass of dry rosé is the perfect end to a beautiful day. And through the month of September, she’ll order a glass of dry rosé from any wine list that has one.
Yes, I said “dry” rosé. “Dry” is the word that separates sweet white zinfandel (what most people think of when they hear the word rosé) from the other rosés of the world. When someone refers to a wine as dry, it means one thing: the opposite of sweet.
Rosé has been made in other parts of the world for centuries. It is said, even, that the first claret of Bordeaux was a pale red wine much like a rosé. Rosé wine outsells white wine in France, and I believe it. My wife and I were in Bordeaux on a sweltering 100-degree day in June, and everyone in the restaurant was drinking rosé. When the server asked if we’d selected a bottle of wine, we replied, “We’ll have what they’re having.” Do as the Romans do, right? We weren’t about to order a bottle of sauvignon blanc when all the French were drinking rosé. Talk about a faux pas!
So, how is rosé made? There are two main methods, the first of which is the most common: skin contact. All grape juice is clear. Color comes from contact with the grape skins. As with red wine, grapes with red, black or purple skins are crushed and left in contact with the juice for awhile to impart the red color. With rose, the juice is drained off when still pink.
The second method is called saignée or “bleeding the vats.” If the winemaker desires a deep red color in the wine, they will drain off some of the juice, thus leaving less juice in contact with the grape skins. This results in more intense color and flavor of the juice remaining in the vat. The pink juice that was removed is fermented, bottled and sold as rosé.
White zinfandel, probably the most (in)famous of the rosés, was invented in the 1970s in the United States. Like many great inventions, it was invented by accident. Back then, the market for white wine far exceeded red, and California producers couldn’t keep up. They decided to start making white wine out of red grapes. Sutter Home winery was making a batch of rosé from zinfandel grapes, and it experienced a “stuck” fermentation. That is, the yeast died off before it could eat up all of the sugar (which is how alcohol is made: yeast + sugar = carbon dioxide + alcohol), leaving the resulting wine very sweet. Instead of throwing it away and starting over, Sutter Home decided to call it white zinfandel, and it was an instant success. Why? Because we live in a Coca-Cola drinking society; Americans love sweet stuff.
If you like white wine, you will probably like dry rosé as well. Since it is made in almost all wine regions these days, there is bound to be one out there for everyone. It would take another article to tell you about all of them. Instead, here are a few wines I recommend: Whispering Angel by Chateau D’Esclans ($20) from France, Etude Pinot Noir Rosé ($20) from California and Matchbook Tempranillo Rosé ($9) also from California.
If you would like to do your own research, I highly recommend a chat with Sharon, the wine director and “Rosé Queen” at AJ’s Fine Foods at Ray Road and Interstate 10 in Chandler.
• Robert Morris is owner and manager at East Valley restaurants Cork, BLD and Stax Burger Bistro. Reach him at (480) 883-3773 or CorkRestaurant.net