Sindhu Hirani Blume/NPR
The intensity of the pink color of a rosé wine is determined by the length of time the grape juice has contact with the grape skin during the winemaking process. The wine on the left had the longest skin contact.
The intensity of the pink color of a rosé wine is determined by the length of time the grape juice has contact with the grape skin during the winemaking process. The wine on the left had the longest skin contact. Sindhu Hirani Blume/NPR
The pink wine that got a bad rap for years has become synonymous with summer. Rosé is fashionable, complex and fresh. Even Brad and Angelina are in the rosé business. But why now?
For years, pink or blush wines were sweet — too sweet for serious wine drinkers. And the drier French varieties were an afterthought: Once the juice for a red wine was pressed and concentrated, the leftover juice was drunk primarily by folks along the Mediterranean as a light beverage during warmer months.
"When it was getting warmer in southern France, we couldn't drink big, tannic wines," said Bobby Kacher, a premium French wine importer based in Washington, D.C., who works with growers in France. "We drank according to how we were dressed." But the technology, Kacher said, was not there to make a refined product.
During the 1990s, growers in Provence, where most rosé comes from, started getting serious about making a rosé that was good and would sell. They began designating vineyards to grow grapes specifically to make rosé. French growers also invested in refrigeration and stainless steel tanks, as the fermentation for rosé wines takes place at cooler temperatures.
Kacher, who invested in the early technology introduced in France, said growers also invested in a separate press for making rosé. "We were trying to make something explosively fresh," he said.
Kacher first started importing rosé to the U.S. in the late '90s and met with some resistance. When people saw pink, they thought zinfandel — not a sophisticated option. Since then, the pink wine's reputation has seen some ups and downs, but now, "It's cool to sit in your garden and have a perfect bottle of pink to start your meal," Kacher said. And, he added, it's a great substitute for beer.
"I've been waiting years for people to discover how great rosés are," said Chris Phelps, winemaker for Swanson Vineyards, which produces rosé in Napa Valley.
Well, they are now. According to the French customs agency and the Provence Wine Council, exports of rosé wine to the U.S. from Provence climbed 40 percent in volume in 2013.
As we've reported, the U.S. recently surpassed France as the world's top wine consumer. But France is still way ahead when it comes to rosé: In 2012 it led with 36 percent of consumption worldwide, followed by the U.S. at 13 percent, according to Vins de Provence, an association of Provence wine producers.
Though the U.S., Argentina, South Africa, Russia and Chile and other countries are producing rosé, France dominates production, too.
MacArthur Beverages, which has been selling fine wines and spirits in Washington, D.C., since the 1950s, has more than 50 different rosés in stock this year, compared with only a handful just a few years ago.
It has been hard to get people's heads around dry rosé, says Michael Cooperman, education manager for Napa Valley Vintners, explaining the wine's long road to acceptance. But, along with improved winemaking methods, its popularity also can be attributed to its affordability — you can find a good bottle for $20 or less. In fact, the average price per bottle of rosé increased from $15.38 in 2011 to just $16.38 by 2013.
When you're looking at all those bottles, you'll notice that some rosés are deeper pink and others lighter. This is an indication of how long the juice of the grape was in contact with the grape skin during the winemaking process. Once the grapes are crushed, the juice has "skin contact" with the grape skin for a brief time, sometimes as little as a day, depending on what color and aroma the winemaker is trying to achieve. The juice is then separated. The darker the rosé, the longer the juice has had contact with the grape skin.
Beautiful color and technical attributes aside, rosés come in handy when outfitting a dinner party with a light, tasty beverage. Cooperman said rosés have a nice acidity no matter the grape variety, and match well with white meat, and both sweet and savory foods. They don't have a lot of tannin and typically no oak, which makes them versatile. "It's not a big, impactful wine," Cooperman added.
So, where do you start? It's simple: Kacher recommended picking a 2013 label and drinking it very cold.