Thursday, April 27, 2023

Benchmark Roses

In the wide world of wine, a crowded field of thousands of different types, there is no wine that has had more ups and downs than rose.

Perhaps it's because people can't get their heads around pink wines. Are they lightly tinted white wines, weak reds, or a refreshing fruity wine?

The confusion is understandable, because the market keeps shifting for pink wines. Roses are in and before you know it, they're out. And then the cycle begins again. 


Pink wines are made in just about every place where wine is made, from Austria to New Zealand, Argentina to Italy and from California to South Africa. And while all  of these places have a well-defined style of rose, based on a specific grape or grapes, the benchmark for them all lies in the warmer southern part of France. 

Estimates are that about 30% of world pink wine production comes from France.  Specifically, age-worthy Cabernet Rose d'Anjou from the Loire Valley, full-bodied blends from Aix-en-Provence and fruit-sweet dry Tavel from the southern Rhone Valley. 

Elsewhere in the wine world, pink wines are often an after thought.  What to do with a red variety in its third or fourth leaf that is still not mature enough for a saleable red wine?  Maybe squeeze a little profit out of the grapes by making a rose.  Or, take some of your Grenache or Gamay and make a rose to round out the line and provide an alternative for those visitors in the tasting room that cannot decide on white or red. 

No matter how it works out, few wine regions, except for France, dedicate all or most of their harvest to rose wines.

Cabernet Rose d'Anjou is the preferred style of pink wine today in Anjou, replacing a sweet rose, called Rose d'Anjou, made from the undistinguished Grolleau grape. Improved vineyard practices for the Grolleau have given Rose d'Anjou wines new life.

Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon build Anjou roses structure, complexity and the ability to age and mature, not usually a characteristic of pink wines. Cabernet Rose d'Anjou are deeply colored, with a subtle herbaceousness and good balancing acidity. 

Aix-en-Provence Rose can be made from a blend of a wide range of red grapes, including Grenache, Cinsaut, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  Provence roses are lightly colored, simple and fruity and ready to drink. A huge amount of pink wine comes out of this large Mediterranean region.

Tavel, is the noted all-rose appellation in the southern Rhone Valley, across the river from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. A blend of Grenache and Cinsaut grapes, gives Tavel roses a pleasant sweet impression, though the wine is always dry.  Tavels are light in color, fruity, with a good acid/fruit balance. 

Roses' Best Grape

There is a case to be made that there is really just one grape for pink wine and that would be Grenache (technically Grenache Noir since there is a white Grenache.) In Spain Garnacha (Grenache) is the grape of delightful Garnacha Rosado.

Grenache ready to pick

 One taste of a pink wine made from Grenache and you're hooked on the bright strawberry flavors, accented with earthy notes, sometimes with a subtle leathery note. Braced with good acidity, Grenache/Garnacha roses are great summer wines, especially with light foods, like cold ham off the bone and chicken salad. 

Of course, you can make a pink wine from any red variety.  In France, Cinsaut is a popular add-in, as is Merlot and occasionally Pinot Noir, although pinot is a challenge to get varietal character in a pink wine.  Zinfandel roses have had mixed success, with some tasting more like light red wines than pink wines.  Same is true for those pink wines made from other deeply colored grapes like Mourvedre, Malbec and Carignan.

Making Rose 

Today, there are two popular ways to make a rose wine: macerating dark-skin grapes, like Grenache, for 8 to 12 hours, and by blending red wine with white wine.  Maceration is the most common and generally makes the best wine.  Blending finished wines is usually preferred for basic pink wines, except for Rose Champagne, perhaps the best-known blended pink wine. 

And then there is a technique known as saignee, or "bleeding," where a small amount of juice is run off from crushed dark-skinned grapes. Co-fermenting red and white grapes is another method used to make pink wines.  Lastly, there is Vin Gris, that despite its gray name is a rose fermented like a white wine, except that the juice is not macerated.

Enjoying Rose

Roses are a good alternative wherever the call is for a white or light red wine. Grilled fish or vegetables, pork, chicken or turkey white meat are good choices as is any vegetarian dish.  The idea is to not get stuck in rules, but find what you like and then enjoy the combination. 


 Next blog: Bordeaux Blend

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