Beyond the Wine Aisle

The New Must Have Summer Wine

The Truth about Rose' Wine
- Stephanie Miskew, certified sommelier (excerpts)

A few years ago, convincing an oenophile to drink a glass of rose' was no small feat. The stigma associated with pink wine, largely due to the cloyingly sweet white zinfandel of the 1980s, was still too fresh in everyone's mind.

But today, with summer on the horizon, wine lovers from St. Tropez to the Hamptons are stocking their cellars with rose'. So how did the pink-headed stepchild evolve so quickly into the "must have" wine of summer?

Provence is considered the birthplace of rose', and Provencal rose' essentially sets the bar for all the other rose's in the world.

But because of its pink color, it is often associated with white zinfandel, which was invented at Sutter Home Winery in California in the late 1970s. Sutter Home would bleed off some juice to concentrate the aromas and flavors of its finished red zinfandel, and rather than discard the excess, it fermented the juice into the pinkish-white, sweet wine that millions of Americans loved in the 1980s. Sugar levels were kept high to please the palate and to mask flaws in the finished wine. This also allowed for looser production standards.

White zinfandel has the same pink color as Provencal rose', but that's where the similarities end.

To understand the significance of rose's rosy hue, a little background on wine production is required. All wine grapes, from cabernet sauvignon to zinfandel, produce a liquid that is clear. But when winemakers make white wine, the grapes are pressed and then just the juice is fermented. But when making red wine, the grape juice that gets fermented will contain bits of the grape, including skin and even stems - which all accounts for the finished wine's darker color, tannic quality and more robust body.

Rose' from Provence is not a byproduct of red or white wine production gone wrong. It is crafted from a combination of grapes, including grenache, syrah, rolle, cinsault and mourvedre, and it derives its pink color from a period of contact - usually just a few hours - between the juice and pigment-rich grape skins.

The result is a rose' that is fruity and fresh, with enticing notes of red berries and a racy acidity. Ironically, its hallmark may be its bone-dry finish. There is nothing sweet or cloying about Provencal rose', which is one of the most versatile and food-friendly wines on the planet, complementing dishes from salad Nicoise to bouillabaisse with a savory, garlicky rouille.

Many U.S. wineries are producing their own incarnations of "dry" rose' now, and they're having trouble keeping up with demand.

So feel free to embrace this "respectable" wine this summer - if you can get your hands on a blush-colored bottle.

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