Rosé wines overcome their zin-ful reputation

Classic rosés come from France. But rosés can be from anywhere and made from various grapes. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Classic rosés come from France. But rosés can be from anywhere and made from various grapes. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: July 20, 2012

"WHAT are you, a girl? Is this Girls' Night Out?"

That's what a friend, an investment banker, said on a recent evening as the waiter delivered my glass of rosé wine to the table.

I considered my manly friend, from his pink tailored shirt to the insipid Coors Light he was drinking. "At this stage of my life," I said, "I'm comfortable enough in my manhood to drink pink wine."

Yeah, that's right. I'm man enough to profess my fondness for rosé wines, especially on a steamy summer evening, before dinner as the sun begins to set. Maybe while poring over the sports page, too, if you need to.

Fortunately, it's a good time to try rosé wines, with quality worldwide as high as it's ever been. This summer, several PLCB stores, particularly at 12th and Chestnut, have stocked a huge selection from all over the world. You see interesting rosés popping up by the glass on menus all over the city.

Of course, rosé wines weren't always embraced by wine geeks as they are today. It wasn't so long ago, after all, when pink wine was a little … um, embarrassing. Sweet and unsophisticated. Consider the infamous, cloying Mateus Rosé and those so-called "blush" wines.

By the late 1970s, the Era of White Zinfandel had begun. Outside of the Fuzzy Navel or Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers, there is probably no other drink that epitomizes the 1980s better than white zinfandel. And as the decades rolled on, white zinfandel became the go-to drink of cougars on the prowl everywhere.

I can remember being at a wedding where the father of the bride bragged about how he saved money on the reception wine: "You see, half the people want white wine, and half want red. So what I did was buy white zinfandel." Classy!

That guy — like a lot of us — was probably confused as to how rosé is actually made. The good stuff is not simply blending reds and whites together until you get pink. This method is banned in Europe, though it's still allowed in places like the United States and Australia.

The best rosé — read: not white zinfandel — is made one of two ways. One is the saignée technique, which is really a byproduct of red wine fermentation, where a certain amount of juice is "bled" from the tank at an early stage. This pink juice is then separately fermented to produce rosé, while the wine remaining in the tank continues as a more intense red.

But more and more, winemakers are using directly pressed grapes specifically for rosé. Skins of red grapes are left in with the juice during fermentation, usually for no more than three days to extract a little color. The longer the skins are in contact, the deeper the color. During a recent tasting, I was fascinated by the range of colors, from pale orange to vivid magenta, reflecting different grapes and winemaking styles.

Good rosé is never heavy and cloying, but rather dry and lively, with a balance of good acidity and fruity notes of berries, watermelon balanced by wildflowers or herbs. It is perfect for the first drink on a sunny day and with salty, cured meats or seafood.

Classic rosés come from France — Provence, Tavel in the Rhone Valley; Anjou in the Loire Valley. But rosés can be from anywhere and made from various grapes. In my tasting, I pulled together rosés from many places — Austria, Argentina, California, Italy and Portugal — and many grapes — Grenache, gamay, Syrah, cinsault, pinot noir, Sangiovese and others.

The vast range can sometimes make rosé wines a hit-or-miss affair. But the price is usually right — most cost less than $15, some less than $10 — so you can experiment with a small investment.

My favorites from a tasting from the 13th and Chestnut PLCB store are listed elsewhere on this page. And not one of them insults your manhood. Trust me.

Jason Wilson has twice won an award for Best Newspaper Food Column from the Association of Food Journalists. He is the author of "Boozehound" and editor of "The Smart Set," an online arts and culture journal at Drexel University. Follow him at twitter.com/boozecolumnist or go to jasonwilson.com.

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