I’m sitting in my Manhattan apartment, but in my mind I’m far away, watching the ocean, glass of rosé in hand, staring out at the waves breaking under pale blue skies, sea breezes rustling the leaves above.
Such is the power of rosé to stir the imagination. Great wines are by nature transporting. They take you on journeys through time and space, posing questions and rewarding contemplation. But rosé?
No question about it, rosé has an emotional power all its own. These are seldom profound wines, yet rosé nonetheless tugs at the imagination, and in so doing has become a symbol of summer’s liberation from all that is humdrum and workaday.
Here at Wine School, we try to look at wine from every angle. Its aromas and flavors are of course important, but wine is so much more than that. Witness the phenomenon of rosé, which has been on a remarkable journey and shows no signs of faltering.
Forty years ago, rosé was in such ill repute that American marketers came up with another name, “blush wine.” Twenty years ago, you could barely give the stuff away. I remember trying — not particularly successfully — to persuade people to give it a chance: “Pink (Well, Rosé) Is for Guys,” was the title of one effort.
But for the last decade or more, rosés have been hotter than Death Valley in July. I’ve examined them in all the conventional ways, looking at them regionally, dividing them by grape, taking the industry to task for all the bad bottles and so on. But perhaps it’s time to take seriously the emotional appeal of rosé, by which I mean what it connotes to those who crave it.
I don’t think craving is too strong a way to put it. It’s the rare wine that succeeds in getting people to buy apparel touting the joys of rosé-drinking. Talk to sommeliers or wine retailers about rosé, and their anxieties revolve around ensuring a sufficient supply when the mad rush begins in late spring and selling it all before the demand dies abruptly at Labor Day.
What is it that rosé and summer have in common, and why do people otherwise ignore it out of season? It’s not that good rosé tastes different in October than it does in July, so it must be what rosé represents.
Like summer, rosé is an invitation to dress down, to relax. It’s a reminder that the shoulders need not be up around the ears, that the top button can be left undone. You don’t share a bottle of rosé with the boss; you share it with friends, after you’ve kicked off your shoes and wriggled your toes in the sand.
Rosé is summer vacation, or at least it supports the state of mind that vacation is intended to achieve. That’s a pretty good thing to find in a glass of wine.
But for some people, the wine itself matters as much as the connotations. For these people, and I am one of them, the critical element of the brain refuses to shut off, even for rosé.
Somebody might say, “Relax, it’s just rosé,” to which I respond: “Yes. But it’s wine as well, and as with all wines, some will be great, some will be awful and most will be in between. Don’t you want a good one?”
One of the reasons for Wine School is to help people determine what constitutes good. It’s not always easy to know, and while experts can offer critical analyses, it’s more important, and more useful, to get to know your own taste.
As I do each month, I suggest three bottles, which you try out on your own, with a meal, with friends or however you want to do it. Then we reassemble, and you tell me what you think, generally in the comments section.
This month, we tasted three rosés made somewhere other than Provence, rosé’s spiritual homeland. They were: Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina Rubentis 2018, Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly El Dorado County Gamay Noir Rosé 2018 and Lucien Crochet Sancerre Rosé 2018.
Each of these has the transporting power implicit in any rosé, yet each is completely different, both from each other and from the pale Provençal rosés that have done more than any others to foster the wine’s allure.
Rosés are made all over the world, pretty much anywhere red wine is made. The basic technique for producing rosé is to start with red grapes, and to macerate the juice just long enough with the pigment-bearing skins to achieve the desired color. The results can range from the faintest onionskin to almost cherry red.
The Txakolina stood out from the other two, not because of its pale copper color, which pretty much matched the Bone-Jolly, but because of its effervescence.
Txakolina is the favored drink of Spanish Basque Country, and like most from the Getaria region, the Ameztoi was bottled with a little bit of residual carbon dioxide, which adds just the lightest bit of fizz to the texture.
I love this wine. It’s lightly floral with a faint berry smell, which both carry over to the palate. But something else joins in then — a savory, salty edge, as if the winds had blown the sea air from the Bay of Biscay directly into the vineyards. It’s also low in alcohol, just 11 percent, so you can drink a lot of it.
Like the Txakolina, the Bone-Jolly, from El Dorado County in the Sierra Nevada region of California, is a perennial favorite of mine. Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John is among the state’s modern pioneers of gamay, the grape of Beaujolais.
The Bone-Jolly is floral and tangy, with flavors of red fruit, citrus and minerals. Its lively acidity adds tension and energy, which helps make the wine refreshing. It comes in at 12.5 percent alcohol.
In contrast to the other two, the Sancerre rosé, made from pinot noir grapes, is darker, more deep salmon than pale copper. It’s fruitier, too, though it smells like a bouquet of flowers. It is richer and rounder, and rather high in alcohol at 14 percent, yet it is dry and refreshing as well. with red fruit and mineral flavors.
Each of these bottles can perform the transporting trick at which rosé excels. Yet they each have distinctive character and depth, which ought to satisfy wine lovers seeking something beyond escapism. Such multidimensional capabilities are fine things in a wine.
Many readers responded by suggesting favorite rosés of their own, including some from Italy, Austria, Malta, Spain, Oregon, Michigan, even the Okanagan region of British Columbia. I wish I could find those Canadian wines in New York.
Joseph from Île-de-France mentioned the dark rosé from Domaine Illaria in Irouléguy, in French Basque Country. This, I think, is one of the great rosés of the world. It ages well — Joseph drank a 2016 — and develops complexity.
Several readers complained that these wines, at $24 to $30, were too expensive. It’s easy to find plenty of rosés that are cheaper. Many are under $10. It all depends on what you want from a wine. If a pale pink color is enough, why spend more?
These three bottles, however, demonstrate how much more rosé can offer. Not everybody is interested in those qualities, which is fine. But if you are among those who regard rosés as inoffensive at best, these wines prove otherwise.