I have a potentially sensitive topic to discuss. And no, it doesn’t have anything to do with something horrible Donald Trump said on Twitter or public breastfeeding or any of the other things people love to argue about on the Internet. It’s something way more important than that.
No, we need to talk about rosé.
One of the more encouraging developments of the past few years is how much dry rosé as a category has exploded. Once we have our rosé display up at the store where I work in the springtime, I only have to convince maybe 3 customers a day that these pink wines aren’t sweet, down from about 8 per day in 2011. Who says we’re not making progress as a society?
In addition to how beautiful the colors are, I think people are drawn to the seasonality of rosé, and how it’s become symbolic of, picnics, fancy resorts, and long afternoons with our sunglasses turned toward the bright summer sky.
Those of us in the wine business aren’t immune – I taste wine for a living, and one of my favorite times of year is late winter and spring, when all the new seasons’ rosés start to arrive. I seriously start to get giddy, like a kid on her birthday with a big pile of presents to open. Those fresh, zippy, pink wines are like the wine industry’s version of the cherry blossoms – pink and ephemeral, they remind us that warmer, more fun days are coming. Just hang on through a few more gray days, they say, and you’ll be drinking on a gloriously sunny patio somewhere in no time.
Many wine producing regions make rosé, and one of the more fun things about that is that it comes in a multitude of shades of pink and styles, from barely-salmon beauties that drink almost like a white wine, to deeper, almost fluorescent magentas that have a lot more dark berry flavors and even a little tannin. All of these different styles and shades, to me, have a different purpose and place at the table or a summer party. Something a little deeper from Spain for barbecued pork maybe, and one of those trendy pale numbers from Provence for your best friend’s wedding shower luncheon. Something a little off-dry with a hint of herbaceousness from Anjou for spicy food, cheese, or just sipping by itself.
But lately I’ve noticed something disturbing in the wines that are brought to our tasting table at our humble little wine store. The rosés…they’re all the same! Wines that in years past had a little more color, a little different flavor, quirky ones from the Loire Valley, darker beauties from Rioja or Bordeaux that were almost purple – it’s like they’ve all been bleached! And it’s not just the cosmetic difference I’m bemoaning, although that is part of it. I mean, I’m someone whose sexual preferences could be described as ‘co-ed, 90s-era Benetton ad,’ but it’s mostly the way this cruel color stripping is affecting the flavor of my favorite spring and summer wine that’s pissing me off.
In Provence, ancestral home of the super pale rosé, the climate and the way the grapes ripen lend themselves to that color and style. The wines are pale, but they’ve got a surprising amount of body and richness. They are not wimpy. Wines from other regions where this pale color isn’t traditional just don’t taste as good when they’re reverse engineered to be the palest salmon color possible. They taste aggressively tart, or too thin, or just bland and boring.
Earlier this spring I was pleased to see that famed Tavel producer Mordorée is still carrying the torch for a darker, richer style. There were others, though, like a fun, inexpensive number from Bordeaux that usually includes a little Negrette in the blend, giving it an almost Schiaparelli pink color, that looked like the color of bad 80s hotel wallpaper – a bland peach. It tasted worse – thin, hollow in the middle, and screechily tart on the finish.
Unfortunately, these producers are just following the money. It’s consumers that are to blame for this disappearance of color and variety. I’ve noticed in both my retail customers and my friends an overwhelming preference for paler rosés, the paler the better. Anything darker than canned salmon gets a distinct sideye, and a sometimes vocal expression of a fear that the wine in the bottle will be sweet. Perhaps since historically, sweet rosé styles like White Zinfandel were a more distinct pink color, that’s what’s happening here? People are so afraid of sweet wine that they don’t even want other people to wonder if they’re drinking something sweet, it seems, and so now every rosé producer from California to Catalonia is chasing the same barely-there seashell pink, because that’s what people think is sophisticated.
So if you’re with me, and you don’t want every rosé produced from now on to be a sad, watery, flavorless, tight-lipped version of its former, more voluptuous self, pull a darker pink wine off the shelf once in awhile. That pale Provencal style is great, but you shouldn’t spend every minute of your summer drinking life channeling an overpriced restaurant in Cannes. Who cares if people on Instagram think your rose looks sophisticated?
Here’s to a more fun, diverse summer of drinking, and as many shades of pink as we can fit in our glasses.