Rosé colored glasses
It’s the middle of summer. Much of the world is on vacation, and given the heat, our minds may sometimes be on holiday as well. As temperatures soar, more Americans are thinking pink. Specifically, pink in the form of rosé wine.
Of course, celebrity rosé projects from Jon Bon Jovi, Angela Jolie and Brad Pitt have helped boost the summer sipper’s popularity. In fact, Hampton Water, the project of the rock star, and Chateau Miraval, project of the former Hollywood couple, are among the top ten rosé wines sold annually on both Wine.com and Drizly.com.1
In addition to a celebrity nod, the pandemic trend of increased outdoor seating options was potentially also partially responsible for on-premise rosé sales at bars, restaurants, and hotels increasing 27 percent to $904 million between October 2021 and 2022, according to data released by market research firm CGA Strategy. 2
Most bottles of this easy sipping wine that ranges in color between light apricot and dark watermelon will be consumed by autumn. For unlike other popularly collected wines or spirits (like vintage Champagne or Japanese Whiskey), rosé is not meant to be stored for years. So let’s take a closer look at this summertime sipper.
A French claim to fame
While rosé wines might seem trendy today, their pale pink color is more likely a throwback to the appearance of original wines made by early winemakers. The rose color is achieved by letting black grape skins be in contact (macerate) with the grapes’ naturally clear juice. After 2 – 20 hours, the juice acquires a hue ranging from melon to light mulberrry, depending on the amount of skin contact.
The aroma and flavors of rosé wines are primarily a result of the grapes, the soil where they are grown and the wine-making style. Some rosés are on the sweet and fruity side, but most—especially those from Provence—are fresh, crisp, and dry.3
Southern France, and specifically the region of Provence, is considered the home of rosé wine, and not just because the French translation of ‘pink’ has become the de facto name for this wine category. From the first Greek sailors to the subsequent Roman invaders, wine-making has been an important agricultural production of this region blessed by abundant sun.4
Two of the most famous Provençal wine regions: Bandol and Tavel, are well-known for their respective rosés. Bandol is a small seaside region southeast of Marseille which is home to Mourvèdre, a spicy grape that provides structure and spice to the rosés from this region.5
Tavel is a town in the southern Rhone valley. Up to nine red and white grapes can be blended in a Tavel rosé, though Grenache is usually the dominant grape. On the palette, they can be described as “bone-dry, with an appealing roughness.”6
The enduring popularity of rosé in the region is due in part to the fact that this wine can stand up to the local cuisine infused with garlic, herbs and olive oil. Even so, rosé wines are made around the world, and exhibit a variety of colors, textures, and flavors.
Rosé is not blush
Although Domaines Ott was the first rosé imported to the US from Provence in 1938, Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel may be a more recognizable name for the American public.7 The creation of White Zinfandel was the result of a twist of fate, innovation, and marketing.
In the normal fermentation process, yeast converts the sugars of the grape juice into alcohol. In 1975, Bob Trinchero, the winemaker at Sutter Homes, experienced a “stuck fermentation” with his Zinfandel (a black grape) in Napa, California. Essentially, the yeast became dormant, or died off, so the fermentation process was not completed, leaving a higher amount of sugar in the wine. Not sure how to proceed, the winemaker put the juice aside for a few weeks, tasted it again, and decided to try and sell this sweeter, pinker version of his traditional red wine.8
As white wines had become very popular in the early 1970’s, the winery hoped to capitalize on the trend with this lighter wine, which is how “White Zinfandel” was born. In the same decade, the term “blush” also caught on as a term to describe these lighter sweeter wines.
Blush wine today is no longer as popular as it used to be, although it is often confused with rosé. In America today, blush wines connote a sweeter wine, while rosé refers to wine made in the dry Provençal style.2
Vins de Provence explains, “Many American blush wine contains nearly seven times as much residual sugar per liter as a Provençal rosé. Provençal rosé is by definition not sweet.”3
Rosé from East to West
Even so, many Americans have embraced the drier crisp roses in the Provençal style. Most famously, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie own Miraval winery and château in Provence. Yet many American winemakers, from the Oregon coast to the tip of Long Island, New York, make noteworthy dry rosés from a variety of grapes, from pinot noir to cabernet sauvignon.
The best way to try a new rosé? Make friends with the staff at your local wine shop. Average prices range from $10 – $30, and a wine shop staff member should be able to walk you through the options available on the shelves.
Due to rosé’s rise in popularity, there are many pink-hued beverages today that more closely resemble fruit juice rather than a true attempt at extracting the lighter-hued nuance of dark grape varietals.
Recent guides and sage advice from knowledgeable wine critics, from the tasting panel at the New York Times, to Bloomberg’s recent review of all things purloined by the pink by Elin McCoy can offer guidance as well.
If you are looking for a good summer read with a glass of wine in your hand, look no further than Victoria James’ “Drink Pink: A Celebration of Rosé,” Enjoy the crisp color as long as the sun shines.
Katja Zigerlig is Vice President, Art, Wine + Collectibles Advisory at Berkley One (a Berkley Company).
Updated July 2023