It wasn't long ago that if one mentioned rosť wine at a dinner party or in a wine shop, folks would crinkle their noses in rejection.
I have had quite a few requests to talk about rosé wines recently, so here's a brief look at what has become the fastest-growing wine market in the past few years.
It has taken rosé wines decades to get the respect that red or white wines have enjoyed in the American market. It wasn't long ago that if one mentioned rosé wine at a dinner party or in a wine shop, folks would crinkle their noses in rejection. Until about 1995, rosé wines in the American market were thought of as "secondary sales" among many in the restaurant and retail establishments.
Quality rose wine made in America was rare, and few people knew the charm that good rosé wines could bring to the table. With a few exceptions, rosé wines in America were sweet, sticky, punch-like "blush" wines coming out of marginal, hot areas of Central California. Other producers were making blush wines with low alcohol levels, resulting in an intense cotton-candy nose and taste. These wines, much like Sutter Home White Zinfandel, inundated supermarkets everywhere.
Consumers got the impression this was all that a rosé wine could be. Many of these wines were cheap, acid-adjusted cool pops to be served almost like Popsicles. Once the wine was served at any temperature other than ice-cold, the sticky flavors hit the palate like maple syrup and the joy ride was over.
The other problem with the "traditional" blush wines made in America (yes, there were some rare exceptions) was they did not go well with cuisine. Try as one might, one simply could not match the low-alcohol, cotton-candy-tasting blush wine with anything but possibly very cold fruit. The result was that these wines were used mainly for chugging or served ice-cold at a picnic simply to wash down the fried chicken.
I remember going to a wedding many years ago when there were bottles of cheap, low-alcohol blush wines sitting on the outside tables, uncorked waiting for the service to be over. When we walked outside to sit at the tables, we were run out by hordes of yellowjackets swarming all over the necks of the bottles.
Around 1996 the Europeans, seeing a gap in the dry, crisp and complex rosé market, began to step things up by introducing very lovely wines with soft rosé hues but with serious flavors. In Europe, rosé wines are designed almost entirely to go with cuisine. We began to see cooking shows where the chefs would serve these beauties with everything from seafood to pork and chicken. This was also the emergence of Thai and Indian cuisine from obscure restaurants to the mainstream, and rosé wines exploded onto the scene along with these fragrant, exotic cuisines.
These wines, from France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, were strange and lovely creatures and began to get the attention of wait staff, wine shop folks and wine writers. The enormous difference between the American blush wines and the Old World offerings was immense and almost shocking to those who had known only the ill-defined, sweeter American wines.
Complex rose wines appeared on wine lists in the big cities and people began to "talk" rosé. This was the turn the American producers needed. In 1997, we began to see an explosion of really nice, dry, American rosé wines in competition with the Europeans.
Today, many fine wine houses produce lovely rosé wines with good levels of alcohol and complexity to boot. In Oregon we are tasting very good pinot noir rosé wines which rival, on every level, those from Europe.
Here are some rules when trying rosé wines: Never go below 11.5 percent alcohol unless you want them sweeter in style. Try to buy rose wines within five years of the vintage date — freshness is very important in rosé wines. If you see any "browning" of the wine, stay clear. All rosé wines should have a brilliant, clean hue to them.
Take a chance with rosé and serve anything you'd like with it except for bloody red meat. Rosé wines are far too delicate for most red meat, period. The "rare" prepared red meat is particularly to be avoided with rosé wine.
Lorn Razzano is owner of the Ashland Wine Cellar. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.