02 May Truth in Wine: The Truth About Rosé
A wine shop owner in Miami recently asked me if it was true that the best rosés are very pale pink. “No, not necessarily,” I replied. “Why?”
“Because a French wine salesman just told me that only the lightest-colored rosés are considered the best.”
This is nonsense, of course. And how do I know? Because I wrote the book on rosé. No kidding! Back in 2004, I wrote Rosé, A Guide to the World’s Most Versatile Wine (Chronicle Books). It was the first serious book on the subject. During my research, I discovered all kinds of fabulous rosés made in various styles and hues. As a result, I would advise the aforementioned Frenchman to bust out and try a broader variety of pink wines. He should remember that we don’t drink color.
That said, some of my favorite rosés are very pale pink….and very French! In fact, I fell in love with rosé nearly 45 years ago, when I moved to Southern France at age 19. As many of you know, rosé is the wine of greatest renown in Provence. And after living there for 5 years, I became a rosé fanatic.
Fast forward 15 years. I was working in a winery on Long Island, New York during what must have been the wettest summer on record. Our Merlot grapes didn’t ripen well. So we “bled” the early, pink juice from the fresh-crushed Merlot in hopes of concentrating what would eventually become red Merlot wine. We put the pink juice in a few old barrels and forgot about them until harvest was over. What emerged from those barrels was a gorgeous rosé reminiscent of what I had enjoyed during my years in France.
Some 10 years later, I had moved to the Napa Valley. A lot of my winemaker friends were also “bleeding” their red grapes at harvest. But they were throwing the pink juice down the drain. At the time, very few California winemakers were focused on rosé, and the market for it in the U.S. was weak.
My colleague, Daniel Moore, and I started “harvesting” pink, unfermented “bleed” from various wineries. We fermented the wine the way I had inadvertently done it back on Long Island to create our rosé brand, SoloRosa. Consumer response was positive, and we grew from one barrel in 2000 to some 200 barrels by 2007! We also founded an organization called RAP (Rosé Avengers and Producers) which hosted an annual “Pink Out” every year in San Francisco. Membership in RAP skyrocketed; I wrote the rosé book; and it’s safe to say that Daniel and I helped jumpstart what can now be called the Rosé Renaissance.
Unfortunately, Daniel and I became victims of our success. When we started, there was very little competition. Sales were good, and we expanded production without paying close enough attention to how many other winemakers were catching on to the trend. So our portion of the rosé pie was getting smaller while our production was increasing. Without a national marketing and sales team in place to help us handle growth, we couldn’t sell enough rosé to remain viable. Alas, SoloRosa made its last rosé (a deliciously pale pink rosé of Pinot Noir) in 2008. Despondent, I swore off rosé production.
However in 2014, I built a new urban winery in Berkeley, California for Covenant (the kosher winery I co-founded with Leslie Rudd back in 2003). Rosé was never part of the Covenant portfolio. But with the new winery, we had room to harvest more grapes and make different wines. With more grapes came the opportunity to do a little bleeding. (By the way, the French have a word for this too. It’s called saignée, which means “bled.”) We started with 2 barrels of rosé and bottled it under our RED C label. It sold out fast. Now, three years later, we are making 450 cases per year. (Still, nothing compared the late, great SoloRosa.) This time, we are not going to grow too fast!
However, not all rosé is made with saignée. Many fine pink wines are made by whole cluster or whole berry pressing of freshly picked red grapes, which prevents the juice from picking up too much red color. I’ve made rosé this way too and really enjoyed the results. But some people mistakenly believe that this is the “best” way to make rosé.
They are dead wrong. The truth is there’s no “best way” to do anything in winemaking. And winemakers must decide what works best for them with any given vintage or varietal. Consumers should beware of platitudes—such as the one quoted at the beginning of this blog—regarding what makes a wine great. Wine color and winemaking techniques do not necessarily lead to great wines.
Covenant RED C Rosé is made from a number of different grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Malbec, Syrah, Merlot, Petit Verdot and even a tiny bit of Cabernet Sauvignon. After fermentation in neutral, old French oak barrels, the pink versions of these varietals are blended. The idea is to make a crisp, refreshing wine with just a hint of red fruit and citrus. We also make a rosé of Syrah in Israel called BLUE C. It, too, is bright and fresh tasting.
Some rosés will be fruitier, and some will be less so. And some will be oh-so-pale pink, while others will have a more vibrant hue. Such stylistic differences should be embraced. They keep things interesting.
Personally, I prefer rosé to be dry—which means not sweet—and crisp. Because they are neither red nor white, rosés drink a little like both. That’s why they pair beautifully with just about anything you’ll eat, except maybe dessert. Enjoy rosé chilled—but not too cold. On really hot days, I have even been known to drink rosé on the rocks. (For more information on rosé, watch my video, Truth About Rosé, on YouTube.)
As warm weather and al fresco dining approaches, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better wine for your picnic or barbecue. Good rosé can also be quite elegant—fit for the finest of meals. This spring and summer, remember to drink pink!
Vintner Jeff Morgan is the co-owner of Covenant Winery, in California and Israel. He’s also the author of nine books on food and wine and a former wine journalist.