Badass Beverage: Drink Pink Wine!
This is my favorite time of year (except for all of the other times of the year that are my favorite also). These early days of spring, when it’s warm enough that I no longer need to wear a coat but I do anyway, because when else am I going to wear seersucker - also, is it too early for seersucker? Is it too early for Panama hats? Should I be wearing socks*? Every morning it’s a struggle to not skip work and fuck off to the beach all day. These are good problems. These are nice problems to have. These make the shitty problems seem not so bad. But hey, no, that was a good idea I just had. Let’s do that. Let’s go to the beach.
First things first, though. Put down the sweet and simple White Zinfandel your great aunt drinks. We’re looking for the good stuff, the crisp and dry stuff that tastes less like Jolly Ranchers and more like fresh-picked wild strawberries. We’re going to France.
We Commence in Provence.
Rosé has made a strong resurgence in the last few years, regaining its status as a quality wine and finally (mostly) losing the reputation for being cheap and cloying that it had wrongfully acquired. It has followed in the footsteps of Chablis and Riesling, both in its fall from grace and in its return to form. A lot of its recent return to repute** has to do with the tremendous quality of Provence Rosé.
Provence, in southeastern France, is one of those beautiful Mediterranean climes that I can’t afford to summer in, goddammit.
Ridiculous. That doesn’t even look like a real place.
The Romans must have thought the same thing, as they made it the first province of the empire, calling it La Provincia Romana. It’s fitting that one of the modern world’s most famous regions for Rosé is also one of the ancient world’s most famous regions for fine reds. It is equally fitting that it’s basically the same wine.
So Here’s How That Works.
We know that it’s the skin of the grape that gives the wine its color. That’s why Blanc de Noir Champagne is white, even though it’s made from the red Pinot Noir grape. For this style of Champagne, the grape skins are removed immediately upon maceration so that the juice that ferments runs clear.
When red wine is made, these skins remain in contact with the juice after being pressed for several days (sometimes weeks). But when a Rosé is made, the skins are removed from the juice within the first day or two, so that the eventual wine has only a slight pinkish hue***.
This method of removing the skins fairly early after pressing the grapes is how wine was made for many thousands of years. The grapes would be pressed soon after being harvested, then all of the material would be removed from the juice to allow fermentation. There is a reason the colloquial English term for Bordeaux wine is Claret, which means clear.
Well into the Middle Ages, the finest of Bordeaux’s wines were a clear, light pink color while the more common, lower quality wines were darker in color and more aggressive in flavor. It was actually our old pal Dom Perignon who would help pave the way for what we think of as red wine today. By developing a method to fully separate the grape skins from the wine, he would help winemakers understand the role of the skin in the final wine.
Besides color, the grape skin is rich in tannin, which adds structure and also aids in the longevity of a wine. The skin also imparts more pronounced flavors and is high in sugar, which eventually means the final wine will have higher alcohol and, as such, more weight.
So the Rosés are going to be lighter. They are also going to drink better in their youth, when the flavors are the most fresh and the acidity means the wine is more lively and refreshing. And though there are some good Rosés that have spent some time in the bottle, it’s always best to look for the current vintage.
All Around the World.
Provence may be the most prolific, and certainly the most famous, but almost every winemaking region in the world produces some Rosé of note.
In France alone, the Pays d’Oc has been producing exceptional, fuller styled Rosés. The village of Marsannay in Burgundy makes some really great Rosé as well, and this use of Pinot Noir has also found its way to the Loire Valley, where Sancerre has gotten in on the game. These Pinot Rosés, like the Rosé found in Provence and the rest of southern France, are excellent wines for seafood dishes and, appropriately, ratatouille.
Spain makes some terrific Rosé wines as well, using the spicy Tempranillo grape. Right now I’m drinking a Rioja Rosado that is fuller in style than its French cousins, and has a distinctly melon-like flavor that is delicious and particularly well-suited to spicier foods.
The full-bodied Italian Rosatos are perfect when you’re grilling burgers or steak and ideally you’d serve a big red but it’s just too damn hot for that.
California’s Rosés (true Rosés, not the sweet blush wines that are low in alcohol and have high residual sugars) are more rare, but very pleasant. Less dry and more fruit driven than what you’ll find in Europe, they nevertheless have their charms. Other parts of the U.S., particularly Long Island in New York, are making exciting Rosé wines that are very New World in their fruit forward style.
South of the equator, Argentina has made great strides with pretty Malbec Rosé, and you should never pass up the opportunity to try a Pinotage Rosé from South Africa. Those are just…crazy weird. But in the best possible ways.
Rosés are great wines. Light and almost frivolous. Not uninteresting, just carefree. And sometimes that’s okay. Sometimes that’s perfect.
My point is we could use a little levity every now and then. So call in sick, right now, and go outside. Pick up a Rosé and a friend and go to the beach. Or the park. Or just…anywhere. Get away for a few hours. Everything you need to do today will still be there tomorrow. Go play.
**I know I told you I wasn’t going to do this anymore, but you try talking like a normal person after 500 pages of Tomb of Dracula. Marv Wolfman’s language is addictive.
***Rosés can range in color from pale orangey salmon to seriously-how-is-that-not-red-wine in color, all depending on the grape and how much time the skin is kept in contact with the juice. Rosé made from the Italian Lagrein, for example, is a really deep ruby color. Classic Provence Rosés, made primarily from Grenache but also using Syrah and Cinsault (and like thirty other grapes), tend to be a really light pink onion color.