For wine drinkers, finding the perfect summertime match can be daunting. When lounging on the deck or patio, red wine can seem too heavy. And sometimes that simple white wine is just, well, too simple.
That's why it's hard to beat a crisp rose when the weather is warm.
It's easy to dismiss pink wine. After all, most Americans associate rose with cheap, sweet "blush" wines, like Sutter Home's white Zinfandel. Nothing could be further from reality.
"Rose's in general have a bad reputation," Breckenridge's Ridge St. Wine shop owner Anne Dowling said. "But they have definitely made a resurgence in the last 5-10 years ... Roses are a total different animal now in comparison to 20 years ago."
This style of wine traces its roots to the early 1970's. Back then, demand for white wine outpaced supply, so many California winemakers started producing white wine from red grapes, taking advantage of the fact that even red grapes give off white juice when the skins are removed.
In 1975, the winemaker at Sutter Home, Bob Trinchero, had a problem while making his white Zinfandel. A portion of the wine experienced a "stuck fermentation," meaning the yeast died before all the sugar had converted into alcohol. Rather than "fix" the wine by adding more yeast, Trinchero decided to let it sit for two weeks. When he revisited the wine, he knew it would be a hit -- and Sutter Home's modern-day white Zinfandel was born. Countless imitators would soon follow.
This style of pink wine remains quite popular and it will always have fans. More often than not, though, white Zinfandel and other blush wines are just too sweet. Many taste more like strawberry fruit punch than wine.
True roses are bone dry, textured, and refreshing. And they can be just as complex and food friendly as traditional wines.
True roses are made in one of two ways.
In the first method, the winemaker crushes red wine grapes and leaves the juice in contact with the skin for a brief period, typically one or two days. They then discard the skins, allowing the juice to finish fermentation on its own. Thanks to the short period of skin contact, the wine retains some color. Here, rose is the only goal.
In the second method, rose is a byproduct of red wine fermentation. Red wine obtains color, tannin, structure, and flavors from grape skins. If a winemaker wants to increase the skin-to-juice ratio during fermentation, they can simply remove some juice at an early stage. This pink juice can then be fermented separately to create rose. This method is known as saignee.
True roses have been a part of life in France for centuries. In the southeastern part of the country, residents and visitors alike have long recognized the splendor of pairing rose with warm weather and coastal cuisine.
France remains the source of many fantastic roses - great examples can be found in Bandol, Tavel, Sancerre, and many other regions. When looking for French roses, it's best to look for reliable importers, like Kermit Lynch, Beaune Imports, Weygandt-Metzler and Robert Kacher. All four bring in a number of knockout wines.
Plenty of delightful pink wines come from outside France as well. Across the world, more and more producers are making top-notch, authentic roses.
In the United States, some producers to look for include Alexander Valley Vineyards, which makes a splendid rose of Sangiovese, Copain and Ponzi. Another favorite is made by Mulderbosch in South Africa.
The world is still awash in bad roses, of course. It's still quite easy to accidently wind up with a bottle that's too heavy, alcoholic, or sweet. Local shops offer classes and tastings, so be sure to stop in when roses are open - you might find a crisp, refreshing wine that's worth stocking up on.
Breckenridge Cheese and Chocolate, Ridge Street Wine's sister store, offers rose flights seven days a week throughout the summer. For $12, you can try three different roses that the store switches out periodically.
--David White is the founder and editor of Terroirist.com.