Wine Ink column: Open a bottle of rose and pretend it’s summer
April 20, 2016
Early spring is the time of year when, though winter has not quite let go, you can sense the first signs of summer just around the next corner. There's no better way to celebrate that summer-is-a-comin' spirit than by twisting a cap, pouring a glass of softly pink rose, tilting your face toward the spring sky and taking a long, slow sip of the sun-kissed wine. Try it. I know you'll get the feeling.
America is in the third phase of a modern rose revolution. Over the past decade, sales have risen dramatically each year, and no matter how pedestrian a restaurant is, a rose is almost always on the wine list these days. In a January 2016 Nielson report, sales of dry rose showed a 27.7 percent growth in the U.S. market last year.
America rises to rose
The first phase of America's modern love affair with pink wines began by accident in 1975. Bob Trinchero, one of California's most significant winemakers and marketers, wanted to use his old Amador County zinfandel vines to make a lighter style of wine. Though he was a fan of French roses from his travels, they were all but nonexistent on these shores at the time.
Trinchero began by making pale pink wine under his Sutter Home label from his zinfandel, dubbing it "Oeil de Perdrix" or "Eye of the Partridge," as an homage to the French white wines made from red wine grapes. A nice wine to be sure, it has a place today in the Smithsonian, but a happy accident changed both the wine and history.
It seems that following the harvest of 1975 there was a "stuck fermentation" in the production of the Sutter Home White Zin. That is, the fermentation stopped before all of the available sugar in the wine had been converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The result was that the remaining residual sugar made the wine sweeter, or more palatable, to the tastes of the time. The accident of the stuck fermentation resulted in the sweet Sutter Home White Zinfandel becoming one of the best-selling wines in America in the late '70s and into the '80s.
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Historically, it became seen as the "gateway" wine for drinkers who became more adventurous, branching out to experiment with pinot noir, chardonnay, even cabernet sauvignon. In 1994, the Wine Spectator said Sutter Home, largely due to its white zinfandel, had introduced more Americans to wine on the table than anyone in history.
The French come to The Hamptons
But like all gateways, white zin became a little passe as tastes began to change. As drinkers became enraptured with the more savory styles and flavors of wines, the sweetness of the white zins that were made by just about every big winery in the business became a source for derision.
Wine drinkers of the '90s were beyond all of that sweetness. They were all grown up now. So for a time, rose was relegated either to those who bought by the box or to the finer wines shops that continued to stock small production wines from the South of France.
But in the early oughts, a few French producers of dryer styles of rose wines set their sights on the trendier tasters of the day. Brands such as Domaine Ott, and especially Whispering Angel, both from Southern France, began to show up on the summer wine lists of the hottest restaurants and clubs in Miami and The Hamptons. These wines were perfect for the times — refreshing, lower in alcohol and perfectly packaged — and they became the "it" wines for the pretty people.
Soon, the fad spread and the importation of French rose, as well as roses from other countries such as Spain and Argentina, exploded. Even Brad and Angelina, as in Pitt and Jolie, got in the act when they introduced the wines of Chateau Miraval to America.
The Pink Wave
The third phase saw a new wave of American producers embracing rose, creating wines that are young, fresh and delicious from a variety of different grapes. There are roses from pinot noir, tempranillo and cabernet franc on the shelves and in the fridges of local wine shops and liquor stores. And yes, you can even find white zinfandel. Today, rose is not just fashionable, it is popular again.
Beyond taste, there is another good reason for its surge of popularity: price. You can buy a good bottle of rose and get change back for less than $15.
Take a taste. Summer will be here soon.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab, Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.