The rise of rosé

Ch. de Campuget 2008 Rosé

US imports of rosé wines grew 42% for the twelve months ending April 2009 compared to 5% growth in the overall table wine category.  This phenomenal increase suggests US consumers’ growing appreciation for dry rosé wines as well as their attractive price point in recessionary times.  Until a few years ago, rosé wines meant domestic white zinfandel or “blush” wines with 25-35 grams of residual sugar.  As consumer tastes have evolved to drier wines and to international wines, many consumers have discovered rosé wines from France.  France is the largest producer of rosé wines in the world with 28% of volume, and the French consume a good part of that with rosés outselling whites.  In Provence in the South of France, rosé is a world benchmark, representing  75% of total wine production there.  The rosé is made from blends of grenache, cinsault, mourvedre, syrah, carignan.  They make the wine by crushing the de-stemmed red grapes and giving the juice brief skin contact for color before pressing off the juice from the skins (alternatively, they can directly press whole clusters).  Because of this, the wines are pale in color and low in tannins.  The juice is then fermented like a white wine at cool temperatures of 18-20 degrees celsius to preserve the fruit character.  These rosé wines are intended to be drunk early to show off their fruity charm, so there is typically little ageing of these wines.

In the Southern Rhone, many producers also make rosé wines.  Tavel-labelled wines are 100% rosé and in the satellite, “new wave” appellation of Costieres de Nimes, roses represented 47% of production by volume in 2008.   In the Southern Rhone, rosés are typically made by the saignee  method.  After the red grapes are crushed, the skins and juice macerate together for a few hours up to 24 hours depending on the producer, before being “bled” off the skins and fermented.  Malolactic fermentation – the conversion of tart malic acids to softer lactic acids commonly performed after alcoholic fermentation in red wines and some white wines – is often blocked to preserve freshness in the wines.  The cool, long maceration results in greater color and aroma extraction.  Rosé wines from the Southern Rhone tend to be deeper colored, fruitier and fuller-bodied than their counterparts in Provence.  In Tavel, which is predominantly grenache-based, the press wine if often blended back in with the free-run juice to give it a little more extract. 

You will be hard-pressed not to find a French rosé within the $10-15 range, which makes it an incredible value given the quality and provenance of the wines.  My other big reason for loving rosé is its suitability for all occasions.  It is great as an aperitif, for outdoor dining and for pairing with Mediterranean food, Asian, Latino, Moroccan, Italina, Spanish – well, any kind of food!  It has the freshness to pair with lighter dishes such as fish, chicken or salads, or contrast with salty, cured Mediterranean foods like olives, anchovies, serrano or prosciutto hams and fried foods.  It’s lower tannins as well as low- to moderate- alcohol make it suitable for pairing with spicy, hot or bitter foods.  While dry, the fruitiness of  rosés can complement the slightly sweet elements in Asian foods.

Salut to rosé!