To paraphrase The Bard, “A rosé by any other name, tastes too sweet.” Well, too sweet for me, anyway, since I am no blushing wine-o. This is one of my winey pet peeves: not all pink wines are sweet! Assuming that anything pink is cloyingly sweet causes one to miss a parade of great pink wines, so let’s get our pink terms straight…
Pink wines that are fruity up front but dry on the palate should be called rosés, while pink wines that have that extra residual sugar on the palate, like White Zinfandels and Pink Moscatos, should be called blush wines. Rosé is dry, yet fruity. Blush is sweet, sugary, with a little more sweet, but no bracing acidity. Perhaps this is an uphill battle, but clear usage of terms makes it easier for everyone to find their pink wine.
I have consumed my share of Sutter Home White Zinfandel – it got me through college after all. But my palate evolved and drier wines became more appealing to me. Having a French mom, I was exposed to a broader range of French rosés, with plenty of fruit on the nose and even on the tip of the tongue. The main flavor profile is dry on the palate. You can be fruity and finish dry without being called sweet, and that extra acid makes the wines better to pair with a broader range of dishes.
Most French rosés are dry. Most Italian rosatos are dry. Most Spanish rosados are dry. You see the pattern. Rosés are the perfect summer wine for many of your RWOs (Red Wine Onlies) because they have longer contact with the skins to incorporate those red wine characteristics, yet are still lighter and refreshing, and can be chilled. These dry pink wines go with lots of foods and can be perfect with Florida shrimp, Maine mussels or Louisiana crawfish. They can pair with barbecue chicken or an array of cheeses, or even pimento cheese sandwiches.
The majority of pink domestic wines are blush, or sweet. This doesn’t mean that all pink domestic wines are sweet, hence the rosé distinction. Here are three of my current favorites that are classic European style rosés from California.
Starting in Napa Valley the Buonchristiani Rosato is a blend of Syrah and Malbec that spends six months aging in barrels. That woodiness comes across in some of the exotic spice flavors I find in this wine. Up front there is ripe raspberry on the nose with floral notes like honeysuckle and strawberry blossom. Cherry dominates on the palate with some nice acidity on the tongue to finish out. This is a great rosé wine!
Like the first wine, our second rosé uses a drier source grape than our blushing compatriots. Here it is Cabernet Sauvignon that forms the base of The High Valley Rosé from Lake County California made by Clay Shannon. Here, my first aromas are pomegranate and red currant, with a hint of citrus blossom, maybe even lime with cranberry and blood orange coming across on the palate. The tannin of this base grape, as with the Syrah and Malbec of the prior wine, comes across as a nice spicy characteristic in the pink version. This is a surprisingly complex wine.
Finally I would consider a Pinot Noir rosé like the Fleur from the Central Coast. We start with a low-tannin grape, but one that has abundant acidity giving the wine a wild strawberry tartness as well as light color, reminiscent of a Provence rosé. Floral notes mingle with cherry acid tones on the palate, finishing light and elegant, making it a perfect summer pink wine. All three of these can pair with anything from barbecue to paella to seafood gumbo. The balance between ripe fruit and bright acidity make them complex wines that can also be enjoyed solo, with a nice scenic backdrop. Remember the other domestic pink options and don’t blush, go rosé!
Daniel Eddy, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine and spirits supervisor
Follow me on Twitter @ABCwineDanE