As a lover of all shapes, colors and sizes of wine, it’s not often that I have difficulty settling on what to order from the list at my favorite wine bar. But occasionally I do find myself unsure of what I want to drink, and I contemplate what best fits my mood. I could be feeling elegant and lively, but neither a fruit-forward, complex red nor a cool, zippy white appeal to me. Instead of battling between the two, I go for a pink rose, continually impressed with its uplifting combination of fruitiness and liveliness.
Unfortunately, most young wine drinkers don’t often encounter this gray zone of the wine world, viewing it as either black or white (or rather red and white). Unwilling to branch out and try something that doesn’t belong to either category, beautiful rose wines remain untouched and untasted by most.
The other day, when I was at my local wine store searching for roses , I discovered how unfamiliar they truly are. After a quick, unsuccessful glance up and down the aisles, I asked the clerk if they carried anything more than the bottle I was holding.
“Follow me,” she told me as she nodded her head. “We have plenty of Skinnygirl rose and any of these other ones.” She smiled and proudly pointed to fully stocked shelves of monstrous jugs of white zinfandel and boxed blush wines, none of which I would confidently classify as real roses. Discouraged and in disbelief, I continued my search at a nearby store.
Apparently, novice wine drinkers aren’t the only ones who have a thing or two to learn about rose wines. But who can blame them? Most first exposures to pink wines are through misrepresentations of real roses. Memories associated with sickly sweet bottles of Sutter Home white zinfandel and unattractive, syrupy, blush-flavored Franzia would likely turn off anybody to a bottle of pink wine.
It’s important to understand that real roses are made differently than most blush wines, and they follow traditional European standards. After much debate a few years ago, the European Union banned its wine makers from blending white and red wines to make a less expensive rose. Although this process of mixing is permitted in other countries such as Australia, South Africa and the United States, the method (which is used to produce white zinfandel) ultimately results in a cheaper-tasting blush wine.
Technically an “unfinished red wine,” rose, made in European countries like France and Spain, is produced in two ways. Most commonly, skins of red grapes are left in with the juice during fermentation — usually for no more than three days to extract a little color. The longer the skins are in contact, the deeper the color of the rose.
Another technique used is known as saignee, where a certain amount of juice is “bled” from the tanks at an early stage during the fermentation process. The pink juice that is removed is then separately fermented to produce rose wines, and the juice that remains in the tanks continues as a more intense red wine.
Although roses and blush wines share a similar girlish pink appearance, they are not one and the same. Real roses are not overly sweet, heavy or agonizing to drink. They are fresh and lively, yet acidic and dry, with flavors of ripe strawberries and cherries, and hints of wildflowers or minerals. Because there is such little contact with the skins, they are similar to white wines, with little to no presence of tannins.
You should feel good when you drink rose wines — so well, in fact, that you want to pour yourself glass after glass. Served chilled, they are suitable for drinking with or without food. Roses make for the perfect refreshment before a meal and pair well with just about any dish or occasion.
The best thing about rose wines is how casual and sexy they can be. Everybody ought to opt for the occasional glass of rose, dabble in the foreign gray zone and take a break from the black and white world of red and white wines.
Mouton Cadet Rose 2010
Bordeaux, France, $7.99
12.5 percent ABV
Salmon color in the glass with aromas of ripe strawberries and dried roses. This wine is not too sweet or tart and finishes lightly and brightly.
Jarrero Rose 2010
Rioja, Spain, $10.99
13.6 percent ABV
A dry pink wine with mineral notes and tastes of raspberries and wildflowers. It’s lively and crisp with lingering tastes of cherries.
Gazela Rose 2010
Douro, Portugal, $7.99
10 percent ABV
Slightly sparkling rose that is refreshing and tastes like semi-sweet, juicy berries. Once the vivacious bubbles settle, traces of apricot surface on the finish.