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La Vie en Rosé: Recession Renaissance for Pink Wine

recession renaissance rose wine

Often dismissed as silly, sugary swill among American wine drinkers, rosé wine is striving to transform its crummy reputation. With a legion of stunningly under-priced wines from the south of France leading the charge this summer, pink wine looks like it’s making a permanent comeback through curious bargain-hunting buyers.

DON’T GIVE A DAMN ‘BOUT A BAD REPUTATION

Most experts blame rosé’s tarnished image on certain big-name producers in California (not mentioning the obvious names) who began to flood the market with the now-familiar White Zinfandel in the 1980s. Although popular among a certain demographic — just like “Nattie Light” has its own particular following — this so-called blush wine has serious drinkers and enthusiasts turning their cultured noses up en masse.

A scarring first foray also puts many newcomers off the pink wine scene for life. “Most wine drinkers’ first experience with pink wine is sweet and horrid,” says Garrett Harker, unabashed rosé fanatic and owner of the popular Boston restaurant and cocktail bar Eastern Standard.

Indeed, many regular wine drinkers are convinced that every rosé will taste like Sutter Home (on second thought, better to name and shame), so they avoid imbibing pink-hued vino at all costs. But this conviction is misguided. Dry pink wines can offer all the complexity and intrigue you would expect from a good red or white. In fact, for the savvy, bargain-hunting wine consumer, rosé offers some of the best value out there.

FRENCH INSPIRATION

Maja Baltus, sommelier at Toronto’s FOUR restaurant, says classic French rosé wines have little more than color in common with the dreaded white zin. The good stuff, she says, is as beguiling as the wild countryside of Provence, from where much of it originates — “pure fruit flavors are always present, and are usually accompanied by a hint of spice or some wild herbal characteristics.” Not the notes you would expect from a blush.

As with all traditional European wines, the rosés of Provence have been crafted to compliment the local climate, food, and culture — a concept the French refer to as terroir. Local grape varieties from this region — which produces about half of all French pink wine — like Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre are featured in most bottles of rosé you’ll find. The wines are produced by leaving the juice from red grapes in contact with their skins for less time than would normally be the case with a red wine, imparting a full flavor but retaining a refreshing and restrained element.

CHANGE WE CAN DRINK

Happily, perceptions about rosé among American wine drinkers are changing fast. Nick Gorevic, a New York City wine educator and blogger at HomeWineSchool.com, says the backlash against pink wine is finally coming to an end. He has observed liberated scions of the wine cognoscenti, curious newcomers, and casual quaffers flocking to rosé wines in increasing numbers over the last few years. Unlikely rosé converts are popping up everywhere. Garrett of Eastern Standard, which serves top rosé in the shadow of Boston’s fabled Fenway Park, says nothing delights him more before a Red Sox game than seeing “a big hulking guy in a David Ortiz jersey going pink.”

Now that a growing number of intrepid winos have discovered pink, what should they do with it? In France, the wine is well suited to the outdoor lifestyle enjoyed by les provençois, and of course the seafood they graze on during those long lazy luncheons. But rosé, it seems, is tailor-made for the American palate, too. “It pairs well with most food associated with warm weather and outdoor gatherings,” says Kevin Robinson, winemaker and partner at Brassfield Estate Winery in California. “Try it with picnics, barbeque, or just about any other rustic fare associated with warm weather and outdoor gatherings.”

So there you have it. Back away from blush and embrace rosé. This wine has merit among both wine geeks and industry folk, and is favored in the greatest wine country of all. Ask your local wine store for dry rosé from Provence. Failing that, try examples that can be just as good from the Loire, Côtes du Ventoux, Languedoc, or Côtes du Rhône. You are virtually guaranteed to get a fascinating wine for $15 or less. What more encouragement do you need? It’s time to start living la vie en rosé.

BEST VALUE BOTTLES OF THE MONTH

Domaine Houchart, Côtes de Provence Rosé, 2008 ($11)
A widely available, great value introduction to the Provence region. Buy this wine and ask moneyed friends or relatives to bring the great but more expensive Bandol when you invite them over for a cook-off. (Widely available in stores and from WittysWine.com)

Guigal, Côtes du Rhône Rosé, 2007 ($15)

This is a great starter wine from a big and well-known producer. All the characteristics you can expect from good, dry pink wine: abundant summer fruits on the nose and palate. This one is good with or without food. (Widely available in stores and from Wine.com)

Ravines, Pinot Rosé, Finger Lakes, NY, 2007 ($15)

Here’s something a little different: owner and winemaker Morten Hallgren was born in Denmark, but raised in his family’s estate and vineyards in Provence. He brings all the traditional winemaking practices from the great rosé region to his Finger Lakes pink. Strawberry cheesecake dominates on the nose, while the exceedingly dry palate delivers lots of pink grapefruit, a bit of strawberry, and a clean, crisp, and lasting finish. Serve this one with grilled meat. (Available at a limited number of wine stores and at RavinesWineCellars.com)

Story: Copyright 2009, Shoestring LLC. Photo: iStock.