Elegance and finesse of dry rosé

I've received a few questions regarding rosé wines recently, so I thought I'd talk about what they are and aren't.

Rosé sales run hot from about July till the end of the year, with a huge spike around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Rosé has gone through a significant metamorphosis in the past 10 years, exploding in quality, availability and respect.

As early as 1995, U.S. rosés were disdained as sweet, cotton-candy offerings best served in ice buckets. Wines with a rosé color were finishing last on the respect scale and actually offended hosts who received them as gifts. I remember going to an open house in Ashland some years ago when a rosé was given to a host and she hid the darned thing from sight! I thought it was a bit harsh and uncalled for, but the truth was that those who considered themselves wine aficionados shuddered to think about drinking an American rosé wine. There are reasons for this.

The American wine industry, quite clearly, was dealing with a dilemma several decades ago. The emerging wine drinker from the 1950s demanded a product with some residual sugar. Unlike the Europeans, the American consumer drank non-aperitif wine as a cocktail or as a beverage without food. This necessitated an offering without the "serious" intent of a dry, oaked red or white wine.

The industry came up with a hybrid called a "blush" to satisfy the casual, non-cuisine wine drinker, something with a little residual sugar and acid. Sutter Home White Zinfandel, which came along in the 1970s, fit the bill. Almaden Nectar rosé was a staple among those wishing a sweeter beverage for sipping. (The winery also had a pretty good grenache rosé for those who wished a drier option.)

Our European brothers, on the other hand, provided dry rosés that were staples at the dinner table. These wines were serious contenders and demonstrated finesse, elegance, superb balance and the ability to complement a tremendous selection of different cuisine.

My initial introduction to these fresh releases came while I was working at wineries around France. At first, with my winery buddies, I resisted the rosés because I thought them sweet. But after a few very good examples of rosé from the Rhone, I was hooked. I was blown away by the remarkable flavor sensations in these wines.

The dry offerings came from many red varietals, such as cabernet sauvignon, syrah and cabernet franc, rosés that simply were not seen in the United States before. The other amazing thing about these rosés was their alcohol level. In the United States, blush wines rarely hit over 10 percent alcohol. In France and Italy, rosés routinely had 12.5 percent or higher alcohol, resulting in dry, complex wines in which the fermentation cycle was brought to fruition.

In July 1971, I attended a rosé tasting of more than 50 wines from around France in the town of Bordeaux. It was an industry tasting, not open to the general public. The tasting was, therefore, quite serious as money and promises were exchanged among restaurant, winery and retail outlets and very serious tastings evaluations were carried out during the day and evening. This was a huge learning situation for me at the time, evaluating rosé with some of the best palates in France.

When I returned home, I brought with me a case of these rosé beauties and held my own tasting in California, where many folks in the industry attended. It was a huge success and opened many to the elegance and finesse of dry rosé wines.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at razz49@aol.com.

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