At a recent wine tasting for his community association, Tom was offering a glass of rosé to arriving guests. If there is one rule we have learned about these events is you never begin to talk until anxious guests have a glass of wine in their hands. But this time the conversation started immediately when one attendee turned up his nose at the sight of a pink wine, saying, "It's too sweet."
Alas, rosé has struggled over the years to shed its image as sweet blush wine – "white zinfandel" as Sutter Home called the market debut of this vile disaster. But slowly wine enthusiasts have come to learn that real rosé, patterned after that made in southern France, is bone dry. And, it's delicious year-round.
Led by adventurous millennials, sales of rosés have been steadily climbing in the last decade -- 62 percent is just the last year. Together, France and the U.S. consume half of the world's production of rosé.
With the tide finally turning, more producers are getting into the game. Every spring we taste a lot of rosé but never before have we seen so much of it on the market. Even wine giants like Kendall-Jackson are launching new rosé brands.
More doesn't mean better, of course. In fact, the definition of rosé is blurring as more countries are using indigenous grape varieties to expand its definition beyond the classic French rosés made from grenache, syrah, cinsault and mourvedre. Tempranillo, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and sangiovese are not unusual and offer a style that is unique to their region.
As much as we like that trend, our tasting of this year's 30-plus rosés show that quality and price aren't always equal. While producers from Provence make only rosé, other producers offer it as an after-thought. Quality and price are all over the board.
Generally, we prefer French rosé because it is delicate and balanced. California rosés tend to be fruit bombs with no attempt at delicacy. These wines are so versatile with food: chicken, salmon, crudites, fruit, pasta and burgers. And, their prices are very reasonable.
If you really want to enhance your rosé tasting experience, consider buying a pair of Riedel Vinum Extreme Provence Rosé glass ($69 a pair) that is crafted exclusively for this special drink. The glasses are a thing of beauty and we found that they enhance those delicate rosé flavors.
Because of the volume of rosés we tasted and liked, we are reviewing only our top 10 French rosés this week. Upcoming will be a longer list of California, Spanish and Italian rosés.
Chateau de Nages Vielles Vignes 2016 ($12). Made from old-vine syrah, grenache, cinsault and mourvedre, this vibrant rosé from the Costieres de Nimes has a focused clementine, orange character and a dash of mineral.
Caves d'Esclans Whispering Angel Cotes de Provence 2016 ($22). One of our favorites year to year, this refreshing rosé from Provence delivers. Pale in color, the blend of grenache, rolle and cinsault provides a citrus, grapefruit character with a dash of wet stone. Under the direction of Sacha Lichine, this brand is growing at an extraordinary rate.
M. Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rosé 2016 ($15). Wow, this Rhone blend of grenache, cinsault and syrah is what makes French rosé so great: excellent value, freshness, juicy and vibrant fruit flavors and strong acidity.
Domaine Paul Mas Astela Pastel 2015 ($18). Using grenache, syrah, mourvedre, and cinsault grapes grown in the Languedoc, this interesting wine has more dimension than most. Cherry notes.
M de Minuty 2016 ($19). Pale in color and bottled in a tall, slender glass, this light and refreshing rosé from Cotes de Provence has orange peel, strawberry and peach flavors.
Tournon Mathilda Rosé 2016 ($16). Made in a Provence style, this grenache rosé is a tribute to the daughter of the estate's owner, Michel Chapoutier. Balanced, bone dry and with raspberry and citrus flavors.
Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhone Rosé 2016 ($14). Grenache, syrah and cinsault make up this eclectic and vibrant rosé from France. This blend of grapes is ideal for rosé. Beautiful pale pink color with cherry and strawberry flavors.
E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Rosé 2016 ($15). More complex than your usual rosé, this one from the Rhone Valley uses grenache, cinsault and syrah from 25-year-old vines to create an explosion of layered flavors with a dash of mineral and spice.
Mas Carlot Cuvee Tradition Costieres de Nimes 2016 ($14). We've bought at least a case of this wine every year and it never disappoints. Loaded with fresh and lively red fruit and hints of herbs, it excites the senses on sight. Traditionally, it's a blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault.
Ferraton Pere & Fils Samorens Cotes du Rhone Rosé 2016 ($14). Round in the mouth and chock full of raspberry notes, this beguiling rosé begs for a second glass. Nice mineral notes.