Do real men drink pink?
Retail shops in Westchester and Fairfield counties are reporting a dramatic rise in the sales of Rosé. When shopkeepers are asked who’s drinking all this wine, the answer is uniformly “everyone” – though they’re quick to point out that what’s primarily being purchased are not sweet, fruity white Zinfandels from California but dry, fragrant thirst-quenchers from Provence. That observation is bolstered by a 62-percent increase in exports of these wines to the United States in the past year.
“What we’re seeing in the U.S. market reflects a global trend,” says Julie Peterson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. office of the Vins de Provence trade group.
Among the reasons is the realization that pink drinks aren’t only for women, with Rosés offering a welcome alternative to other warm-weather quaffs. It’s a message that the males of the species have taken to heart. At a recent tasting of more than a dozen Rosés from Provence – conducted at my home among five married couples – the men seemed more responsive to these wines than the women, noting that the vintages were perfect to mate with a wide range of fare or to sip alone on the back porch on a hot summer day instead of a gut-busting beer. Indeed, some informal surveys reveal that a major driving force behind the sales increase of Rosés from Provence is the association of these wines with a healthy Mediterranean lifestyle and diet – a concept that has caught on particularly with men who strive to be physically fit.
So how are these wines from Provence produced to differ so markedly from the syrupy stuff from California?
Most commonly, Rosé is made from red grapes by letting the skins have very brief contact with the juice before fermenting so as to pick up a bit of color and flavor, but not astringent tannin. It can also be produced by mixing red and white wine, but this process is thought of as inferior and illegal in Provence. The degree of sweetness is determined by the ripeness of the grapes at the time of harvest – the riper the grapes the more natural sugar they contain – and the extent to which fermentation with yeast converts the natural sugar to alcohol and water. Very ripe grapes and/or incomplete conversion leave more than a touch of residual sugar – a frequent finding in white Zinfandel, but not so with most Rosés from Provence.
A major factor in the production of the fragrant bouquet and crisp taste of Rosé is controlling the temperature of the fermentation process, usually accomplished by the procedure taking place in large stainless steel tanks fitted with special equipment to run coolant around the outside surface. Following fermentation, the wine is usually treated like a white with some amount of time generally spent in stainless steel or concrete tanks to allow for the particles to drop to the bottom of the tank (clarification). Bottling generally takes place within a year of the harvest.
Because they are quite sensitive to heat and light, Rosés from Provence, once bottled, should be consumed young. In fact, bottles on store shelves over three years from vintage date rarely show the optimum fruity bouquet and taste and crisp finish so characteristic of these wines. Also, over-chilling causes a masking of the flavor of these wines with a resultant tartness. As to mating with food, try them with mild cheeses, any of an array of hors d’oeuvres, including pigs-in-a-blanket, mini quiches and spanakopita; appetizers like shrimp, oysters and Caprese or Caesar salads; and main- course fare like cold poached salmon, barbecued chicken and even veal chops. However, Rosés make poor matches for beef, lamb and sweet desserts.
Based on two recent tastings among knowledgeable consumers, the following were the half-dozen most popular Rosés from Provence (in alphabetical order) from a total of 18 locally available brands. Of note, all showed a pale pink hue, the bouquet and taste of strawberries and ripe peaches and a crisp finish. What set the favorite brands apart was a good balance of fruit and acidity as compared with those less preferred, which seemed to lack either adequate fruit and/or acidity so that they seemed dull on the palate. Typical retails prices for 750ml bottles are provided.
2010 Chateau d’Escalans ($16)
2010 Chateau Sainte Marguetire Grande Reserve ($26)
2010 Domaine Houchart ($10)
2010 Domaine Ott Les Domaniers ($16)
2010 L’espirit de Sainte Marguerite ($16)
2010 Whispering Angel ($14)