There is a certain type of wine drinker who thinks of himself (it is often, but not always, a man) as being above drinking pink wine. When offered a rosé, he makes a pained look and says, “I’m not really into rosés,” and what he means is, “I know a little something about wine, you see, and I know that white, sweet, and above all pink wines are not real wines. And I drink real wines.” But if you have ever spent a summer afternoon sitting in Provence at an outdoor café overlooking the Mediterranean sea, with a plate of olives, a ham and butter sandwich, and a bottle of the local rosé, then you know very well that the real wine drinker with the pained look on his face is an idiot.
First things first: Rosés are not sweet. White Zinfandel is not a rosé.
Here’s how rosés are made. Repeat after me: Color in wine comes from the skins. No skin contact and the juice is white. So the classic way to make a rosé is to take a red grape and give it way less skin contact than normal, like a few days or maybe just a few hours. What you get is a lighter version of the red wine—no tannins, less fruit, less body and a paler color. The other common method of making rosé is what the French call “saignée,” or “bleeding.” Often, in order to concentrate his red wine, a winemaker will let some of the first juice bleed off, resulting in a more intensely concentrated red wine and a bucket full of the wine’s blood. Voila, sell it as a rosé.
But a rosé is not just a lesser version of a red wine. It is something more, as well as less. I think the word “blood,” sang in French, is appropriate, because there is something in the steely dryness of a Provencal rosé, or the rich thickness of a pink wine from Australia, that reminds me a bit of blood. In southern France, rosé is what the locals drink. They drink it year round because they know it goes perfectly with almost any food, and they know it carries with it none of the excess baggage of money, prestige, or pretentiousness that weighs down “real” wine. Rosé is like blood in southern France, where 85 percent of the wine produced is pink. It’s what the people live on, La Vie en Rosé.
Here’s how to drink rosé. With any food, any time. Do not use your fancy wine glasses, use the plain glasses you bought because they reminded you of a less complicated time in your life.
Buy a California rosé made from Pinot Noir, or an Australian one made from Syrah if you want something bigger and fuller bodied. Buy a rosé from Virginia if you want something local (our blood, true to the spirit of rosé). Hell, buy a rosé from anywhere, they probably make one, and it’s probably good. But whatever you do, buy a rosé from southern France.
Buy one from Tavel, a region in the Rhône where they only make rosés. Tavel rosés taste like fresh, wild berries. They taste like summer. Drink them cold (on the Côte d’Azur they drink them beachside on the rocks). They are dry and refreshing like no other wine. They are pink. And they are real wine, no matter what that smug moron at the tasting bar says.