Rosé is Real Wine - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Rosé is Real Wine

At NYC’s High Street on Hudson, which features eclectic farm-to-table dishes and an all-US wine list, beverage director Kirk Sutherland recently introduced a 2013 rosé from California producer Forlorn Hope. He finds that guests often love the wine—a blend of Portuguese varieties grown on decomposed granite in the Sierra Foothills—but are sometimes hesitant when they see that it’s two years older than the other rosés on his list. “Questions come up,” he says. “It becomes a hand sell, and guests need to be assured that they are ordering something special.”

The idea that rosé should be enjoyed young permeates our wine-drinking culture, but Sutherland is one of many sommeliers who would argue that, in fact, quite often rosé needs time to settle down. “As much as I love fresh, newly bottled rosé, the wines only show primary flavors: lots of acid, citrus and melon,” he says. “They can be fairly uniform.” Sutherland is keeping a few of his favorite California rosés—like Robert Sinskey’s pinot noir–based Vin Gris from Carneros and a Mendocino syrah-carignan blend from Jolie-Laide—in the cellar, to watch them evolve.

While many rosés are best drunk young, some not only improve with time, but even require it. Certain producers even hold back their rosé so that it develops complexity before release. One well-known example is the Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosado—2000 is the current vintage of this savory, amber-hued Rioja.

“Rosé is real wine; it can have the depth and complexity to be aged,” argues Pascaline Lepeltier, MS, wine director at Manhattan’s Rouge Tomate Chelsea. “I think it’s a question of the intention of the producer.” After all, she asks, if a producer approaches rosé with the same careful winemaking and farming as their white or red wine—rather than treating it as a byproduct—why wouldn’t it age just as well?

Ian Becker, wine director of the Absinthe Group restaurants in San Francisco, including the just opened Bellotta, finds that the varietal composition of a rosé often makes a difference. “We have a lot of California pinot rosé that drinks really well right after bottling,” he says. But he finds that rosés based on thicker-skinned varieties like mourvedre, syrah and grenache need a little time in the bottle to get past their reductive tendencies—that is, the flinty, oniony or rubbery sulfur compounds that can be particularly apparent shortly after bottling. Several sommeliers, in fact, mentioned purposefully exploiting this effect by buying a previous year’s rosé on close-out, when the distributor has lowered the price, since by then it’s gotten beyond its awkward phase.

“Rosé is real wine; it can have the depth and complexity to be aged.” —Pascaline Lepeltier, MS
Of the more “serious” rosés, the most well known is almost certainly Domaine Tempier’s mourvèdre-based Bandol. At Nice Matin, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Megan McDonnell lists four consecutive vintages of it, back to 2011. In youth, McDonnell explains, Bandol rosé sometimes lacks complexity, and “tastes like tart red berries and citrus.” With time, however, “suddenly all these other things pop up: rhubarb, lavender, sea air, garrigue,” says McDonnell, referring to the scent of the wild herbs of Southern France. “The acidity calms down, the complexity goes up and harmony occurs.”

For guests who desire an earthy, mineral wine, McDonnell steers them to the 2011 or 2012; if they’re after more fruity notes, she picks the 2013 or 2014.

There’s actually a deep historical reason to take rosé seriously, points out David Keck, MS, of Camerata at Paulie’s in Houston: Rosé isn’t just a recent, stylish park-and-patio phenomenon. It’s actually an ancient way of vinifying red grapes. Prior to mechanical pressing and temperature control, the juice from foot-trod grapes was usually drained off long before it could take on much color or tannin. “Skin maceration for red wine is relatively modern,” he says. Right now, he’s particularly taken with a rosé not from France or the US, but from a more ancient winemaking region: Lebanon.

“I recently did a dinner with Château Musar wines,” says Keck. “Their rosé is made like their white wine, using two indigenous [Lebanese] varieties, and they blend in a little cinsault. We tried the ’04 and the ’12—the current release of the wine. They age beautifully.”

This story was featured in W&S August 2016.

A former restaurant server, Rachel Signer knows firsthand the challenges of working for tips. She is now a Brooklyn-based writer, focused on food and wine.

This story appears in the print issue of August 2016.
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