Remember the "pink" and "blush" wines from the 1970s, like the one pictured right?
They were mass-produced and mass-marketed blends of white and red grapes with high alcohol content (and often with added sugar) intended for the swinging cocktail set of the era. And while we all had a grand time swinging in the '70s (at least some of us did), we missed out on what I like to call "true rosé," in other words, rosé wine that has been made by "bleeding" red grapes, using the method the French call saignée (literally, bled).
Wine gets its color from the skins of the grapes. And the winemaker can obtain a lighter or darker color in the wine by limiting or extending the amount of time the juice macerates with the skins. Champagne is a great example of a white wine made from a red grape: when the winemaker presses Pinot Noir for Champagne, the juice doesn't come into contact with the skins and as a result, the wine is white.
For the great rosés of Europe, the winemakers "bleed" red grapes as they macerate with their skins: using an aperture in the bottom of the cask or stainless-steel vat, they draw off some of the wine before it achieves its full color. The resulting rosé retains the aromatic and flavor traits of the grape variety but contains gentler tannin (the astringent "tea leaf" character of red wine, also imparted from the grape skin).
One of my favorite rosés in the Houston market these days is the 2009 Les Baux des Provence by Mas de Gourgonnier (Provence), made primarily from Grenache, with smaller amounts of Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre. This wine leads with a wonderful nose of fresh red berry and red stone fruit and in the mouth its nervy acidity and gorgeous minerality (think red rock) play counterpoint to the fruit -- the best of both worlds.
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As summer and higher temperatures arrive, we often reach for rosé at our house when we want the tannic structure of red wine without its weight and rich mouthfeel. In fact, true rosé like the Mas de Gourgonnier is a year-round affair for us because of its balanced alcohol, its bright acidity, and its wonderful flexibility: from first-course pastas and grilled and fried seafood to grilled and roast white meats, a good rosé will work well with a wide variety of dishes.
The cheap swill of the '70s eclipsed the many great, classic rosés from France (Provence, Bandol and Rhône) and Italy (Abruzzo and Apulia). The good news for us is that while we were busy swinging back then, these wines and the winemakers continued to waltz to their old-world rhythms.