by Jenny Benzie – Advanced Sommelier + Certified Wine Educator, – Proprietress of Épernay Wine & Spirits
Forget about St. Tropez and St. Barts. We have it all here on Nantucket right now, including the same dry rosés you were sipping on in those other locales. Rosé wines come in all shapes and sizes these days. Just like Champagne, there is an appropriate rosé to offer for every situation on Nantucket: a beach day with friends at Ladies Beach, entertaining on your boat at Tuckernuck or just having a simple glass of wine at your favorite oyster bar. Figuring out which ones you like can be easy with a few key hints that help you to decipher what is in the bottle before even opening it.
For starters, does a pale hue color mean a better wine? Not necessarily. The difference in color is a result of several factors, including the composition of the grape itself, the region or climate where the grapes are grown, and the specific winemaking technique that is used.
The color extraction in rosé wines varies based on what grapes are used to make the wine. According to “The Rosé Barometer” developed by Chateau d’Esclans (more on that winery later), colors can range from light pink, rose petal, coral, cotton candy, cherry red to blush. Think about the red wines you drink and the color of those wines in the glass. To make rosé wine, you typically take these same red grapes and press the juice off the skins right away so that very little color is extracted from the pigmentation of the skins. Leaving the skins in contact with the juice for 24-48 hours can also increase color extraction. Grapes that are thin-skinned (think Pinot Noir) tend to make a lighter shade of wine than one made from a thick-skinned grape (think Cabernet Sauvignon). Most Italian grape varieties (Nebbiolo, Sangiovese) have a bit of an orange, salmon-colored hue. Grenache is a grape that is highly oxidative, so its wines are copper or a bit rusty in color.
What if the rosé is made from a blend of grapes? Then look to see on the label where the wine originated. Wines from cool climate areas will have more acidity (that mouth watering sensation you feel after taking a sip of wine) which makes the wine pair exceptionally well with the acidity in food. Warm climate wines will have moderate acidity, making them perhaps more quaffable on their own, but with a little more richness, texture and depth on the palate. Wines grown near the seaside come from sandy soils that drain well, so the vines have to work harder to get nutrients from the earth. They also have to deal with the elements of being near the sea. (Think Grey Lady.) These tough conditions result in a complex, layered wine that is guaranteed to please even if you hold on to it for a couple of years.
How does winemaking affect rosé? While most rosés are made in stainless steel tanks and meant to be consumed young and fresh, a few are aged for a longer duration of time in seasoned (i.e., used many times) oak barrels to add length and texture to the wine. On my fall visit to Provence, every single producer offered us at least two different rosé wines: one young & fruit-forward and the other a ‘gastronomic’ selection that was drier. Sometimes a third selection was offered: either from a specific vineyard or specially selected as the winemaker’s personal favorite from the cellar.
I am sure you see now that not all rosés are created equally and there really is a difference in what you find in the bottle. Here a few rosés to try from across the spectrum that will show you how different rosé wines can be.
Domaines Ott is one of (if not the most) well-known producer of rosé from Southern France. But did you know that they actually have 3 different properties and make a different wine at each spot? You will be sure to recognize their trademark bowling pin shaped bottle that has been replicated by others to show the authenticity of a wine from the Côtes de Provence region. Another unique fact is that Ott is the only winery in Provence that uses a family name instead of the name of the estate. Therefore, Monsieur Ott had to add the star to his name when he wanted to trademark the brand. You will also see that the name actually reads Domaines with an “s.” Each of these wines will have the brand name on the label along with the name of the property and the region where the grapes were grown and wine produced. (Côtes de Provence – Château de Selle, Clos Mireille; Bandol – Château Romassan.)
Château d’Eslans is another well-known Provencal winery. The property is owned by Sacha Lichine, whose father was the famous wine writer Alexis Lichine. They make four different Rosés, all from the same property. The further up the hill you go in the vineyard, the better quality of grapes you’ll find, as quality is based on increased elevation and the older age of the vines. The higher end selections, “Les Clans” and “Garrus” (Latin for Bear, referring to the bears that used to roam the area), are aged in oak. The“Whispering Angel” is a huge hit at the Nantucket Wine Festival. Drink too much of it and you might become a “Screaming Devil!”
Pascal Jolivet, a well-known winemaker from the Sancerre region of the Loire Valley in France, decided to follow the rosé lead of his good friend Sacha Lichine. Having spent a lot of time in South Beach and St. Barts, he knew the popularity of dry rosés. He took the grapes he used for Pinot Noir production and designated them to make his own pink wine. This has all the fruit of Provence with the minerality that is evident from Sauvignon Blanc of Sancerre. This is the rosé of summer and a must-try, whether you are new to the pink scene or a professional pink drinker.
For everyday drinking, look no further than the Hecht & Bannier from Côtes de Provence. Not only does it come in a sleek, contemporary package, it is sealed with a glass stopper that is re-useable on most other bottles in place of a cork. This winery buys the best juice from small local vignerons who grow only enough to make a small amount of wine for themselves, then sell the rest of their grapes. Fruity, fun, and easy to open when you forgot your corkscrew.
I am a sommelier, and the most common rosé questions I receive are as follows: should rosé only be consumed in the summer, and must it be the current release? My answers are always the same. No, neither is necessary. Especially if you want to reminisce about when you were drinking it during your Nantucket summer escapades, no matter where you may be.