Saturday, May 15, 2021
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Rosé may be a casual quaff, but vintage still matters

Visit your local wine store now, and you might hear “La Vie en Rose” over the sound system. Displays that featured cabernet sauvignon a few weeks ago have given over to pink bouquets of rosés to mark the change of seasons. Cherry trees and magnolias are in bloom, our spirits and palates brighten, and these cheerful wines help us welcome the Earth’s tilt toward the sun.

Don’t be surprised if you see more rosés than before on your favorite store’s shelves. Sales have exploded as consumers have abandoned their fear of pink and embraced these refreshing wines of spring and summer.

Provence, in southern France, is considered the homeland of rosé. Every time I drink a bottle of Provence rosé (and I have been known to bogart them), I think back to my only visit to the region, 19 years ago: the wonderful food, the bustling markets, the lavender, the salty tang of the Mediterranean air. I recall the beautiful hill towns, such as Les Arcs, where we were run off by an angry mob after unknowingly driving through the square on market day. (Our guidebook had described Les Arcs as “a charming town of friendly vignerons.”) And about halfway through the bottle, I think of my wife surveying the beach at Nice and exclaiming, “There’s a naked woman sunbathing over there! Dave, don’t look!”

I must not be the only one with such dreams of Provence. For 12 years, the region’s rosé exports to the United States have risen by double digits, according to the Wines of Provence trade association. Last year, they surged 58 percent in volume over 2014 – and those figures don’t include rosés from other regions or countries.

Rosé sales in restaurants also have been on the rise, especially in French restaurants that indulge our travel dreams.

“Ten years ago, we used to sell three cases of rosé a month. But now we sell 30,” says Yannis Felix, co-owner of Bistrot Du Coin in Washington.

There’s a definite consumer preference for Provence rosé, while others take effort to sell, he says. “Anyone who looks for rosé will want one from Provence, but if you like rosé and I tell you I have a good one from Bordeaux, I have a good chance to sell you a glass.”

Rosé is a seasonal wine, appreciated for its freshness, and we favor the most recent vintage. That means we’ll be unfairly dismissing the 2014s that remain in our cellars or on retail shelves and restaurant lists. Rosé often improves for a year or two, so don’t count out any 2014s you may have on hand. If you still have 2013s, try them now, but have a younger backup on hand.

Vintage does matter, even for a casual sipping wine such as rosé. Last year was beautiful throughout France and much of Europe, with warm, dry conditions leading to an early, ripe harvest. That was great for Bordeaux and Burgundy, as well as for cooler areas in the Loire Valley and Alsace. But in Provence, such a vintage is a mixed bag for rosé. That’s because grapes for rosé are picked earlier than grapes for bigger red wines, when acid is higher relative to sugar. In an “early” vintage such as the 2015, the amount of sugar in the grapes can increase earlier than normal, and when vignerons aren’t careful (if they’re distracted by chasing clueless American tourists out of town, for example), the grapes can get too ripe.

Many of the 2015 rosés I’ve tasted from Provence and other regions of southern France show a bit of uncharacteristic sweetness, a trait of the ripe vintage. That may be a good selling point in the American market. But although the best wines have enough acidity to keep the sugar in balance, I’ve tasted several – including some of my traditional favorites – that are downright flabby and undrinkable.

That’s a caveat, not a warning. After all, there are delicious pink wines made all around the world. Pour a rosé you like, shed the cares of the day and consider your true priorities under the setting sun.

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