FOOD & WINE Everything’s Coming Up Rosé

It’s that time of year again, so which rosé should you buy? F&W’s Ray Isle reveals the bottles that make him happy.

Here’s something to think about. Out of a hundred different bottles of rosé, I’d hazard a guess that ?at least 90 are totally interchangeable. And I’m just fine with that.

As long as a rosé is pleasantly crisp, charming to look at, appropriately chilled and served to you in something other than a shoe, it will provide happiness. Some wines deserve quiet thought and contemplation. Rosé is not one of them. (If, at a party, someone starts talking to you about the raspberry nuances and subtle spice notes of the rosé you’re drinking, you’re officially allowed to push him or her into the pool.) Rosé is a wine of the moment. It’s a fling. People get married to Burgundy. Rosé, they wake up in the morning and realize they’ve forgotten its name.

This lack of seriousness may help account for rosé’s startling rise in popularity. Ten years ago, no one in the US drank it. If you wanted pink wine, you drank White Zinfandel, often in a retirement home. Now things are different. Essentially, over the past few years everyone has decided they want to spend the entire summer drinking as much rosé as humanly possible—something like 500 million bottles per year in the US alone, according to recent statistics. In France, people now drink more rosé than they do white wine.

Because of that enormous thirst, there are now inexpensive rosés from every wine region on earth, made from every red grape variety imaginable. Recently, I’ve tried new versions from Provence, rosé’s homeland, plus Shiraz rosés from Australia, Nebbiolo rosés from Piedmont and Agiorgitiko rosés from Greece—and that’s just the start. Chilean rosé? Sure. Lebanese rosé? Of course. Rosé from Georgia? No problem. Would you prefer one from the Southern state or the former Soviet republic?

That all these regions are capable of producing pleasant, inexpensive rosé is excellent news for fans like me. A short winemaking lesson reveals why terroir is relatively unimportant: Producers simply need to pick grapes on the early side (to keep acidity high and alcohol low) and allow minimal skin contact during fermentation (hence the pink hue), and that’s most of the rosé in the world. Alternatively, rosé can be a by-product of making red wine: Early on, before the wine has fully absorbed the color from the skins, the winemaker bleeds off some of the pink juice (hence the name for this process, saignée—French for “bled”). This both intensifies the color of the red wine and produces rosé to sell during the two or three years that the red is sitting in a barrel.

Of course, the relative similarity of most rosés doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to have favorites. Most of » mine are from France: Provence, where rosé has always been a focus of the region (Domaine Houchart and Commanderie de la Bargemone come to mind); a few are from the Languedoc (Moulin de Gassac); and a few more are from the Rhône (Laurence Féraud’s Pink Pégau, and Château d’Aquéria from Tavel, another region where, surprisingly, rosé is the only wine produced). There are also rosés that transcend the ordinary, like Domaine Tempier’s glorious Bandol rosé. However, a bottle of Tempier—a wine I probably would marry—runs about $40.

When it comes to rosé, I find that I only need to spend about half that amount or less to find contentment. The same seems to be true for the St. Tropez yacht owners and Hamptons weekenders who have turned Sacha Lichine’s Whispering Angel rosé from Provence into an “it” wine. In 2006, when Lichine launched Whispering Angel, he sold 3,500 cases; last year he sold 280,000. Lichine also makes a top-of-the-line (and quite beautiful) luxury bottling called Garrus, using fruit from 80-year-old vines on his property. Garrus is a rosé that truly does deserve serious reflection—and at $100 a bottle, it had better. Lichine wants to bring rosé the same respect the great white and red wines of the world receive. That’s a worthy goal. Maybe even a noble one.

But at the same time, when sitting by the water on a sunny day with a glass of rosé in hand, who wants to spend their time seriously reflecting on anything?

Top Rosés for Summer

Wine producers around the world make appealing rosés, but those in southern France have an inarguable gift for making light, refreshing versions.

2015 Whispering Angel Rosé ($22)
Sacha Lichine’s basic bottling is wildly popular, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also a superb, carefully crafted wine.

By Ray Isle