'Tis time again for my annual pimping of pink. I've been on the proverbial wine box about rosés for several years, throwing my body up against a wall that only now is beginning to budge. This year, rosés decorated a one-page spread in the New York Times food section as well as the cover of Wine Spectator, and even burly men are deigning to drink this blushing wine worthy of respect. Things are getting sunnier for a beverage so recently relegated to the dusty bottom shelves at liquor stores ... if you could find it at all.
And by rosé I don't mean white zinfandel, the culprit that caused Americans to shun pink for years while men and women in Europe guzzled it like Budweiser at a Memorial Day picnic. Today's rosés are dry to off-dry (a tiny bit of sweetness), tart and filled with watermelon, strawberry and raspberry aromas and flavors. What's not to like? Food-friendly, acidic and fruity, they pair perfectly with summer meals and outdoor gatherings. Throw a couple of bottles in a cooler (many are screwtop, avoiding the clumsy corkscrew) and head to wherever the summer breeze blows you.
Rosés come about their color in a very natural way. Most winemakers create tint by allowing the juice from red grapes to sit with its skins for a few hours. All grape juice, no matter if the fruit appears white or red, starts out clear. Rosé wine attains a darker shade when the red grape skins stew with the juice for days or weeks, imparting a pink to reddish color. Darker rosés indicate the winemaker kept the juice sitting longer with the skins, coaxing more tannins into the wine to give it more oomph and structure. Not that you have to scrutinize these wines -- rosés are meant to be enjoyed without thought or analysis.
You can pretty much make rosé from any red grape, with my favorites coming from syrah, grenache and zinfandel (wineries fearing the "White Zin" moniker call theirs "Zinfandel Rosé). Cabernet sauvignon is also on the rise as a winemaker's grape of choice. The most famous pinks come from the Provence and Languedoc regions of France, where carafes filled with blushing wine dot outdoor café tables. And, unlike many French selections, high-quality rosés come pretty cheap. Most run between 10 and 15 bucks, depending on the label and a store's price markup.
Rosés are meant to be consumed fresh, within a year of bottling, so don't put them on the rack and forget about them. Look for the astounding 2006 vintage when shopping, and drink them cold, like you would white wine.
White zinfandel remains one of the top-selling wines in the U.S., so there's still plenty of sweet pink. This flavor comes from adding sugar or stopping fermentation before the sugar has been transformed into alcohol. Dry rosés' sugar gets eliminated through complete fermentation, yielding higher alcohol content. One reliable, yet not infallible, method of determining whether a pink packs a sugar wallop is looking at the alcohol content, usually located on the front label. Those with higher alcohol content, normally between 12.5 and 14.5 percent, are dry, and sweeter wines come in at 10-12 percent.
New York and San Francisco, two trendsetting cities for wine consumption, have been enjoying the pink stuff lately. Sell-out crowds at events featuring solely rosé wines indicate its growing popularity. Rosé is finally hip -- join the party and drink pink.
For recommendations, try a variety of rosés. You're pretty much safe quaffing any from France, where all is dry. A few American gems to look for: Hamacher Pinot Noir Rosé (Oregon, $14); Vina Robles Roseum (Paso Robles, $13); Falcor Rosé (California, $15); Solo Rosa Rosé (California, $13); Pedroncelli Zinfandel Rosé (Sonoma, $13).