An age-and-a-half ago, Americans had to search high and low for a decent dry rosé. And these would be the very few Americans who recognized the distinct differences between the ubiquitous, slightly sweet white zinfandels that roamed the wine aisles of the 1980s and the tart, refreshing, spicy, decidedly un-sweet pink wines from Italy, France and Spain.
Dry pink wines have come a long way, but still suffer a bit from an identity crisis among American wine lovers. With the same intensity of Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man, shoppers still ask: “Is it safe? Is it safe??” Meaning, of course, are these pink wines free from the residual sugar found in white zinfandels (and more recently white merlots)?
Channeling my best Dustin Hoffman, I assure these curious wine lovers: “Yes, it’s safe. It’s very safe. It’s so safe you wouldn’t believe it.”
Unlike the desert years when the few available dry pink wines were quite expensive, today’s rosé aficionados have a bevy of choices under $20, with quite a few under $10. A survey of one Atlanta wine shop turned up 34 choices from six countries and 21 recognized wine regions. Prices ranged from $6 to $74.
How does one make a dry pink wine? With a dry pink winemaker, of course. These winemakers use one of three ways to make a dry pink wine, but we won’t address the method used by barbarians who simply mix in a little red wine with white wine.
The most prevalent process is called the saignée method. Saignée is French for bleeding and that is what many winemakers do in the south of France to improve their red wines. Shortly after red grapes are crushed, the resulting clear juice starts picking up pigmentation from the skins. Winemakers interested in making big, bold red wines “bleed off” the lightly colored pink juice to give the remaining juice a higher concentration of skin contact. The saignée juice is fermented dry and bottled just in time to fight off the summer heat.
Not that you can’t produce stunning pink wines using the saignée method, but more committed pink winemakers have one wine in mind when they harvest their red grapes. Winemakers, such as Château d’Esclans in Provence, which specializes in dry pink wines, let the juice from the crushed grapes absorb just enough color, aroma, flavor and tannin from the skins and then toss the skins. Pink winemakers typically harvest their grapes a little earlier than their red winemaking counterparts to ensure the resulting pink wine has ample acidity, which is the secret to a pink wine’s joyous refreshment.
As summer’s cruel heat and humidity stain my shirt with my own sweat, I consciously seek out crisp wines such as pinot grigio, riesling and albariño. Not only do they aid in self-preservation, they hit the mark with lighter summer fare. To leave bracing, dry pinks out of your Fourth of July picnic basket—or any other picnic basket—would be positively un-American.
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator and a consultant for a metro-Atlanta wine shop. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.
— Gil Kulers, AJC Drink blog