Mateus, Lancers and Sutter Home. Three iconic wineries that have introduced more people to wine than perhaps any other trio of wine producers in human history.
The first two, Mateus and Lancers, started exporting their simple, slightly bubbly, subtly sweet, pink wines from Portugal to the U.S. and the rest of Europe shortly after World War II. Sales records were set year upon year until the 1980s.
That’s when Napa winemaking legend Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home picked up the slack with his white zinfandel, which was everything that Mateus and Lancers were except for the bubbles. All three maintain fairly robust sales.
And while these wines enticed millions of college-aged men and women into the fold of wine lovers, they caused cataclysmic damage to the reputation of pink (a.k.a. rosé) wines.
For millennia in wine, pink was it. Hard to believe, but in the Middle Ages the robust, red wines of Bordeaux more resembled the inside of a watermelon in color than to today’s dark garnet wines. These pinkish wines were left in contact with their skins for as little as one day. They were preferred over redder versions that had longer skin contact, which were considered bitter and harsh.
Wine consumers these days have lost their reverence for pink wines. Most of us tend to associate delicious, tart and beguilingly complex pink wines with the wines of Mateus, Lancers and the white zinfandels of the world. Not that there’s anything wrong with slightly sweet, pink wines, but by any objective standard they pale in comparison to the dry versions from the U.S., Italy, Spain, Greece and France—especially those from Provence and nearby locales along the Mediterranean.
I could easily point to sales gains made by dry pink wines in recent years as a hopeful sign. There is, indeed, a long-simmering trend toward this style of wine. However, having spent most of the past two years either: a.) trying to convince customers that dry pink wines are not sweet and have very little in common with white zinfandels besides their color, or b.) recommending dry pink wines to knowledgeable wine enthusiasts, who still wrinkle their noses and suggest that these aren’t “serious” wines, I’m not optimistic.
“You gotta be kidding me, I wouldn’t even pay 20 bucks for a rosé!” one customer declared after I proffered a $30 pink wine from Bandol, located in the southeastern tip of France that juts into the Mediterranean. The same customer then turned 180 degrees (in the very same aisle, mind you) and put a $45 red wine from the Rhône Valley in his basket.
So what’s a dry pink wine lover/wine writer to do?
Well, I should count my blessings. There sure are a lot more choices than there were 10-15 years ago. In many ways, though, the mountaintop of dry pink wine awareness is as far away as ever.
So, I guess this time next year, I will once again remind everyone that dry pink wines are the antidote to steamy summer weather; they make wonderful companions to anything coming out of a picnic basket, but also work with more complex dishes (what would you pair with a whole, pan-roasted red snapper with braised greens, olives, fennel and smoked chili peppers? I know my choice.). It’s hard, but I will continue to look at the world through my lonely rosé-colored wine glass.
Gil Kulers is a sommelier and maitre d’ for an Atlanta country club. 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