21-07-2018

The daze of rosés

It’s somewhere around the second half of July where Rosé season officially opens in Europe. When does it close? Well, that used to be the end of August when you could go visit Paris and even the homeless would be suckling a bottle of the pink stuff in the park. Nowadays, it seems the season never ends until the tap runs dry. And, as Rosé is a young wine that (really really shouldn’t) see any oak aging, the tap is handily-refilled every harvest and thus, #roséallday is upon us.

As far as these things go, I mind it less than the Kardashians and more than cronut. The former is a vapid wasteland of a family that embodies all that is wrong with our culture while the latter is over-hyped but damned delicious. Rosé sits in the middle of this vast Kardashian/Cronut Divide as I can and do indeed enjoy it. I don’t go out of my way to find it but if it’s what’s on the table and well made, I’ll definitely indulge.

This is a long way to get into the fact that all wine writers are writing about Rosé at the moment and I might as well also. Such an article released in November is a lot like showing up to an ex’s wedding; invitation or not it’s just simply out of place.

I’ve recently been tasting about 200 wines from a single region in Spain that’s primarily a red producer with a base of Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, and splashy hot potato of Tempranillo tossed in for kicks and giggles. Of the 200 labels I sampled, there were about 20 of them that were Rosés which is a rather shockingly-high proportion of 10% (whites were just a touch higher at 15% of the total). Of them, 25% where quite good, 50% were okay, and the remaining 25% were putrid. This is interesting to note as it’s basically what I find to be the three styles of Rosé.

The Good

What makes a good Rosé these days? Liz Gabay MW wrote a whole book about the subject so she can clearly advise as to the finer details on the subject. For me, it’s quite simply: character and clarity. It doesn’t really matter if it’s the darker Tavel or the lighter Provence style and in fact the Rosés I enjoyed ran the entire color spectrum which shows that it’s not really as much of an indicator as one might think.

In these wines, there was a defined character and I could tell they were from a warmer growing climate in Spain but at the same time, they all held nuance. Picking was done thoughtfully and the idea was to make a Rosé wine from the start clearly. Deep, complex flavors were apparent and again, quite varied between them but they all spoke to me and lastly, they were all dry wines.

The Meh

Again, much like the good wines above, color and approach was quite scattered but the one aspect that bound all of them is that they were sweet. I don’t have exact residual sugar (RS) counts from the winemakers but they seemed to range from a just-perceptible yet poorly-integrated 7g up to at least 15g. The sugar was sloppy, sticky, and did nothing to enhance the wines.

Why is Brut Champagne so popular? Because that 12g of sugar balances and smooths out the searing acidity in Champagne wonderfully. It’s also why Brut Nature, essentially no sugar in Cava works so well as the acid is so much lower. Residual sugar in wine is like Jeff Goldblum in a movie: a little splash like Thor: Ragnorak is great, but a massive dose like Independence Day and it’s going to wear on you. Balance is key with RS and in these middling Rosés, it was if the bosses were telling the winemakers, “We hear people like sweet shit. Make the Rosé sweet!” and thus, they were and thus, they had no depth, no character, impossible to perceive acidity, and no length.

These might be decent opinions if in the market for Yacht Rosé, but even that would be a stretch.

The Bad

And these wines were why Rosé was disliked for so long. Take some young vines or others grown in crappier locations and just toss whatever you have together. Smooth it out on the palate with maybe a bit of malolactic conversion or other treatments. Then, bind it by leaving a good deal of RS to cover up whatever else you couldn’t hide.

These aren’t wines that are crap because they’re Rosé. They’re crap because they’re produced without attention and in a manner that’s the polar opposite to the good batch. Garbage in, garbage out.

Given that I’m opening everything to taste with Coravin these days, I’ve put aside the good group. The bads had a date with my abused kitchen sink. As for the mehs, I’ve no idea. Maybe it’s high time that I go shopping for a yacht to drink them on.