In vino veritas, part XIV: Rosé for summer

Everyone knows what rosé wine looks like and that it’s great for summer dining. Beyond matching the name and the season, though, the rest is an enigma.

One goal of this running wine education series has been to bestow you with some basic wine facts so you can pass that knowledge on to your patrons with the hope of building rapport and initiating a sale. That said, if your customers have a little more insight about rosé, perhaps it won’t be an intimidating line of text on the menu, and you’ll soon find yourself out of stock!

The first myth to bust: rosé is not a blend of white-skinned and dark-skinned varietals, at least not real rosé. Instead, think of it as an incomplete red. The grapes are crushed and allowed to soak for a few days, but then the skins are drained away from the juice as opposed to being kept in for the fermentation leg of the procedure. Typically, the amplitude of rosé’s red-violet coloration is determined by how long the skins are left in contact with the juice prior to pressing.

As a side note, one rarer form of rosé — the vin gris — is the result of immediately pressing the grapes with no time allowed for maceration (that is, the soaking or leaching of pigments from the skins into the juice). Vin gris is a hard find, partly because of low awareness (lack of demand) but also because the process doesn’t allow for a high yield (less revenue). If you ever stumble upon one, give it a try — the pale amber-pink color and subtle cherry-melon tastes are impeccable.

In general though, rosés have a vibrant rouge color with a range of fruity flavors but far less of a sugary spike like that of whites. Part of what makes rosé so well equipped for summer, and especially alfresco dining, is the way such wines pair with seasonal dishes. These light reds can work with nearly any type of poultry or fish main as well as sides of bitter greens, carbs or succulent fruit, and the dry acidic taste of this beverage will never dominate or obfuscate the dish. In short, they are very food-friendly and extraordinarily flexible in application. That, and they are served chilled to offset a hot day.

The largest producer of rosé also happens to be a part of the world with the quintessentially ideal summer — Provence. This is where the technique was honed, and it is where you’ll source the best rosé wines. But also keep your tongue alert for interesting batches from Spain, Italy, South Africa, South America and, of course, California. I’ve always found the traditionally hearty deep grapes do not make for the best rosé. I normally adhere to Pinot Noir, Grenache, Gamay, Syrah and other soft reds.

If you’re finding rosé is a tough sell as a table wine for the course of a meal, consider positioning it as a starter wine — as a sangria-esque alternative to an opening round of drinks prior to appetizers or entrées. These “light reds” can also be introduced as a more sophisticated substitute for white wine. Any way you go about it, summer is here, and rosé should be top of mind for your staff and your guests.