Rose is hot, and has been hot for a number of years. The gradual understanding that all that is pink is not white zin is well established now with the dry Provence rose being on a tear for several years now. As we guzzle more and more Provence Rose, this popularity combined with two rather poor harvests in the region are pushing prices higher and higher. It's not just us who love the pink stuff, the French themselves are drinking more and more Rose with projections that they will soon be drinking more rose than white wine in just a few years! But as fads become trends become mainstream, people get bored and look for what's new. No one is ready to give up their rose just yet but with the Provence style well established and dominating, the potential usurpers are rumbling in the fringes!
Dry rose is not unique to Provence, nor is it unique to France. Its most likely an older style than your basic red given its simpler production methods. Every wine producing country makes rose, and there are some beautiful styles and incredible bargains to be had away from the glitz of Marseilles. Here are just a few.
Portugal's isolation at the tip of the Iberian peninsula with the ocean to the west and mountains to the east was known to the ancient Phoenicians who planted grapes in the fertile river valleys thousands of years ago. The isolation has meant grapes long lost in other regions are still found here and often only here. Just 20 odd miles inland from the bustling capital of Lisbon in rolling hills lies vineyards planted with varietals as eclectic as Castelão, Camarate and as familiar as Cabernet Sauvignon which all find their way into the Casa Santos Lima "Lab" Rose. This doesn't even pretend to copy the Provence style showing soft peach, ripe strawberry and tangy nectarine flavors with crisp acidity in a very drinkable style. While this region is generally only known for its citrusy Vinho Verde, it obviously has more up its sleeve. Plus with a $8-$11 per bottle price tag, it's not only flying under the radar but flying way under the average Provence bottle price.
If the dryer European rose styles are not enough to woo you away from your White Zin but you still want to stretch your wine wings you may have had trouble finding other roses showing that little more sweetness. They are definitely harder to find but there is at least one sweeter rose appellation that warrants a sip or two. A world away from the sunny Mediterranean Cote d'Azur and its tan, vespa-laden lovelies is France's Loire Valley. Wine aficionados generally have heard of the Loire's Sancerre, where Sav Blanc seems to have originated and have likely experienced the laser focused, flinty gooseberry flavors wrapped in tongue shredding acidity. They may have even tasted the similarly austere Muscadet from the other end of the Loire but between the two lies a wealth of diverse styles from diverse varietals. In this cool northerly climate, they somehow manage to not only ripen such thick skinned beasts as Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon but use them in concert with Cab Franc, Gamay and some local characters like Grolleau and Pineau d’Aunis to create some of the softest and sweetest roses made anywhere in France, and really anywhere else in Europe. A bottle marked Rose d'Anjou can be made with any of the above, the often sweeter Cabernet d'Anjou is limited to Cab Sav and Cab Franc. Either of these will give you a soft, rich, sweet depth of flavor for those wanting sweetness but will marry that sweetness with a true (and un-adulterated!) acidity that makes any food taste better at bottle prices from $10-$15. They may be hard to track down, but they are worth digging for.
Though my own, favorite summer rose comes from the cool, North-west corner of Spain. Spain has a long rose tradition in regions like Navarra and even down into the warm Valencia with well known varietals like Garnacha and Tempranillo. But if you continue up the river Sill way past the Albarinjo vineyards of Rias Biaxas into the high country where the winters are cold but the sun shines just a bit more in the summer is Bierzo with its signature red grape Mencia. This increasingly respected grape can make lovely reds akin to Pinot Noir or Cab Franc and is seldom made into rose. We found the Armas de Guerra Bierzo Rosado a few years back and every year we reserve as much as we can at my wine bar. From 50 year old vines at almost 2,000 feet elevation its one of the lightest roses you'll see in the glass boasting unique character that once drawn in you can't resist having more. Imagine a classically trained ballerina that was raised in a family of Flamenco dancers. The character has precision with light river stone and pure balanced acidity but with sultry melon, barely ripe strawberry, white peach and a hint of fennel. It is unlike any other without trying to be different, a natural perfection built of simplicity. Exotic but easy to know... Yes, I'm a little fond of it and retailing between $10 and $14, its a stunning value.
Yes, Provence is beautiful and delicious this time of year but there is plenty of amazing roses out there for the traveler willing to risk only a $20 bill for a trip to an unknown region to obtain new experiences and find new loves.
Barney Treadway - WEI President