If you feel the need for a good, strong bath of cynicism, gather a few sommeliers in summer and discuss rosés. They could give teenagers a few lessons in eye-rolling, lip-curling and other facial displays of exasperation.
“I can’t help it, I’m a purist,” said Alex LaPratt, the beverage director and an owner of Atrium, a new restaurant scheduled to open this summer in Brooklyn. “I think rosé as a whole is a consumer marketing product. They only want it in the summer, and then they’re done.”
LaPratt was a guest of the wine panel for a recent tasting of French rosés, along with Josh Nadel, beverage director of Andrew Carmellini’s NoHo Hospitality Group, which includes the restaurants Lafayette, Locanda Verde and the Dutch. Nadel was not about to be outdone in casting a gimlet eye toward everybody’s favorite summer wine.
“It’s the John Woo effect,” he said, referring to the action-movie director in explaining why he thinks rosés are becoming stronger and more alcoholic. “Everything is bigger, faster, stronger, harder.”
“There’s just a lot of mediocrity,” he said. “A lot of people drink rosé more as a state of mind than anything else.”
Whew! How would you like to begin a tasting of 20 French rosés from the 2012 vintage with a conversation like this? Nonetheless, fellow New York Times reporter Florence Fabricant and I were undaunted as we forged ahead.
The current state of rosés says quite a bit about the workings of fads and fashions. If you spoke to sommeliers about rosés a decade ago, the conversation would have focused on the frustration of persuading an unwilling public to give them a try. Now, the public in the summer wants little else.
The enemy has never been rosé itself. What the sommeliers resist, because they love wine so much, is unthinking drinking. That is, the unconscious gravitation toward a familiar or unthreatening sort of wine because it is the path of least resistance. That’s the reason so many in the wine trade will ridicule the Sancerre drinker, not because they have anything against Sancerre but because it’s just one of those wines (like pinot grigio or, now, rosé) that people drift toward because the name is familiar, easy to pronounce, or – consumers assume – can be ordered without inducing scorn. Unthinking drinking.
Does anybody really want to think about rosé? Why, yes, we do, because we love rosé.
Good rosé, that is. And to be honest, I must confess to enjoying a rosé state of mind myself.
Yes, I am a wine romantic. A good rosé, at a lunch outdoors, preferably seaside or at least poolside, or even on a terrace, at a sidewalk table or on a tar-paper roof, will transport me to Provence as quickly as you can say Brigitte Bardot. Good wine ought to be transporting. That’s one of its greatest strengths, and I have no doubt that the rest of the panel would agree.
But as surely as cynics are disappointed romantics, far too many rosés fail to meet the test. That is, they are heavy, lack delicacy or simply are not refreshing. I’m speaking not just of many of the French rosés we tasted, but of a disappointingly high number in the vast universe of Spanish, American, Italian and other beckoning bottles of pink wine. Good rosé must quench the thirst, first of all. Even better, it ought to energize, inspire an appetite and induce the desire for another sip.
Our favorite rosés accomplished these modest tasks very well. Few regions have been identified with rosé as much as Provence. And, not surprisingly, our tasting was dominated by Provenal rosés, accounting for 12 of the 20 bottles, and eight of our top 10. But, just as seemingly every wine-producing region on earth now makes rosés, so does the rest of France. Our selection provided only a hint of the panoply available.
The top of our list included three superb bottles. No. 1 was the Commanderie de Peyrassol from Ctes de Provence, always one of my favorite rosé producers. This bottle is the Commanderie’s entry-level rosé, generally a blend of cinsault, grenache and syrah, and it epitomizes the pale, mineral-inflected wine for which Provence has become famous. It was also, at $16, our best value.
No. 2 was a classic Bandol from Chteau de Pibarnon, denser and more complex, although perhaps not as light on its feet as the Peyrassol. The Bandols are age-worthy rosés, the sort of wines you can enjoy as an aperitif and throughout a meal. Other top names in Bandol include Tempier and Terrebrune, which were not in our tasting, and Pradeaux, which was but did not make our cut. Why not, especially since Pradeaux is a personal favorite of mine? My comment on tasting it blind was “light, subtle, needs decanting.” In truth, all Pradeaux wines, even the rosé, are difficult to drink young but will benefit greatly from aging.
No. 3 was the Mas Sainte Berthe from Les Baux de Provence, a light, juicy blend of five different grapes that would be ideal well chilled on a hot day. Other noteworthy wines include our No. 7 bottle from the Ctes de Provence, which is packaged under the Xavier Flouret label but is produced by Domaine de Rimauresq, a historic estate, and our two bottles from outside Provence, the No. 6 Domaine Plaqui from Tavel, a region in the southern Rhne known for its rosés, and the No. 8 Chinon rosé from Bernard Baudry, the excellent Loire producer.
As many wines as we liked, too many others were dull or insipid. Sadly, as pleasant as both rosé the wine and rosé the idea can be, too many bottles are produced with the sole idea of exploiting the public’s desire. Consumers need to choose carefully, especially at restaurants where, as Florence pointed out, the selection of rosés is generally far more limited than it is for whites or reds.
Most rosés are a result of mass production, churned out not because they are as good as they can be but to meet a demand that shows no signs of slackening. To achieve this, many rosé producers take shortcuts, using the rosé category as a dumping ground for wines that don’t meet the higher standards reserved for reds and whites. In the end, it is not so much the sommeliers who are cynical but the wine industry itself.