It’s f—ed up that most people in the wine business demand the “freshest” rosé on the market (meaning last year’s vintage). They want it to arrive in March and be sold out by September; they live in fear of rosé hanging around until Thanksgiving despite that pink wine is often recommended as a pairing for Thanksgiving food (this is a fairly transparent way for retailers to get rid of whatever rosé has had the audacity to hang out into the fall, also the deeper hued rosés that for some reason people think are sweeter than the salmon colored ones that are popular in the dog days of summer).
What we’re finding is that the way rosé is treated in our market has little to do with the customer, and everything to do with the industry and its marginalization of pink wine, its decision to allow pink wine commodity status, and to expect the poor quality of a shitty pair of socks from Old Navy or artificially sweetened Ciobani yogurt. Frankly customers rarely care, rarely even look at the vintage when picking out a bottle. Customers expect rosé to be pink and cheerful, and above all to taste good! And instead we give them yeasted rosé that is rushed through the fermentation process in order to be ready for release in February, smelling of plastic flowers, strawberries, and sulfur. Or we give them the quality rosés from Bandol, Tavel, Chinon, etc … thrust in their faces at the whiff of spring and guzzled bottle-shocked as though if they’re not drunk right away they might go bad and snow might start to fall again. It’s criminal the disservice done to rosé in the present era, by the wine business. We don’t ask our white wines to be as fresh as possible, always last year’s vintage as though they have some sort of expiry date after which they’ll give us food poisoning.
The irony is that if you talk to people in the wine business, they’ll tell you they understand that quality rosé is often better six months, a year, or more after release, but that the customer and the market demand the freshest releases. This is not true. Customers want good wine, and that’s not what we’re giving them. It suits us to act as though the consumer is the sheep or the lemming, grabbing their $15 provençal rosé with the pretty label off the seasonal table stocked with “this is what we’ve promised to buy 200 cases of over the next three months; we’ve even scheduled five case drops every two weeks because our sales rep demanded it.” This way we don’t actually have to think about rosé; we can just sell that same 200 cases of Peyrassol or Sulauze Pomponette, you name it, that we sell every year, and the few pedestal rosés we can horde for ourselves: the L’Anglores, the Pradeauxs and Tempiers. It’s like Cory wrote in a mailer the other day in criticism of our industry: “the flood of “rosé is so hot now; here are 4 we feature every year because they advertise with us, and one you can’t find anyway that we actually drink.” It’s an accurate summation.
The other irony is that wine industry people will often tell you they make an exception for rosé Champagne (“I don’t really drink rosé … except rosé Champagne, of course”) as though because the marketing geniuses of Champagne have made pink bubbles more expensive than their white counterparts, there must be something about them that’s more qualitative. This is utter bullshit, and if you ask top Champagne producers, which I have, quite a few times, they’ll tell you their rosé is made for the market, that they themselves don’t drink it, and that their white BSA (brut sans année) is superior. For the record, yes I’m saying it is hard to find good rosé Champagne, far, far harder, in fact, than to find good still rosé. I’m also dealing in mass generalizations as anyone who has drunk a bottle of Tarlant Rosé Zero, Lahaye Rosé de Maceration, of Bérèche Campania Remensis can attest.
With these thoughts in mind, and inspired by Étienne (our neighbor and sommelier at M. Wells in Long Island City), we decided to taste rosés with some age. Susannah and I had been ranting about the marginalization of rosé by the wine business for some time, and on a recent trip to M. Wells we observed that Étienne was more than happy to feature last year’s rosés, and we drank a beautiful 2013 Terrebrune, and an excellent 2013 Bermejos. To the guest list, we added our friend Jeremy who works for Rosenthal Wine Merchant, arguably the best purveyor of high quality rosé, and, fittingly, when he accepted to our invitation he said: “rosé a year or more after release? Read: bring some Château Simone.”
We started with a couple of Selection Massale rosés; this was largely my own curiosity; I wanted to know how they were showing. 2013 Beurer Trollinger rosé is a wine I tasted numerous times last summer (you know, back when it was “fresh”), and it always confounded me. Like all Jochen’s wines, it’s got riveting acidity, and a dense, pillar-like structure. Each time I drank it young, I was intrigued, but was never sure I quite liked it, though I’d find myself thinking about it hours if not days after the fact. Lee Campbell was pouring Beurer Trollinger rosé by the glass at Achilles Heel; I ordered it last summer and remember being filled with respect for Lee for not coddling people with boring, fruity rosé; this wine was ever-so-slightly punishing in its youth, though also complex and clearly native yeast fermented, which (after five years at Chambers Street) is something I always look for in rosé. Now the wine is gorgeous. The high-toned cranberry, tart cherry, and white-peppery spice remain, with added depth and richness on the palate. An additional year has softened the wine’s edges, and I found it to deliver everything I’d wanted it to deliver as a young wine.
Quentin Bourse from Le Sot de L’Ange makes his single parcel rosé from old vine Grolleau grown on alluvial clay, silex, and quartz. The wine’s aged in stainless steel and acacia. At the last record store tasting we did back in January, this was my wine of the night (out of about 30 wines). I kept it close to me over the course of the evening doling out little sips to people and asking them if I was crazy for thinking it was showing so well. I liked this wine when young; it was intensely crisp, low in alcohol (11%), with the light funk and pepper of Grolleau. Like the Beurer, this wine has now taken on some richness, but all the white stone and wild strawberry aromas remain, and the finish offers the same mouth-coating minerality as Quentin’s red Grolleau with a faint whisper of tannin.
The only rosé we tasted that wasn’t exactly en forme was Mas Jullien 2011, but certainly not because it was by any means too old. Olivier Jullien, arguably the best winemaker in the Languedoc, makes this rosé from the same blend of red grapes (Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre) he uses for his age-worthy reds. This was often amongst my favorite rosés of the year at Chambers Street, which is surprising given that I barely drink anything from the Languedoc. The wine is always compellingly authentic, and by this I mean it’s a wine that is true to itself, comfortable in its skin so to speak; this is not a Languedoc rosé that has sold out and transformed itself into a crisp, pale wine (because apparently the market is terrified of gutsy, dark colored rosé, unless it says “Tavel” on the label). It hails from a warm, arid climate and packs a fair amount of alcohol (usually around 14% according to the label), but its power, structure, and sheer quality assure that it’ll be balanced and fresh nonetheless. It’s native yeast fermented, and the aromas are deeply earthy, sometimes verging on roasted in character. 2011 was a hot vintage in the Languedoc, and it’s the only vintage of this wine in recent years that I haven’t loved. Right now, it suffers from vintage more than from age.
Château Simone is a standard bearer for “serious” rosé. From a monopole close to Aix-en-Provence called “Palette” it’s a singular terroir marked by many pine trees, farmed by the Rougier family, who have long history in the area. Simone rosé, made from a wacky blend of grapes according to the Rosenthal website: Cinsault, Syrah, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Castet, Manosquin, Théoulier, Tibouren, Picpoul Noir, and Muscat de Hambourg, ages in barrel, and offers the resolved, integrated character of barrel aged rosé (see Clos Cibonne rosé for comparison). But this wine is far more than just a rich, serious rosé from the south of France. It’s utterly singular in its marriage of pine-y, spicy aromas that can be almost oak-y at times, with clear-as-a-bell notes of sour red plum, cassis, blackberry, and dark cherry. It’s a beautiful wine that opens up in the glass, and began to sing about halfway through the bottle.
We had several more rosés on deck to try including Gilbert Menetou-Salon and Crochet Sancerre rosés … both 2013, but we moved on to red and white wine. After all it was well below 40 degrees, and our guest of honor had brought Clos Rougeard and Joly.
It’s a little bit the chicken/egg situation with rosé, meaning it’s unclear which came first: lots of mediocre rosé, or the wine industry’s attitude. What is clear, though, is that if the wine industry asks more from its rosé, asks it to be real wine, asks it to live by the same standard as red and white wine, rosé wine will get better. And that’s all we’re really asking for, those of us who love rosé …