Rosé is having a bit of a “moment” right now. On al fresco tables around town, you'll spy bottles of pink wine sweating in the late summer heat; there is no more perfect companion for a picnic. Ranging in color from light onion-skin pink to a deep strawberry, rosé is now as must-do for restaurants as a good cocktail program or a selection of craft beers.
It's everywhere. Pasadena's Monopole Wine held a burger and rosé tasting this summer. Joan's on Third held a tasting last week (and recommends rosé as a wine option in its picnic baskets). An ongoing Monday night special at Sirena offers a spicy seafood cioppino for two, garlic bread and a bottle of rosé for $60.
California wine producers are finally catching up to their French brethren – no longer are we just the home of white zinfandel. Dry pinks are emerging from Napa and Santa Ynez that can rival those of France's Bandol region. We sat down with Jeremy Fraye, the wine buyer for the Oaks Gourmet Market and Franklin & Company Tavern, for his thoughts on what makes a great rosé, what you should try, and why we're seeing so much pink lately.
Squid Ink: How long have you been into wine?
Jeremy Fraye: I moved back home for a little bit after college and lived up in Santa Ynez. That was the one job you could get just out of school: You could either work in a winery or you go work with horses or farming. I worked mostly in a tasting room at first, and when you're 21 it was just an easy job … pouring wine, making jokes. I knew nothing about wine … and then just by osmosis and the area and the people, I started learning things by accident. It became a passion before I even knew it; it just crawled inside me.
My family is half-French, and every Christmas and every summer we'd go to France. And the region they live in — a tiny region called Bandol — that area is credited with inventing rosé. It's kind of the birthplace of rosé, mostly because the Romans brought it in there with them, and the French have been touting Bandol rosés for centuries.
SI: So rosé is in your blood, then.
JF: Well yeah!
SI: I've been trying to put my finger on why it's so popular. It's not like on Homeland, Claire Danes is chugging rosé before going manic; there isn't a pop culture reference that I've seen — I don't know what's driving the trend.
JF: I think if you look at the common theme amongst rosés and where they're produced, it's all Mediterranean. So I don't think you'll see so many people drinking rosés in the D.C. area. Or in Canada. Or in Texas. You're going to see them with this style of cuisine, the proximity to the ocean, all of this is why it's popular in L.A., it's popular in Santa Barbara, it's popular in these areas. Because it goes with our food, it goes with our lifestyle, it goes with our environment.
This time of year I can't keep rosés on my shelf. I carry a wide selection of California, Spanish and mostly French, and they just fly. It's too hot for red wine, but I want something for dinner, and white wine is often too fruity: this goes down so damn easy. It's so approachable and so perfect.
SI: How does one make a rosé?
JF: Maceration: When they do the pressing, it's how long the skin sits with the juice. Everything you know about wine comes from the skin. Whether it's red wine or white wine, the longer the juice sits with the skin, the more it's going to extract color, the more it's going to extract tannins (that's the acid level that you'll find in wine), the more it's going to extract in flavor.
When the Romans were making and bringing wine all over Europe, the systems they had for making wine — crushing grapes with their feet, crushing with cranks and barrels and their hands — they didn't have the tools we have now to really macerate the skins and extract a lot of stuff, so wine to the Romans? This was it [gestures to the bottle of rosé in front of him]. This was as dark as it got. This was wine.
SI: Light pink.
JF: Right, there was no alternative. In fact, rosé is the oldest wine style. This is how they would have done it; there was no other option to extract more.
SI: Any chance rosé is just white zin, rebranded?
JF: No, not at all!! California has a much more complicated history with pink wines. Rosé and blush wine have nothing in common (except color). The blush wines were invented in California, and they were blending a sweet white wine with a red wine.
SI: So blush is not a rosé at all…
JF: No, blush is not … it's a blend. And they don't allow that in France at all, except in maybe some Champagnes. Blush wines, 90% of the time, are going to be a blend of sweet white wine with a red wine. And even in the case of white zinfandel, where zinfandel is the predominant grape, they probably added some sweet white wine to get the taste.
Our California wine regions are getting more sophisticated and we're getting more on the market; as time goes on, our palates are more sophisticated. And rosés, because of the blush stigma, they took the longest for people to embrace. Otherwise you go to the grocery store and you go, “Oh I know what that is, that's pink wine, I'm past that now.” It was a lot harder to convince people that, no, pink wine is supposed to be bone dry — it's only in California that we screwed that up for everybody.
SI: The wine cooler phase in our lives …
JF: Right! It just had this ugly cousin to overcome.
SI: Talk to me about the color. When people are looking at buying a rosé, what does a lighter pink mean to them?
JF: This one has a nice light minerality to it. That's the best way to think about it — it's kind of like licking wet stone. You go past the strawberry color, it'll get fatter on your mouth, the viscosity is going to be greater, the fruit flavors will be bolder. This is what rosés are supposed to look like [gestures to a light pink bottle] and Domaine Ott is one of the premier rosé producers in the world. If you want the safest bet, pick one that's salmon-colored because it's not going to have any sugar in it. It'll be dry.
SI: What does it pair best with?
JF: It's a masculine wine. It goes with everything! It's great with spicy food, having a little bit of acidity and a little bit of fruit. And believe it or not, it's a great barbecue wine. From barbecued shrimp all the way to tri-tip, this is a great bottle of wine to have at an outdoor barbecue.
SI: What are some of your favorites to buy for yourself?
JF: On the higher end, any Domaine Ott is the bottle to get. I also like Listel [here he reveals a tattoo on his arm that is the exact replica of the seal on the bottle, which he claims is a coincidence]. And from California, I really like Hogwash. In the three years I've been buying wine here, Hogwash is the closest California wine I've come across that tastes like a French rosé. It's a little bit bigger, a little bit bolder and maybe a little higher alcohol. And I'm probably going to bring in Dragonette rosé next week.
Rosés are seasonal, and then the palate changes. There's just this brief moment where the sun's out, and you're eating olives and nuts and drinking this chilled rosé, and life just seems completely perfect.
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