Rosé is pink and pretty and delicious. We can drink it all day, but we can appreciate it too.
“Treat rosé like any other varietal,” said David, a longstanding member of my monthly wine group, at our annual rosé tasting earlier this month. “It’s different from different regions and different countries. Italian rosés are different than American rosés, are different than French rosés.”
In his glass, David held a rosato from Italy, one I’d picked up at Square Wine Company for $13.50 earlier that day. Made by Tenuta di Tavignano from an obscure-in-the-states Italian grape called lacrima, it opened like tart raspberries and finished like chalky cherry PEZ.
Even the rosé skeptics were into it.
“The problem of rosé is there’s a perception of it,” said Cale, a wine group guest who started the tasting with a few doubts. “Like (it’s) super fruity! Let’s go outside and drink some (crappy) wine.
“Before today, the only time I’d had rosé was outside, in a bag, in the middle of summer. People love that pink wine from Franzia.
“Try a real rosé! It’s more complex than I would have thought.”
When I started writing this column nearly 10 years ago, finding rosé this good, this easily in Madison was still not a given. In 2009, I counted how many variations on rosé each local wine shop brought in for the summer months. Star Liquor (RIP) got 13. Barriques stocked 14.
With how Madison wine shops have stepped up their stock, making a lineup like that would be a chore now. The profile of rosé has risen year by year, both as wine writers herald the most specific and interesting bottles and Instagram celebrates it as a #basic guilty pleasure.
“Historically, women’s stuff is dismissed, and rosé was dismissed,” said Leah, posing one answer for why a glass of rosé may still seem like the equivalent of drinking an umbrella cocktail. We all remembered the nonsensical, oddly gendered “real men drink pink” campaign.
“Don’t let the annoying #brosé stuff ruin it for you,” my friend Joseph said.
The rosés in this year’s tasting, most of them in the slightly higher $15-$28 range, made the case for drinking pink all year round. First, the nonvintage Lucchetti Vino Spumante ($18 at Casetta Kitchen and Counter) showed what lacrima can do with a fizz of bubbles pumped into the bottle. It was summery and slightly sweet, with lots of red fruit flavors.
The 2017 Domaine Christian Salmon Sancerre Rosé ($28 at Total Wine & More) made from 100 percent pinot noir made one taster think of the toastiness of Cheerios. The most dominant flavor, though, was grapefruit, while a couple of others got green strawberries and watermelon Pop Rocks.
A little bit of petrol, a chemical note most frequently found in aged riesling, showed up (strangely) in the 2017 Château la Rame Bordeaux Rosé ($16 at Square Wine Company). A well-integrated wine with tart fruit flavors like pomegranate, grapefruit and unripe pear, this cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend had the kind of lively acidity I personally look for in rosé.
Along with the lacrima, another lesser known grape, lagrein, showed up in a wine from Cantina Terlano in the Alto Adige in northern Italy. The winery calls its 2017 Lagrein Rosé ($19.50 at Square) “fresh and uncomplicated,” while our tasters noticed its breadiness and high, lemony acidity.
One of the funkiest wines in the tasting came out of a discount bin at Woodman’s East, a $6.99 bottle of 2016 Planeta Rosé that reminded us of a weird white wine if we closed our eyes. Some found it almost aggressive.
“This is a mean nose,” my friend Julia said.
We moved on to one of my perennial favorites: the Tribute to Grace Rosé of Grenache from Santa Barbara Highlands in the central coast of California. For $26 at Square Wine Company, the 2017 vintage had a floral nose, super bright acid and elements of bread and sweet malt. This is as classy as rosé gets, and I’m a little in love with it.
Cale, our “drink pink” newbie, brought a California rosé from another consistently great producer, Steve Edmunds. The 2017 Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir Rosé from Edmunds St. John ($21 at Square) tasted simultaneously full of limes and delicate peaches, with some finding grapefruit and others underripe berries. This wine was a lemonade lover’s dream.
As the tasting wound down, we thought about why most of us love rosé. It doesn’t usually need to age, so it’s always good for drinking right now. It’s usually less expensive, and can be an entry point to higher-end producers we want to try.
The best rosés can be fresh and fruity, elegant and sleek, spiky with acidity or even savory.
“It’s a wine a lot of people can approach,” my friend Joseph said. “Look for a producer that takes it seriously. Look at the label, and if it talks about how they think about their wine rather than how you can throw a party with it ... that’s a good sign. Rather than, ‘this is something you can crush with your bros.’”