GEORGE BALLING: The state of rosé

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When we opened the dinner party late in 2007, dry rosé nearly didn’t exist in the market here in North Idaho. We were familiar with the wine category before we moved here to open the shop, and had enjoyed some of the best dry, pink wines made in our wine-consuming careers. During the first several years we set about convincing folks that dry rosé was not only a great summer time “quaffer,” but a great addition to one’s wine portfolio year round. We stocked a good many, but sales were less than robust.

Fast forward to 2018, and the rosé revival is in full swing. Wine consumers recognize that gone are the days of the sweet cloying white Zinfandels, and have fully embraced rosé that is bone dry, crisp, zippy and just ideal in the summer. Whether demand led supply, or supply pushed demand, is an argument to be had, but misses the point of the popularity of the dry rosé category. It’s rare that a week goes by without us tasting a handful of new pink wines. It seems that every winery based in every appellation is taking a crack at this burgeoning market.

Like all things in life though, the world of rosé is a “bell curve.” Some really great dry rosé on the far right of the curve, some pretty awful ones on the left-hand side of the curve, and a whole bunch of others in the middle. Here’s the rub. Whenever you have a segment of the wine market experiencing such great growth, everyone (and I do mean everyone) wants a piece. The result is that you get both wineries and grapes getting into the market that probably should not be there.

Winemaking is no different than any other profit making pursuit; some are better at it than others. A winemaker who specializes in say, Rhône varietals, may not be as talented at working with the grapes from Bordeaux. Typically they know that and specialize in what they are best at. Rosé, as it turns out, is trickier than you might think. The great rosés are pale pink in color, fermented dry, have a light palate weight and are crisp and refreshing, typically with low alcohol. While a recent column published in Spokane claims this has much to do with the science of winemaking, it really doesn’t. It has much to do with artistry.

Knowing when to harvest the grapes (assuming the wine is not saignée) is important so that they have ample sugar to keep the wine from being bitter, and yet won’t produce a wine too high in alcohol. How quickly to get the fermenting wine “off” the skins so the wine does not get too dark or extract too much tannin and become weighty is also key. You must also manage the acids to keep the wine crisp, but not have it become austere. Most of these decisions are driven by the artistry of wine production, all of which translates into some winemakers being better at it than others.

Similarly, certain grape varietals work better in the production of a great rosé. Lighter bodied varietals like Grenache, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and others are easier to coax through the process of becoming a great rosé than say, Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec. When a segment of the market heats up like this, the supply of grapes available for producing rosé may not be sufficient, causing winemakers desperate to get in the game to pursue less than the best grape varietals for their wine. Is it possible to make a great rosé from a robust and full bodied varietal? Of course. It is more challenging however, and one better be on top of their game to pull it off.

For consumers, the best bet is to work with your favorite wine professional to find those rosés that are produced by the best winemakers in the category and the best grape varietals in the fermenter. Also, look for the producers who have been at the rosé game for many vintages; they have stood the test of time. Also look for pink wines made from the most appropriate varietals. It is just easier and will likely result in a better chance of finding a good, to great one. Finally, focus on those appellations known for consistently producing great rosé. Provence in France, Sonoma County in California and the cooler climes of Washington are all good places to start.

The wine world seems awash in rosé right now, a bit of due diligence is required to have the great ones in your wine cooler.

If there is a topic you would like to read about or questions on wine you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d’Alene Press.

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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party — a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.

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