A Closer Look at the Rosé Revival

Once shunned by savvy palates, the ‘middle ground’ hued wine is gaining fans

We were six at a table for dinner at one of the finer fish restaurants in Sarasota’s St. Armand’s Circle, a lush, groomed park in the heart of one of the more pleasant communities in Florida.

When it came time to order a bottle of wine to go with assorted fish, shellfish, pasta, and steak, this wine-savvy group chose a dry rosé.

It used to be that two or three in a group that size (and with a variety of entrée choices), would choose white wine and others settled for reds, usually pinot noir. But rarely rosé.

However, over the last several years, true rosés have invaded wine lists and store shelves, and have crept forward as the go-to alternative and specialty food wine for many wine drinkers.

That’s a long, long way from where rosé’s overall reputation stood a decade ago when it used to be looked down on with the same disdain some wine drinkers have for soda pop.

Much of that sneering was for good reason, advanced by certain wineries that basically drew a knife across the neck of real rosé back in the 1980s. They nearly killed the entire category by introducing pink products we rarely see now, such as white zinfandel and Mateus Rosé. Some of these sickly sweet wines were even infused with strawberry extract and gobs of sweetener. (To the credit of some makers, white zinfandel did become a passable wine.)

Today, in restaurants of all kinds — and not just fish houses — I’ve been seeing a huge increase in people looking for rosé, even with food that used to strongly pair mostly with white or red.

There are some very logical reasons for the shift. For one thing, younger drinkers are bold and will try anything. For another, the rosés themselves are so much better.

The selection of rosés has become vastly greater, meaning that there are more “types” of rosés from which to choose. Some are lighter and fresher, others are middleweight and more intense in flavor and character. And a third type are made from the same grapes as big red wines.

Spain’s Rioja and Italy’s Sangiovese rosés, for example, make very good food wines, which work well for tapas or pasta. But the French still hold the high ground for marvelous sipping rosés that do well on their own, and partner well with lighter Provençal dishes and assorted fish, such as the one we had in Sarasota.

Rosé is no longer simply a curiosity from one or two corners of Europe. Even Michigan is having great success with rosés from cabernet franc, pinot, and other grapes.

All these rosés are vastly better in quality and styling than they were a decade ago. Mostly because they are more varied. Some have become lighter and reflective of attributes of the best of the regions where they are grown; such aspects as soil, mineral, acid flavors, and grape type.  But also because of the skills that have evolved in the wine making, as well as the type of grapes used to make rosé.

Put all this together and what we get is a very noticeable advance in higher quality rosés from more areas than ever.