Think pink: Don’t let history mar rosé

The California mega-wine producers of the late 1970s and early 1980s did the wine industry a great favor and terrible injustice.

At a time when not much of anyone was drinking wine, California winemakers came up with something called White Zinfandel. The pink wine was refreshing and sugary. Think of it as a bowl of frosted cornflakes or Fruit Loops in a glass.

White Zinfandel is a punch line today for uneducated palates and super sweet pink juice. Still, many will quickly tell you that the pink was a populist wine winner that got Americans drinking wine. That’s all true, but things have changed.

Most Americans moved from White Zinfandel to Chardonnay, and then the 1976 Judgment of Paris proved California red wines were just as good as the world’s best. Americans’ palates evolved a lot in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

In keeping with the 2017 theme of trying new things, if you haven’t been drinking dry rosé, then it’s time for you to catch up.

It wasn’t long ago anything pink would be laughed off the shelves at places like Carmel’s Vine and Table wine shop. But during the past 10 years, rosé wine sales have exploded. That explosion has been led by southern France’s Provence wine region.

Provence sales have increased over the past decade by double digits annually. But sales exploded in 2015 to more than a 50 percent increase.

“Every year, it seems to increase. Last year, we did close to three palates of between March and October,” said Brendan Kennedy, wine buyer for Vine and Table. “It definitely dies down after October, but it does seem to increase every year, definitely.”

Why the huge boom in sales? Rosé wines offer a flexibility for serious and casual wine drinkers.

“I love it with food, and it is great on its own as a backyard patio wine,” Kennedy said. “But there are still a lot of people out there who are very scared of the pink wine because White Zin gave it a very bad name.”

Kennedy calls on the wine’s versatility when pitching it to customers.

“It’s a fun wine to drink on its own, but pairing it kicks the door wide open,” Kennedy said. “You might not pair rosé with red meats, but white meats, fish, chicken and salad, it goes great.”

Vine and Table and other prominent Indiana retail wine shops are featuring rosé wines in their spring and summer tasting events.

With a rosé sales explosion, some would expect consumers to climb the price ladder, but that’s not necessarily so. Kennedy said if consumers are used to buying a $15 to $20 bottle of wine, they’re probably going to stay in that range for rosé. And make no mistake, great pink wines are available in that price range. But another $10 on that price tag delivers an even bigger reward.

“I always try to push people’s limits with rosé because they think it’s sort of a plain and simple wine, but once you get into the Sanceres, they’re complex, really a lot going on and they have nice acidity. I think if you try some of those higher-end rosés, you’ll be rewarded for it,” he said.

Provence rosé is made from a blend of traditional southern France grapes. Most of the best U.S. rosé wines are often 100 percent Pinot Noir.

Want some higher-end names?

Try Domaine Ott, Miraval and Domaine Tempier. Those are great Provence names. Better wine shops will have a few of the Sancerre wines Kennedy mentioned. Most will retail $20 to $30. A personal favorite is California’s Central Coast Raymond Vineyards rosé of Pinot Noir.

Howard W. Hewitt of Crawfordsville writes about wine every other week for 20 Midwestern newspapers. Reach Howard at: hewitthoward@gmail.com