I'll admit that I'm not a fan of hot summer weather, but it does have one upside: It gives me a great excuse to drink the sort of crisp, refreshing wines that I love. And there's no better summer wine than a racy rosé.
Dry or nearly dry rosé was something of a pariah in this country for many years, because consumers confused it with often-cloying "blush" wines like white zinfandel. The wines were popular in Europe, especially in France, but you would have been hard-pressed 20 years ago to find more than a few dry rosés here, even in a good wine store.
How times have changed. Every time I turn around, it seems, another winery is making a rosé. And imports are far more available than they used to be.
As the availability of rosé wines has increased, so have sales. According to Nielsen, sales of rosé table wine costing more than $7.99 a bottle were up more than 21 percent by volume for the 52 weeks ending May 25, compared with the previous 52 weeks. (The figures don't differentiate between sweet pink wines and dry ones, but most white zins cost less than $8.) The rosé numbers aren't quite as impressive as the gains made by moscato (24 percent), but the growth is still robust.
For a long time, many domestic rosés were made from juice taken from a tank of red grapes, after the juice had only limited contact with the grape skins, which is where the color is. Most of the tank was made into red wine; the bled-off juice became rosé. Trouble is, when grapes are very ripe, with high sugar levels, the resulting wines have elevated alcohol. That might be OK for red wine, but it isn't very attractive in the pink one, where the alcohol tends to poke out more.
Now a lot of rosés are made from grapes picked expressly for that purpose, when the sugars are a little lower and the acidity is higher. The juice still has only limited contact with the skins, resulting in that pale pink color.
Dry rosé can be made from any red grapes, but in California, Rhone varieties such as grenache and syrah are particularly popular. For example, the 2012 Tablas Creek "Patelin de Tablas" Rosé ($20), which is mostly grenache, is quite delicate, with strawberry, cherry and mineral flavors, while the 2012 Verdad Sawyer-Lindquist Vineyard Grenache Rosé ($17.50) is much more exuberant, with lots of juicy fruit. The 2012 Beckmen Purisima Mountain Vineyard Grenache Rosé ($18) is more structured, with ample bright cherry and strawberry fruit.
There are also good pink wines made from sangiovese and pinot noir. One of the best domestic rosés I've tasted this year was made from sangiovese: the 2012 Barnard Griffin Rosé of Sangiovese ($12) from Washington state, which displays juicy cherry and cranberry flavors and a persistent finish. From Sonoma County, the 2012 Balverne Rosé of Sangiovese ($20) is also quite good: floral, fruity and spicy.
A couple of pinot noir rosés to try are the fragrant 2012 Toad Hollow "Eye of the Toad" Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir ($13) and the lively, pretty 2012 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir Vin Gris ($19).
There are plenty of good, affordable rosés from southern France. Most are based on Rhone varieties. For example, the 2012 Bieler Pere et Fils Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence Rosé ($12) offers lively raspberry and cranberry flavors with some savory notes. The 2012 Laroche Rosé de la Chevaliere ($14) displays berry fruit accented by a note of lemon and wild herbs. Hecht & Bannier makes a zippy 2012 Cotes de Provence Rosé ($18), as well as a slightly softer Languedoc Rosé that costs even less.
Spain is also a good source of rosé, or rosado. In Rioja, the wines are based on tempranillo. An example is the 2012 El Coto Rioja Rosado ($11), which is fresh and racy, with cherry fruit and a hint of apple peel. Elsewhere, the grape is often garnacha (grenache), as is the case with the 2012 Las Rocas Rosado ($14), which is quite fruity, with bright cherry and strawberry and some tannin on the finish.
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Two more recommended Rhone-style rosés from the Central Coast are the 2012 Tower 15 Sunset ($18.50), which is delicate and refreshing, with red fruit and a hint of orange peel, and the zippier 2012 Curtis Heritage Rosé ($20), which finishes with a lemony note. I haven't yet tasted Bonny Doon's 2012 Vin Gris de Cigare ($16), but Randall Grahm is a longtime producer of pink wine, and the Vin Gris de Cigare rarely disappoints.
The 2012 Pedroncelli Dry Rosé of Zinfandel ($12) from Dry Creek Valley is nothing like an insipid white zin. Instead, it's fruity and fresh, with raspberry, a slight brambly character and just a trace of sweetness.
I haven't found all that many Italian rosés to be enthusiastic about, but there are some good ones from Apulia in the south, where many of the wines are based on the negroamaro grape. One such rosé is the 2012 Castello Monaci "Kreos" Rosé ($16), a refreshing wine with crisp cranberry and cherry flavors.
You can even find some tasty pink wine in Chile, such as the 2012 Apaltagua Carmenere Rosé ($12), with its racy cranberry and lemon notes.