This way, rosé

A long-overlooked style finally in the pink in U.S.

When a guest comes for dinner, one of the first questions asked may be, “White or red?” But what about pink?

Rosé wines have been a category overlooked in America for years. Though nearly always popular in Europe as a summertime hot-day refreshment, wine drinkers in the United States have kept a distance from this misunderstood style of wine, which is usually bone-dry (not sweet, as often expected by consumers familiar with syrupy white zinfandels) and can be just as intellectually stimulating as the most complex and well-made reds and whites.

While Americans had been reluctant, they are finally drinking pink. In 2015, rosé sales to the United States from the French region of Provence made their biggest jump ever, up 58 percent over the previous year, while American consumption of rosé in general rose 38 percent.

Not that long ago, however, even wine professionals barely thought twice about rosés. Eighteen years ago, local winemaker Phil LaRocca was making a sweet white zinfandel—pink, though technically not a rosé—but he had not made a dry rosé.

Then he went to Italy, to explore the land of his roots, and there—in the country of big reds like sangiovese, primitivo and barbera—the American made a surprising discovery.

“They drank rosé at lunch,” said LaRocca, who owns and operates LaRocca Vineyards in Forest Ranch. LaRocca had always known Europeans were midday drinkers, but was intrigued that Italians liked pink wine.

Inspired, LaRocca began making a dry rosé of his own in the years after he returned, and he was none too early. The wine—dry, rosy-hued, and made with zinfandel grapes most years (the current release is made with cabernet sauvignon grapes)—has sold well, for pink wines have caught on among American wine drinkers.

Perhaps it’s inevitable that the odds would be stacked against a wine colored like cotton candy. Resembling white zinfandel hasn’t helped rosés, either. While white zins are the third most popular wine in America (after chardonnay and merlot), they are also soda-sweet and reviled by most of the wine-drinking elite and not-quite-elite, and thus have had a dampening effect on dry pink wines. Rosés have been enjoyed in Europe, however, for at least 2,000 years, since the style first appeared in the scrubby oak-and-olive hills of southern France.

The traditional French rosé is dry and crisp, with aromatic suggestions of strawberry, watermelon and cream. Popular Provencal examples include the Domaine Tempier Bandol and the Pomponette Rosé Aix en Provence. For those wanting to buy closer to home, many California rosés capture this style, including Sonoma’s Bedrock Wine Co.’s Ode to Lulu California rosé, the backbone of which is the Mourvedre grape; the light Summer Water rosé out of Napa (made in partnership with Yes Way Rosé, the Instagram and e-commerce brainchild of a couple of rosé-championing women from New York); and the local rosés of LaRocca and Bertagna Son Kissed Vineyards, both of which have adhered to French styles using alternative choices of grapes. And in Vina, the New Clairvaux Vineyard now produces a syrah rosé.

For a slightly different take, Mumm Napa has infused Champagne-style bubbles into pink wine for their brut rosé, a popular choice for using in summer cocktails.