With Valentine's Day on the horizon, you might be in the market for a festive wine to celebrate the occasion. Rosé is the right color, but the only problem is that when you think of pink wine, you automatically land on the large, sweet bottles that took the U.S. by storm during the 1980s and '90s. John Allen, owner of downtown Spokane wine shop Vino!, says that strain of pink happened by mistake.
"In California, they were making a heavy red wine from a grape called Zinfandel. At Sutter Home, somebody emptied the vat of juice and separated the skins from the already fermenting wine. The skins are where the pigment is," he says.
Instead of letting the wine ferment until all the sugar had disappeared from the finished product, they kept it sweet and sold it at the winery. "It was such a big hit that the following couple of years they bottled it, put it into distribution, and people went crazy," says Allen. As a result, a large number of people began to connect the pink color with a sweet flavor, but rosé was around long before that day at Sutter Home.
Walk into a café in the south of France on a hot day, and you'll see a glass of pink wine in everyone's hand.
"It's so hot, they can't grow white grapes well; it takes a cool climate," says Allen. "Instead of making white wine from grapes that don't really thrive there, they would take some of their better red grapes and leave the skins in contact with the fermenting juice, only for six to 10 hours, take the skins away and then make a white wine. Most of the time they'd ferment it all the way until there was no sugar in it, so it would be bright and refreshing and clean, with just a light tinge of that raspberry or blackberry flavor that comes from the red grape skins. They're considered very sophisticated."
Ready to try a dry rosé? You won't have to look far.
"[Rosé wines] are being made by wineries all over Washington," says Allen. "It's become one of the hottest selling wines of the spring and summer here in the Northwest." The best selection can be found in May and June, when the previous year's harvest begins to hit the market.
Another option for your celebration is a pink sparkling wine. It's a little less time sensitive, and might be easier to find at this time of year. If you're feeling especially thematic, you can go for Allen's pick above, which means "I love you" in French. Although it never hurts to ask, it's not likely that your pink sparkler will be sweet. "In order to get sweet bubbly, you almost have to go to a specialist and ask," says Allen.
No matter your Valentine's Day plans, a bottle of rosé makes a great date, even if it's just the two of you. ♦
JOHN ALLEN'S ROSE PICKS FOR VALENTINE'S DAY AND BEYOND
• Je T'Aime Rose Sparkling French Brut, $20
• Chateau Routas, $16
• La Croix Belle Rose, $11
• Bandol Rosé, $22
Prices may vary by outlet.