I'VE RARELY heard anyone talk about drinking rosé without mentioning the place where they drank it and how they felt there.
The reported mood is inevitably sunny and the setting is a veritable summer cliché (sidewalk cafes, beaches at sunset). Where other wines might invite analysis or provoke introspection, rosé is consumed in a completely emotional context.
Of course there isn't such thing as a "rosé" wine, any more than there is a wine that is simply "white" or "red" (generic grocery-store blends notwithstanding). There is such an enormous array of rosés I'd argue they are some of the most diverse wines in the world. There are rosés made from Syrah and Merlot, Grenache, Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir—the list goes all the way down to Zweigelt. And rosés are made just about everywhere—Italy, South Africa and Austria, to say nothing of California, Argentina, Long Island, Oregon and, of course, France. Provence is the spiritual, if not physical, home of rosé.
The styles range widely as well, from light and zingy with only the barest hint of fruit to full-bodied and complex, sometimes quite tannic, approaching the structure and character of a red.
..And yet rosés are inevitably grouped en masse on restaurant wine lists and ghettoized in wine shops in special "rosé" sections. Why does rosé seem to be considered less of a wine than a color display?
I put the question to Sharon Severns at Amanti Vino in Montclair, N.J. "It's very dramatic when all the rosés are grouped together," she replied. Her rosé wall was admittedly eye-catching, even if there were wines from California and Austria sharing quarters with rosés from Spain, Argentina and France—all different styles and different grapes.
Charles Bieler, who produces Bieler Père et Fils rosés in Provence and Charles & Charles rosé in Washington state (in conjunction with Walla Walla-based winemaker Charles Smith) likes it that way. Mr. Bieler wants his Washington-state rosé shelved next to his wine from Provence in part because he thinks that domestic rosés have gotten a bad rap and the Provençal association gives them credibility. And he says grouping all the wines together gives consumers more confidence, "since pink wine has always been a little bit scary."
..For most customers, dryness matters more with rosé than does the place of origin, according to Nima Ansari, sales manager of Astor Wine and Spirits in New York. Everyone wants a dry rosé. The other big consideration is price; most people are looking to spend $10 to $15, he said. Producer names are rarely mentioned save for Domaines Ott—the expensive (some would say overpriced) rosé from Provence—and the Robert Sinskey Vin Gris from Napa. Both are customer favorites, said Mr. Ansari, but people seemed to think they should taste the same year after year—as if they weren't a wine but a brand.
I knew what he meant: I've kept a rosé in mind for years, though I've only tasted it once: the Clos Ste. Magdeleine from the Cassis region in southern France. I tasted it for the first time about three years ago at a mansion on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where several producers, including St. Magdeleine's proprietor, François Sack, were pouring their wines. I was immediately dazzled; it was a vivid yet delicate wine with a shimmering mineral thread. Mr. Sack cleverly handed me a postcard of the estate, whose vineyards are literally perched on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. (I've kept that postcard ever since.)
The Clos Ste. Magdeleine was the first wine I looked up when I began rounding up rosés for my tasting. But every retailer I talked to said the same thing that I'd been hearing for years: "I love that wine but I can't get it." Or they said they would try—and invariably failed. Meanwhile, I bought some 25 rosés from grapes and countries all over the world. There were Pinot Noir rosés from California, Oregon and France (the Loire and Burgundy), as well as Grenache-based rosés from Spain and Malbecs from Argentina. There were rosés from Austria and even a couple from New York state.
I also gathered together two groups of friends—all rosé lovers save one (she had a bad emotional experience with a rosé, I guess). Our favorites were quickly determined, which reminded me of something Mr. Ansari had told me: With rosé, it's very easy to tell if the wine is balanced or unbalanced. He was right: The rosés with equivalent amounts of acid and fruit were rated the best, even if the styles were wildly divergent—from light pink and shimmering to full-bodied and intensely fruity to wines so dark they were almost red.
The Provençal rosés—all from the 2011 vintage—showed particularly well. Notable favorites included the lithe Grenache-dominant 2011 Domaine de Sulauze Pomponette, the crisp, refreshing 2011 Commanderie de Peyrassol—which put me in mind of the Clos Ste. Magdeleine—and the 2011 Coeur Esterelle, an excellent deal at $12 a bottle.
There were plenty of good non-French rosés as well—a Grenache rosé from Beckmen Vineyards in Santa Ynez that bordered on brawny and a similarly large-styled Nebbiolo rosé from Il Mimo in Piedmont that was almost big enough to take on a steak. (Ditto the 2011 Bisson Ciliegiolo rosé—which particularly pleased a red wine-passionate friend.) There was a delightful Pinot Noir rosé from Ponzi, a pleasant Touriga Nacional from California-based Arnot-Roberts and a 2011 Corte Gardoni Bardolino Chiaretto that was far from complex but joyful to drink.
As much as I enjoyed the tasting, I couldn't help thinking about the Clos Ste. Magdeleine. I contacted one last retailer, Tim Finch, wine buyer at K&D Wines in New York. Did he know the wine? He did. He even had a few cases. How had he managed to get a wine that no one else could? Mr. Finch, it turned out, had an emotional connection to Clos Ste. Magdeleine as well: He served some of their wines at his wedding.
The Clos Ste. Magdeleine rosé turned out to be every bit as wonderful as I remembered it. In wine, as in love, sometimes it's best to let emotion be your guide.
Email Lettie at firstname.lastname@example.org.