Not too long ago in America, a Mexican meal meant fast-food tacos, Asian meant carryout chop suey, and rosé wine meant white zinfandel.
Today, just as we've developed a taste for authentic cuisine - tostaditas de tinga and pad thai, for instance - authentic rosé wine joins us at the table.
Rosé "Volume II"
Charles & Charles
Columbia Valley, Washington
• Suggested retail and availability: About $12 at wine and liquor shops (distributed by Cream Wine Co., Chicago)
Two Charles (Smith and Bieler) hooked up along the route from the sun-drenched vineyards of southern France (Bieler's home) to equally sunny western Washington and discovered mutual loves: rock 'n' roll and rosé. To craft their vibrant and complex "Volume II", they joined Provencal tradition, such as recognition of individual vineyards, harvesting at the brink of ripeness, and the dynamic Syrah that attracts world attention to Washington's Wahluke Slope, for dry flavors that brim with pomegranate and raspberry and lively acidity. Serve with Provencal cuisine like Salade Nicoise (salad with tuna and anchovies), tapenade (olive and caper relish), bouillabaisse (seafood stew) - or warm weather, Chicago-style salads, dips, seafood and stews.
Rosé (in French), rosato (Italian), rosado (Spanish) technically is red wine, but with limited contact between newly pressed juice and the skins that give it the ruby color. This blush can range from delicate pink to robust nearly-red; as color deepens, so too the tannin and other components contained in grape skin that endow wine with depth and power.
White zinfandel began its meteoric popularity in the 1970s as a consumer reaction against the high alcohol, over-oaked wine produced during California's "wine boom." While decidedly déclassé, winemakers loved white zin, which funded the costs of barrels and their salaries. Soon, white zin's cotton-candy appeal obscured the balanced refreshment of traditionally crafted rosé.
It has taken some time, but wine lovers are rediscovering rosé.
In 2009, U.S. retail sales of domestic and imported rosé priced more than $8 a bottle grew 17 times faster than total wine sales, according to the Nielsen Rating Co.
To tap into rose's U.S. renaissance look for the following:
Spain: Rosado crafted from the Garnacha grape (France's Grenache) are rich and dry, with mouth-filling strawberry flavors and peppery accents, classic with cured meats such as jamon and chorizo. Look for Bodegas Borsao (about $9) and Muga ($11).
France: Rosés begin with statuesque rosé Champagne, based on Pinot Noir, some powerfully suited to meaty meals (Bollinger, $150), others fine and creamy for elegant hors d'oeuvres, like smoked salmon (Charles Heidsieck, $60). From France's south, look for Grenache-based rosés including the lush, spicy Domaine Karantes ($12), delicious with Mediterranean ingredients of garlic, tomatoes and green herbs.
U.S.: Winemakers here - unfettered by the regional restrictions of their European counterparts - freely experiment with any red grape for rosé, whether to increase quality or sop up excess juice. In general, labels reading "White -" advertise simple sweetness (at best.) Check with your retailer for favorites or try Ross's choice for a rich cocktail while you pack your winter coat into storage and to complement the flavors of your international table.
• Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross writes Good Wine. Write her at email@example.com.