_wine_roseBy Richard A. Baxter, MD

We can credit Angelina Jolie for raising awareness about the breast cancer genes and breast reconstruction, and now with her new rosé wine venture, she and husband Brad Pitt take us from thinking pink to drinking pink. Rosé wines have not always been taken seriously, but they are increasing in both quality and popularity. With a range of styles to choose from, rosés can be food-friendly, a simple summer sip, or an accompaniment for a light dessert.

Jolie and Pitt’s purchase of the historic Chateau Miraval in Provence, and their rosé of the same name made by Rhône vintner Marc Perrin, certainly helped to put rosé back on the map. In a blind tasting, Wine Spectator gave the debut 2012 Miraval a 90-point rating, which is almost unheard of for rosé. I served it at a summer tango party on a warm evening and most people enjoyed it, though perhaps less than the Spectator did. It had a minerality underscoring stone fruit flavors.

Another large-scale offering with cinematic roots is Francis Ford Coppola’s Sofia, a dry rosé in the style served in Provençal cafés. Made in California’s Monterey County from syrah and pinot noir grapes, I found it to be light, but with enough acidity to carry the berry, lavender, and citrus tones.

Most rosé wines are made with the skin contact method, in which dark-skinned grapes are crushed and soaked in the juice for 1 to 3 days. Pressing extracts the juice, which then completes fermentation. The longer the contact with the skins, the more tannins are extracted and the deeper the color. Along with tannins come the polyphenols, to which wine’s health benefits accrue. Rosés typically have a bit lower alcohol, though, so on balance they can be considered a healthy choice.

Another method is known as saigneé (bleeding), wherein the juice is pressed at a later stage of fermentation. Regardless of which vinification technique is used, warm weather varietals such as grenache, cinsault, syrah, and mourvedre are traditionally used, though rosés can be made from any dark-skinned grape. Your pink champagne, for example, would get its tint from pinot noir, as does rosé from Sancerre in the eastern part of France’s Loire.

The French have long respected rosé, and they remain its biggest advocates. Many Americans’ first rosé experience was with inexpensive offerings such as white zinfandel (actually a rosé), a product of a mishap called stuck fermentation, in which the yeast die before completing the transformation of sugars to alcohol. Rather than trying to re-boot the fermentation, winemaker Bob Trichero of Sutter Home Winery decided to bottle it. The American palate took to this sweeter product, and we continue to buy white zinfandel by the millions of cases per year.

If it’s your cup of tea, that’s OK, but no one would hold it up as a great representation of what rosé can be. This simpler, saccharine style is often called “blush” (possibly because connoisseurs would be embarrassed to be seen with it). My guess is that a lot of New World rosés come from red wine grapes that didn’t make the cut for the namesake varietal red.

Dr Baxter’s Rosé Picks:

• Miraval Rose 2012

• Francis Coppola Sofia Rosé blush wine

• Kapcsandy Family Winery Grand Vin Rose

• Barnard Griffin 2014 Rose of Sangiovese

It’s starting to change, though. Napa Valley-based Kapscándy Winery’s “Grand Vin” Rosés are made from Bordeaux varietals and are structured, intense, and even age-worthy for at least a year or two. Mourvedre-based rosés from Bandol, France, just east of Marseilles and Cassis, are reputed to be age-worthy as well.

Real Men Drink Rosé, Too

Big rosés may be one reason why more men are drinking pink. CNBC’s business news correspondent Jane Wells called it the “brosé” movement. According to Wells, growth in rosé sales is outpacing overall wine sales by a 10-to-1 ratio.

Rosé lovers have never had it better, and should rejoice that wineries are taking it seriously. Many good ones are available for under $15, though it is probably worth paying a bit more, and the best rosés are still a good value. Chateau Miraval’s price tag was reportedly $60 million, and others like Kapscándy are hoping the market is ready to pay a bit more for quality. It’s still not a sure bet, and it reminds me of the popular adage about getting into the winemaking business: The quickest way to make a small fortune is to start with a large one.

Baxter 0172finalRichard A. Baxter, MD, is a plastic surgeon in Seattle. He is the author of Age Gets Better with Wine. Dr Baxter can be reached via [email protected].