As more consumers discover or rediscover rosé wines, some operators are paying more attention to pairing pink wines. Rosés not only appeal to both sweet and dry wine drinkers, they can be wonderfully palate cleansing and they pair well with so many foods.
Rosé is more versatile that many realize: “You can drink it year-round and as a refreshing, warm-weather wine option,” says Chaylee Priete, wine director for the San Francisco-based Slanted Door restaurant group.
In addition to its eponymous Vietnamese restaurant, Slanted Door includes Out the Door and Heaven’s Dog Asian restaurants. All of the rosés on Priete’s list are dry and include bottles from Sonoma and Austria, priced from $32 to $36, and one served by the glass for $9.
Madison’s Restaurant at the 90-room Old Edwards Inn in Highlands, NC, carries six to eight rotating rosés, priced from $35 for a dry and still Rhône wine to $150 for Veuve Clicquot, says beverage manager Curt Christiansen. His selection includes three sparkling rosés and dry rosés from Provence and a few from Oregon.
Most dry rosés, which are primarily made from classic and well-respected red grape varietals, including everything from pinot noir to grenache and cinsaut, boast impressive structure and body. The fresh, fruity taste profile has made rosé a favorite for summer: The bulk of Madisons Restaurant customers who order rosé enjoy it in the restaurant’s outdoor dining venues, Christiansen says.
“Rosé pairs well with just about any summertime outdoor fare, from salads, shrimp and grits, hamburgers, fish and chips to name a few,” notes Christiansen. Its flexibility often bridges the gap between diverse flavors and palates, much like pinot noir.
For The Wine Kitchen and WK Hearth American bistro restaurants in Maryland and Virginia, the stronger months for rosé tend to be spring and summer, says co-owner Jason Miller. But rosé sales are generally on the rise, he notes.
Molyvos, a Greek restaurant in New York, has seen has seen steady, year-round sales of rosé, says wine director Kamal Kouri. This is despite the Northeast’s cold winter, which can often dampen non-red wine sales of any kind.
The Greek rosés on Molyvos’ wine list “tend to be light in structure, with good acidity and subtle cherry and raspberry flavors,” he says. The restaurant carries eight rosés—including two sparklers—by the bottle, priced from $36 to $64, and six by the glass in the $9 to $15 price range.
Thanks to their flexible and food-friendly taste profile, rosés pair nicely with a variety of cuisines. They work particularly well with the intense heat levels of many Asian foods and other hot, chili-driven cuisines.
Rosé is a versatile match for versatility with Slanted Door’s cuisines, “which can have some richness and spice to it,” says Priete. She notes that the Cep Rosé of pinot noir 2012 from Peay in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley works perfectly with the restaurant’s Blackened Cod with Sweet Potato Puree and Herbs. “The brightness of the Cep and its great acid component cuts through the sweetness of the potato, the subtle earthy leafy red fruits of the pinot complements the Cajun-style char of the fish.”
At Eddie Merlot’s, a nine-location steakhouse based in Ft. Wayne, IN, “the BBQ, Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp absolutely sings with a dry rosé,” says corporate beverage manager Joseph Davey. “Every time I walk by a guest that’s ordering or enjoying that dish, I bring them a taste.”
Davey, who particularly likes rosé wines with Asian flavors, carries three, which are priced from $28 to $38 a bottle and include the NV Montevina zinfandel for $7 a glass and $28 a bottle.
Several operators noted the popularity of sparkling rosés, from France as well as other parts of the world. Classic French Champagne producers set the standard with some of their most delicate and food-approachable rosé wines that are generally made from 100% pinot noir.
Miller of The Wine Kitchen and WK Hearth has found that the most consistent style among rosé wines these days comes from the sparkling interpretations. He carries two of them by the glass and bottle, one from France and the other from Argentina, priced at $8 to $12 a glass and $27 to $38 a bottle. These wines range from $24 a bottle for an Italian rosé from Piedmonte to $48 a bottle for Bordeaux rosé from a grand cru producer.
As for pairing, Miller likes to match the sparkling rosés with tuna tartare, as the dish has “a little spice, sweetness and pistachios.”
A specific wine Miller likes to recommend with the tuna tartare? The sparkling rosé Alma Negra. “The lightness and crispness of the rosé, coupled with the exciting sparking bubbles really compliment the fresh, vibrant tuna and briny notes of olives as well as light nuttiness of pistachios in the dish,” he says.
In general, Miller says, “sparkling wine and fresh or raw fish works so well together because of the inherent freshness of the sparkling wine compliments so well the fresh, yet richness of raw fish.”
THE WHITE ZINFANDEL EFFECT
White zinfandel was once a reference point for the rosé category, but no longer dominates it. The consumer base for dry rosé is incredibly diverse, according to Sandy Block, Master of Wine and vice president of beverage operations at the Boston-based, 33-local Legal Sea Foods chain.
Rosé drinkers range from the “traditional customer whose is interest in white zinfandel, [to the] adventurous customer who is discovering how good the wines are with food,” Block says. He carries four rosés on his core wine list, which also includes rosé Champagne.
Kouri says that many Molyvos customers initially take note of rosés because of their fruity, accessible taste profile, testament to the fact that the white zinfandel legacy is still opening doors. But he notes that more sophisticated guests “ask for a rosé with body and a structured and crisp acidy.” This generally leads them to drier rosés that will make their food choices shine.
Not that there isn’t a market for sweet pink wines—there is. White zinfandel was one of the first pink wines to be paired and poured nationally at chain restaurants around the country, and it opened up the wine-drinking field to many newcomers with its fresh, sweet profile.
The Three Families restaurant in St. Peters, MO, does a brisk business in sweeter wines such as white zinfandel, and pink moscato, says general manager Randall Martin. The traditional American cuisine eatery serves Opera Prima moscato for $7.50 a glass and $30 a bottle, is great for toasting and pairs well with fresh fruit, Martin says. The Canyon Road white zinfandel, sold only by the glass for $4, is also quite popular, it pairs well with the restaurant’s two tilapia dishes, one made with lemon and pepper and other with Italian spices.
TRAINING AND TASTING
As more consumers venture into the world of rosé, many need guidance and education on the taste profiles and nuances among the varieties. Christiansen says that training staff on how to promote and pair the category is fairly simple, as most rosés are single varietal or made of common blends.
While Miller notes that while many of his customers who gravitate to rosé may be a bit worldlier with a better understanding wine, some also order it based on its potential sweetness given that it is a pink wine. So as part of the training, he has the staff taste the wines to be able to accurately describe them and prepare his customers for various sugar levels in the rosés, he notes.
“The key is to allow the staff to experience the wine so when a customer says, ‘I don’t like rosés because they are too sweet,’ our staff can add value by accurately describing our rosé program,” Miller says. “The best way to make sure a guest gets a glass of wine is to listen to what they are saying, ask a few questions, know your wine list and be confident in your suggestion.”
While none of the rosés at Slanted Door are sweet, “they do have fruit, so we train our staff to talk about the beauty of implied sweetness, how it acts as a counter balance to richness and when present in a wine with proper acid really serves to make the wine whole and perfect for food,” Priete says.
There’s no question that interest in rosé is growing. Christiansen says he saw an uptick in their popularity after rosés were featured prominently on two major wine magazine covers this past June.
Priete believes that many vintners are striving to make rosé as a great wine with its own merits—not as the byproduct of red wine grapes that weren’t fit to go into the benchmark blend. “They are cleaner, precise and dry,” she says about some of her rosés. “You will see more serious rosés as people begin to appreciate it as a very versatile food wine,” says Priete. ·
Liza B. Zimmerman is a freelance writer based in San Francisco.