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Very different bottles of rosé raise questions about whether to group by colour or by how the wines are made.

How do you define Rosé?

Jul 10, 2020 5:50 AM

CERTAIN categories of wine must be approached on tiptoe, as opinions surrounding them will be tenaciously defended, even if their champions are ill-informed. Arguments will ensue.

Riesling is like that, for sure, and natural wine, without a doubt. But rosé?

Rosé is a popular, beloved sort of wine, I imagined, that all would embrace. It's for lovers, not for fighters, connoting relaxation, not combat.

Yet there are substantial disagreements not only on how these wines were experienced - that's always a given - but also on the nature of rosé, how to define it and whether it has any value at all.

As usual, I recommended three bottles. They were: Wölffer Estate Long Island Rosé 2019, Tiberio Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo 2019 and Arnot-Roberts California Rosé Touriga Nacional 2019.

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The idea was to look at different ideas of rosé, from different places, made from different grapes, using different techniques.

The Arnot-Roberts, from California, was the most conventional rosé, even if its components, 80 per cent touriga nacional and 20 per cent tinta cão, both leading port grapes, are unusual choices for rosé.

After harvest, the grapes were crushed and the juice was left to macerate with the pigment-laden skins until the desired colour was achieved, about 24 hours. The wine was fermented, but malolactic fermentation, in which bacteria transform malic acid into softer lactic acid, was blocked in order to maintain liveliness. It was aged briefly in steel vats.

The result was a superb pale rosé, fresh and energetic, with complex fruit, floral and herbal flavors and a chalky minerality.

The Wölffer, from the South Fork of Long Island, was made differently. It was roughly 60 per cent merlot, 33 per cent chardonnay and 6 per cent cabernet franc, with small amounts of a few other grapes. It's quite rare for good rosés, other than sparkling wines, to be made from a blend of red and white grapes.

The Wölffer winemaker, Roman Roth, told me that the merlot is harvested with plenty of colour in the juice and does not require maceration with the skins. The chardonnay, he said, lightens the colour of the merlot and adds texture. He, too, blocks the malolactic fermentation - a step, he said, that has become more important with climate change.

Fun wine

The wine, which had a pale salmon colour like the Arnot-Roberts, was dry, lively and well rounded, with floral, peachy flavours. This is a fun wine, not as complex as the Arnot-Roberts, but just what you might want poolside or at other casual summer gatherings.

The Tiberio Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo is different. This dark style, made entirely from the montepulciano grape, is traditional in the Abruzzo region. Like the Arnot-Roberts, the juice is macerated with the skins until it achieves the desired cherry red colour. As with the other two, the malolactic fermentation is blocked.

The wine is fresh and lively, energetic and dry, with tangy, stony, floral flavours and a touch of salinity. It has complexity and character, and is simply lovely. While the other two might go best with relatively delicate dishes, this is definitely a food wine and would go well with a wide range, including lamb.

Paradoxically, grouping these wines by vinification technique, would put the Arnot-Roberts and the Tiberio together. These two very different-looking and -tasting wines both achieved their colours through maceration.

The Wölffer, which resembled the Arnot-Roberts, would be in a separate category. For now, I'll stick to calling them all rosés.

Yet rosé has a long history of being demeaned. I personally believe that every style of wine, including rosé, has an occasion for which it's the best choice. These three wines would require three different occasions.

Back in 1980, a smart man who happened to be my uncle, the author Isaac Asimov, reflected on anti-intellectualism in American life, which he said was "nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge' ". We're here not to argue but to learn. With wine, there's only one way to do that: pour and drink. NYTIMES