Enjoying rose wine in the South of France

Everyone knows that the French make incredible red and white wine. But their rose wine is also fantastic, albeit sometimes misunderstood.

When I told a friend that we loved the rose wines we drank on our recent trip to France, she turned up her nose and said, “Isn’t that like Kool-Aid?”

The truth is that most American roses, if you can even find them, aren’t very good. We went to the California wine festival yesterday in Santa Barbara, and of the 350 wines they poured, probably fewer than 5% were roses. Of those, only one was even slightly dry.

Many American equate rose with blush wines like white Zinfandel, which are just plain awful. But French roses are delightful, excellent with food, and oh-so-drinkable.

In France, the color is very pale – often with just a tinge of salmon. The exception is Tavel, which is a deeper shade of pink. And it’s served lightly chilled.

Rose is made from red grapes, often Syrah, Grenache, or Cinsaut. The skin is left on for a few hours or a few days, depending on the type of grape. The skin gives the wine its lovely color. When the wine is pressed, the skins are removed. Since many of the tannins present in wine come from the skin, rose wine taste more like white wine than red.

There are several kinds of French rose. Anjou rose is made in the Loire Valley, and Champagne and Burgundy also produce rose wine. But to us, the best roses comes from Southern France.

Almost 80% of the wine produced in the Cotes de Provence region is rose. Made mostly from Cinsaut and Grenache, these roses are dry with floral fruit and lovely color. Chateau Miravel and Saint Roch-les-Vignes are both wonderful.

Of the rose wine from the Southern Cotes du Rhone, Tavel stands out. Made from a blend of Grenache and Syrah, it’s darker, dryer, and higher in alcohol than other French roses. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a Provencal-style lunch of Salade Nicoise, ratatouille, or grilled fish. It tastes like summer in a glass.

Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence goes from the Luberon to the Mediterranean. Some unusual grapes including Mourvedre and Counoise, produce a delicious wine with subtle raspberry fruit.

One of the most-admired roses in France is the Domaine Tempier from Bandol, a small resort town on the Riviera not far from Cassis. The grapes grown here benefit from an average of 3,000 hours of sunlight per year. That, and Mediterranean breezes that mitigate the heat, yield notes of peach, grass, and strawberries. It’s a brilliant wine that pairs well with any summer salad.

The mistral, or north wind, does a good job keeping insects to a minimum, so the region has several organic estates that are also producing roses. If you’re visiting Arles, Avignon, or Aix-en-Provence, sample several.

If you’re stuck at home, most of the French roses available in the United States are pretty affordable. Our local wine shop has several kinds for around $15 a bottle. For a memorable summer brunch, pick up several kinds and invite some friends over for a rose tasting.

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