Discover the savoury side of rose: 20 pink wines to discover and drink

Taste test of a bunch of 20 roses from around the world. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Taste test of a bunch of 20 roses from around the world. PHOTO: NYTIMES

(NYTIMES) - If for no other reason than popular demand, summer is rose season.

These wines, once pitilessly disparaged as dull and anemic, have been hotter than July for a decade, a climactic shift that shows no signs of letting up. In the past few months, three books on rose have been published, which possibly doubles the number of volumes on rose in all of time.

As if to cement rose's evolution from trend to institution, Vogue now suggests the wine has oversaturated the summer market and is a fashionable bubble ready to burst.

I will skip the debate over pink wine's cultural meaning. Speaking strictly from a wine point of view, when rose crossed over to become a symbol of pleasurable summer living, it was time to beware.

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The wine industry sought to capitalise on rose's popularity by making more of it. A lot more of it. Much of it is pretty dreadful, sped along the assembly line to be ready by late spring, yet short-lived enough to be dead by the end of summer. Ephemeral, but such pretty colours.

Nonetheless, for those who care, good roses, made conscientiously, are out there. The best - the sort of roses that can age and evolve like any other good wine - have risen in price. But for roughly US$15 (S$20.65) to US$20, the sweet spot for good value in wine, you can find remarkable roses from many corners of the wine-producing world.

These 20 roses, all under US$20 a bottle, are far from the insipid roses that clothe a little fruit and sweetness in chic pink. My picks show the savoury side of rose. Indeed, some of these roses taste almost salty - fresh, saline sprays of summer that are nonetheless as refreshing as they are delicious.

While it pays to be serious about finding good rose, it is also important not to be too serious when drinking it. Serve it cold, but not icy - though if you do, it will warm up soon enough in the summer heat. Good glasses are pleasant though not essential; tumblers are fine, too.

Drink it with lunch. Drink it with dinner. Or drink it just for fun, inside or outdoors. Drink it on a rooftop or a deck, at the beach or by the pool. Or, if you are like me and cherish summers in Manhattan when so many people leave town, enjoy it while listening to the blissful silence of empty streets.

Here, in no particular order, are 20 roses, each under US$20.

Idlewild Mendocino County the Flower, Flora & Fauna Rose 2016, US$19.96

Sam Bilbro's family is behind the idiosyncratic Marietta winery in Northern California, so it is not surprising that his own project, Idlewild, would also have the idiosyncratic goal of making wines from northwestern Italian varieties in Mendocino. The Flower is a delightful rose, made of dolcetto, nebbiolo and barbera. It smells like red fruits, flowers and citrus but is savoury, almost salty, and delicious.

Schloss Gobelsburg Niederosterreich Rose Cistercien 2016, US$15.99

On pulling the cork, this Austrian wine is fizzy with residual carbon dioxide, but the bubbles dissipate quickly. The resulting still wine, a combination of zweigelt, pinot noir and St. Laurent, offers aromas of peaches and berries. On the palate it is bone-dry and invigorating, with a bracingly fresh underlying citrus flavour. (A Terry Theise Estate Selection/Skurnik Wines, New York)

Los Bermejos Lanzarote Canary Islands Listan Rosado 2016, US$19.99

Lanzarote is the easternmost of the Canary Islands, closer to northwestern Africa and the Sahara than it is to Spain. Each vine must be trained low on the volcanic rock and protected from the extremely windy conditions. This superb, well-balanced wine, made of listan negro, is both fruity and savoury, with flavours of peaches, minerals and what whiskey writers like to call "iodine" . (David Bowler Wine, New York)

Karina et Guillaume Lefevre Domaine de Sulauze Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence Pomponette Rose 2016, US$17.99

This pale salmon-colored rose from Provence is nervy, direct and refreshing. It is made from a biodynamically grown blend of red grapes - mostly grenache, with some syrah, cinsault and mourvedre - and a bit of white (rolle, as vermentino is known in southern France). It is savoury and saline, with the enticing scent of meadow flowers. (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, New York)

Horse & Plow North Coast Rose 2016, US$19.96

This rose, from a husband-and-wife producer in Northern California, is made of organic old-vine carignan grapes. It is savoury, stony and totally refreshing, with flavours of red berries and citrus and a lingering saline edge.

Chateau Peyrassol Cotes de Provence Rose Commanderie de Peyrassol 2016, US$19.99

This is the archetypal Provencal rose: pale pink and made from a typical blend of grapes, usually cinsault, grenache and syrah. With the aromas of fresh fruit and warm stones, the wine has presence and depth, and still goes down easy. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York)

Castell'in Villa Toscana Rosato I.G.T. La Gazzara 2016, US$15.99

This rosato, just one of several Italian words for roses (including cerasuolo and ramato), comes from a historic producer of Chianti Classico. Naturally, it is made of sangiovese, the grape of Chianti. While it smells of flowers and bath powder, this lovely wine has a peachy flavour that is nonetheless savoury, earthy and sinewy. (Polaner Selections)

Birichino California Vin Gris 2016, US$17.99

Birichino, a Central Coast negociant, has appeared regularly in the 20 Under $20 columns for the simple reason that its wines are always good and good values. This rose, made from a host of southern French varieties, is bone-dry with a savoury edge, just right for burgers or the sort of Mediterranean dishes you might serve at an outdoor lunch.

Bodegas Zudugarai Getariako Txakolina Antxiola Rosado 2016, US$16.99

Txakolina is the refreshing wine of choice in the Basque region of northern Spain, and has proved resoundingly popular in the United States, especially the roses. The Antxiola, pale salmon in color, smells like red berries and is mildly effervescent. On the palate, however, the wine tastes as if the grapes, grown on the southern edge of the Bay of Biscay, were hit by blasts of salt sea air. At just 11 per cent alcohol, this would be a good lunch wine. (Polaner Selections)

Mas de Gourgonnier Les Baux de Provence Rose 2016, US$15.99

This Provencal rose is a tad firmer than is typical, courtesy of a high proportion of cabernet sauvignon added to the otherwise familiar blend of grenache, cinsault and mourvedre. It is floral, earthy and savoury, and despite the cabernet, is as easygoing, flirtatious and transporting as any other Provençal rose. (Skurnik Wines)

Pheasant's Tears Kakheti, Georgia Rkatsiteli Rose 2015, US$17.99

This excellent, unusual rose comes from the country of Georgia, one of the most ancient wine regions in the world, from an odd pigmented clone of the white rkatsiteli grape. And it is made in the ancient way: The grapes, indigenous to Georgia, are fermented in qvevri, clay amphora-like vessels lined with beeswax and buried in the earth. Atypically for a rose, the juice is fermented with the grape skins for 10 days, giving the wine colour and a pleasant rasp of tannin. It smells like flowers and herbs, and is a wine of real substance, though it is low in alcohol, at just 11.5 per cent. (Terrell Wines, San Francisco)

Rose de Printemps Cotes de Provence Rose 2016, US$15

Rose de Printemps translates to "rose of spring," but this bone-dry, peppery wine is more a refreshing wine of summer. Grassroots Wine, an excellent importer and distributor in the Southern United States, sources this wine from a cooperative in the Carcès region of Provence. In a word, "deelish". (Grassroots Wine, Birmingham, Alabama)

Bonny Doon Central Coast Vin Gris de Cigare 2016, US$15.96

"The wine does not overwhelm one with fruity bombasticity," wrote Randall Grahm, the proprietor and chief coinage officer of Bonny Doon. He is correct. This is a dark rose, relatively full-bodied and not at all shy, with aromas of red fruit and flowers, all within a savoury framework that provides shape and energy. It is a blend of both red and white grapes, including grenache, grenache blanc, mourvedre, carignan, cinsault and roussanne.

Meinklang Osterreich Frizzante Rose 2016, US$17.96

Can a wine be both sweet and savoury? Rarely, but this excellent biodynamic Austrian estate proves it can be done with this lightly sparkling rose. Made of pinot noir, the rose is a touch sweet (and only 10.5 per cent alcohol). Its vibrant acidity and savoury tang renders it fresh and thoroughly refreshing. (KWSelection.com/Artisanal Cellars, White River Junction, Vermont)

Triennes Mediterranee I.G.P. Rose 2016, US$15.99

Yes, it is true that the Triennes estate in Provence was founded by two of Burgundy's most venerated names: Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac. But that would not be reason enough to pay attention to this rose if it were not also delicious. The wine, made mostly of cinsault, with handfuls of syrah, grenache and merlot, smells of berries and flowers with savoury, saline edges. (The Sorting Table, Napa, California)

Leitz Rheingau Pinot Noir Rose Trocken 2016, US$16.99

Johannes Leitz is a top Rheingau producer whose best wines are old-vine rieslings grown on impossibly steep slopes. Pinot noir rose must be a sort of cash cow, but who could begrudge him when the wine is so pleasing and refreshing. It is bone-dry and smells like pinot noir, but its savoury flavours give it another dimension. (Schatzi Wines, Milan, New York)

Domaine Poli Ile de Beaute I.G.P. Niellucciu Rose 2016, US$13.99

No surprise that Corsica is nicknamed Ile de Beaute. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, with views of the Mediterranean in one direction and snow-capped peaks in the other. The wines are beautiful and distinctive, too. This one, made from niellucciu, genetically similar to sangiovese but adapted over time to Corsica, is salty, savoury and refreshing. (Regal Wine Imports, Moorestown, New Jersey)

Wolffer Estate Long Island Rose 2016, US$18.99

For New Yorkers who would like to drink local, and for anyone else simply interested in a good rose, Wolffer Estate on the South Fork of Long Island makes this dry, fresh and pleasing blend of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot and riesling. It is peachy and well balanced with an underlying note of anise.

François Chidaine Touraine Rose 2016, US$14.99

The winemaker François Chidaine, best known for his excellent Montlouis, makes this zesty rose from the red grapes grolleau, pinot noir and gamay. It is rather full-bodied with a colour almost of maraschino cherries. The wine is bone-dry and floral, with a kind of dark, herbal edge. (Polaner Selections)

Jean-Paul Brun Beaujolais Rose Le Rose d'Folie 2016, US$15.96

I am a fan of just about anything Jean-Paul Brun produces, from his cru Beaujolais to his straightforward Beaujolais L'Ancien Vieilles Vignes and Beaujolais Blanc to this lovely rose, made of gamay mostly from young vines. The wine, a gorgeous shade of pale cherry, is softly fruity with a lively, stony core. Refreshing and to the point. (Louis/Dressner Selections, New York)