The first days of summer are like an alarm clock for rosé drinkers. "The first nice day of the season, you'll see rosé sales skyrocket. Everyone thinks, 'It's sunny and warm, I want something pink,'" said Kristin Irwin, wine sales manager at recently opened Max's Wine Dive in Wicker Park. "Especially if you have a patio, you're in business." Though rosé wine is appropriate year-round, its acidic and refreshing character makes it a no-brainer on early summer's hot, humid days. "In Chicago specifically, it seems there's a sort of predefined period of time for rosé, like only wearing white patent leather between Memorial Day and Labor Day," said Mitch Einhorn, owner of Lush Wine & Spirits. The seasonal rosé obsession isn't specific to Chicago, either. National rosé wine sales increased nearly 60 percent by volume from May 2013 to May 2014, according to Nielsen data. But despite rosé's growing popularity, myths remain about the pink wine. Ahead, Chicago experts sort fact from fiction. firstname.lastname@example.org | @redeyeeatdrink
All rosé is sweet: MYTH.
Blame 1970s-era California white zinfandel—"Neither white nor zinfandel," according to Einhorn—for this misconception. "[White zinfandel] was created as a way to probably use up less-than-exemplary white or red blends that they mixed together and sweetened." Blending red and white wines isn't the way most winemakers create rosés these days. Instead, red wine grapes are pressed after only a short period of contact with the grape skin, which is where much of the color and flavor is concentrated. The southern region of France produces some delicate rosés with high mineral character, making Provence a good region to seek out if you want to stay away from sweeter flavors. Fans of fruitier flavors can look to the other end of the spectrum and try California rosés that, due to the state's warmer climate, can have aromas of cherries, plums and strawberries.
All rosé is bright pink: MYTH.
Depending on the types of grape used and how long the skin is left in contact with the wine, rosé can range in appearance from pale, nearly translucent pink to salmon to a deep, nearly red color. "There is still a segment of the population that I consider to be wine racist and just won't try pink wine," said Einhorn. "But when you have the opportunity to show someone what the differences are and the range, people are so much more open to it." The color of the wine does have implications for its flavor, according to Diana Hawkins, sommelier at The Promontory, opening later this summer in Hyde Park. "Pinot noir [grapes] will be a light rosé and then something like a cabernet franc would have a bit heavier mouth feel and also be robust in terms of flavor," Hawkins said. "It's more hitting you in the face rather than tapping you on the shoulder."
Rosé pairs well with food: TRUE.
"From a pairing perspective, rosés tend to do well with fish dishes, with some chicken dishes or something like pork," Hawkins said. "With foods that are too rich for a white but too delicate for a full-blown red, rosés can be right in the middle." Red wine grapes help provide structure to rosés without the overpowering tannins, said Irwin. "We have this cheesy garlic bread with short ribs [on the menu]. I think rosé is perfect with it. A red wine would overpower it and a white wine wouldn't hold up to it. The rose is that perfect middle ground." The high acidity of rosé also encourages your mouth to salivate, which translates to a feeling of refreshment that leaves you ready for another bite.
Rosé isn't for guys: MYTH.
Deciding what to order based on your gender is silly on principle. But if you're still worried that sipping a glass of rosé seems delicate, that preconception is long gone. "I think we've lost that stigma," Hawkins said. Irwin agrees. "I've seen many a table of men drinking rosé," she said. "The same way it works with most food, it works with most people."
Rosé should be consumed "young": TRUE, SORT OF.
Some wines improve with age, while others are meant to be consumed soon after bottling. "The misconception is that if it's not made five minutes ago, the rosé's no good," Einhorn said. "That's not true. I don't think rosés are made to last for decades, but they will last several years and some get better the second or third year." If a menu doesn't list a vintage, ask about it. "If you see a rosé that's like an '09 or '10, that's when you should start to be afraid," Hawkins said.
Rosé is just for summer: MYTH.
Sure, warm weather is a great excuse to pop open the pink stuff, but don't let convention keep you from drinking it into the fall and winter. "Definitely drink rosé in the winter and fall. It's just a good wine. I hate to see a wine be so seasonal," Hawkins said. "You can enjoy salad year-round, just like you can enjoy rosé year-round."
Bang for your buck
Rosés aren't French burgundies—you can find a good value for under $15 at a wine shop or even a grocery store. "You can start with something as simple as rosé from Vinho Verde in Portugal and it's really moderately priced. There are tons in the $10 range," Einhorn said. "There's even a whole realm of French rosés in that $10-$15 price point."
One to try: Chateau Nomad rosé ($18)
Lush's Mitch Einhorn took his interest in rosé to its logical conclusion: Bottling his own version. He teamed up with California winemaker Scott Klann of Newsome-Harlow to create an exclusive wine, which he has bottled under the Chateau Nomad label since 2011. That first vintage was primarily grenache grapes, but Einhorn switched the recipe for his 2012 vintage, which is comprised primarily of mourvedre with added moscat, petit bourdeaux and malbec. The 2013 vintage, which Lush stores expect to stock by July, is 100 percent mourvedre grapes. Chateau Nomad rosé also is available by the bottle at Acadia restaurant in the South Loop.