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Rosé Wine Renaissance

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Given the expansive education I’ve had in the ways of the grape—courtesy of decades of generous expense accounts provided by Henry Luce and then S. I. Newhouse Jr.—my spotty knowledge of wines should not cause Jay McInerney or Robert Parker to lose any sleep. That I am a partner in three New York City restaurants—the Waverly Inn, the Monkey Bar and the Beatrice Inn—makes my ignorance even less forgivable. The thing is, I really appreciate wine—goodness knows, I drink enough of it—but I keep only cursory track of what I like and don’t like. In general, I prefer red over white, full-bodied over light and dry over, er, non-dry. But on a warm, lazy summer afternoon spent off the coast of somewhere, or by a pool or lake, I prefer rosé over just about anything.

Although rosés have been around forever—indeed, most early wines looked more like rosé than they did, say, Burgundy—Americans have come late to the party. It’s really been in only the last 20 years that you see it being served with regularity. Even the French have renewed their love of it; they drink more rosés than they do whites these days. And the very good news is that rosés are cheap, as far as wines go. Before we got married, my wife and I tried about two dozen of them in order to find the right one for our reception. They ranged in price from about $10 to $30, and all were from Provence. We didn’t care for the ones that were bright red (too sweet) or the ones that were watery pink (flavorless). We settled on a rosé that was a hearty peach color and tasted crisp and lightly fruity. I think it was about $14 a bottle.

In the end, most of the bottles remained unopened. My hunch is that our American guests still favored reds or whites, and the Europeans were probably sick of rosé by then. Not many years before, I was having lunch on the terrace of the Hotel du Cap during the Cannes Film Festival with the head of a talent agency and a studio chief and his wife. I ordered rosé with my meal. I was surprised that they didn’t know what it was. One asked if it was the European version of a wine cooler. Somebody else at the table thought rosé must be a mixture of red and white wines—which, to be frank, is what I thought it was when I first tasted it, in the late ’80s. (In some regions, such as Champagne, this is an accepted method of producing rosé.) In the years since, I’ve noticed that rosé has taken off in southern California. And given its light taste and pleasing color, it’s a wonder it didn’t happen earlier. The default label out there is Domaines Ott, not the best rosé to my mind but a safe bet because it’s one of the more expensive.

In the summer, good wine stores now have entire sections devoted to rosés. It’s hard to tell how long that will last. We Americans are a fickle lot, always on the move for the next thing. Rosé will come, and then, presumably, it will go, and in due time we’ll be drinking something else. You watch, the next wave in wine tastes will probably be another refreshing French favorite: lightly chilled red Sancerre. I’m sure McInerney and Parker have already grown sick of it and shoved on to something better, fresher, more obscure. But for my primitive, if expensively educated palate, it does the trick. At least it’s not tired old rosé.

Only at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, Antibes

Head sommelier Xavier Dinet picks the winners.

• Château Léoube Cuvée Secret (Côtes de Provence)
• Château Les Valentines Cuvée 8 La Londe (Côtes de Provence)
• Château de Pibarnon Bandol
• Domaine de Terrebrune Bandol


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