Finger Lakes winemaker Vinny Aliperti is taking on Shakespeare, whether he knows it or not. It was The Bard who famously wrote, in Romeo & Juliet, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” It was his typically poetic way of saying that what we call something doesn’t matter; the content of that thing is what matters.
Maybe not. Maybe a name matters enough to affect public perception. Aliperti finds that to be true with rosé. Some Finger Lakes wineries have seen steady growth in sales and production of rosé, while others have stagnated. Some of that stagnation comes from bias, Aliperti says, which comes from lack of accurate information.
“One thing that does bother me are wines labeled ‘rosé’ even though they are in a decidedly sweetish style,” Aliperti says. “That is one area where consumers get thrown. In a perfect world, wines labeled ‘rosé’ should be dry. Let’s say under one percent residual sugar. Everything else should be called something else, such as blush, or pink wine.”
It’s a provocative point: Lovers of dry rose understand its value as a dry wine. But many customers might shy away solely based on the color of the wine and its pink cousin, white zinfandel. Aliperti’s proposal could make a dramatic impact in consumer education.
But here’s another way to attract more people to rose: Winemakers could do a better job making it. Fortunately, a growing number of delicious versions are readily available, not the least of which is Aliperti’s solid Billsboro rosé made from pinot noir.
The regional benchmark is the pinot rosé from Ravines Wine Cellars, where winemaker Morten Hallgren draws on his time living in Provence (where the world’s best rosé comes from). Hallgren makes a vital distinction when it comes to this style of wine: It is not meant to be drunk in serious settings, but winemakers must approach it seriously to ensure a good outcome.
“You don’t want to have to think too much about rosé when you’re drinking it,” Hallgren told me as we tasted a bottle of the excellent Anthony Road Wine Company 2011 Dry Rosé. “But you have to take it seriously when you’re making it. It’s not a throwaway wine. It can’t be your worst fruit. You’ll get off flavors. You find that in every region that makes rosé, and you find that in the Finger Lakes, too. I guess some people think it’s not a priority, and that can really show. You don’t just make rosé when you can’t ripen red wine grapes.”
Fortunately, rosé has gained a wider following not only in terms of consumer appreciation, but in winemakers who enjoy it. At least half a dozen Finger Lakes wineries that didn’t make rosé five years ago now do, and the list is gorwing by the year. Hallgren says his rather small allocation doesn’t last long, and last year he had to turn down interested retailers in Texas and other states. “We didn’t have enough to meet demand,” he says with a shrug.
It wasn’t always that way. Hallgren says the lesson is to start slowly with rosé. “I’d say, don’t start by making a thousand cases of it. Start with one hundred. See how customers react. Build production slowly.”
But that slow start is enough to turn off some producers who want faster results. “It’s easy to get impatient with rosé,” Hallgren says. “There are times of year when it doesn’t seem to sell at all. Educating consumers is worth the effort and can be rewarding.”
The Anthony Road we were drinking is a fine example of what can happen when a winery dedicates its best fruit to the cause. It’s a rose made from cabernet franc, which can tend to show some bitter green notes. But the Anthony Road version is pure watermelon, strawberry, melon rind and watermelon candy. Vineyard manager Peter Martini wants high quality cab franc in the hands of the winemaking team. The result is a wine that is on pace to sell out before half the summer has set.
“Demand is certainly growing,” Aliperti says. “So is the familiarity that dry rosé is supremely food-friendly and has a unique flavor profile, borrowing flavors from both white and red wines.”
By changing the labeling rules, a wider range of customers might finally turn to this wine that is uniquely suited for summer — and seasonal food. Shakespeare was brilliant, but not infallible. Or perhaps he would note that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but a rosé is a different story. The accent mark makes all the difference.