There has never been a more popular time to think pink—rosé, it seems, has our national Pantone-pumping heart all aflutter, to the tune of over $250 million in sales in 2017 so far, according to Nielsen.
But too much of a good thing can make one weary—or, at the very last, just a little bored. Rosé is great, and we certainly wouldn’t ask you to give it up, but there’s more to the light side of sipping than barrels of blush.
Winemaker and sommelier Brian Smith ought to know. A partner (and chief wine officer) of Winc, Inc., an easy-going, value-minded super modern wine-club model that tailors shipments to their clients’ tastes and budgets. He and his partners are also responsible for one of the more popular recent rosé crazes, Summer Water (the brand tagline: “It’s more than the rose of the season; it’s a state of mind”), made of California-sourced grenache and syrah. But even the Wonka of watermelon-hued wine knows that somewhere between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, our love of pink starts to go a bit kerplunk. Not because rosé isn’t a perfectly suitable to drink well beyond Labor Day—it is—but like anything, variety is good.
“While we have seen the emergence of a preference for lighter reds with our membership, we think the light red trend is an extension of a few converging macro trends. The explosion in popularity of rosé is one of these,” says Smith. It’s because, he reasons, these wines tend to be lighter, fresher, and lower in alcohol than even some of the lighter whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
Another part of it: the natural wine movement (wines grown and made with as little intervention as possible) has turned budding oenophiles onto reds that aren’t made into muscle-bound brutes in a barrel for years on end. When it comes to reds of the natural ilk, these wines tend to be lively, fresh, and thus oh-so drinkable.
So where does Smith look for inspiration on the light side of red? The Loire Valley of France for Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, and the Jura and Arbois regions of France for delicious Poulsard and Trousseau grapes. He’s all about beautiful Beaujolais, made from the gamay grape. And in Italy, grapes like Frappato, Nerello Mascalese in Sicily, Rossese in Liguria are rouge-y breath of fresh air.
With reds like these, you may surprise yourself by sipping them all through an evening or event. “At the beginning of a meal, you want an aperitif—something that wakes up your palate and prepares you for the meal. Champagne, white, or rosé are the classic openers because they provide tangy lemon and citrus acidity,” says Smith. “A lot of the lighter reds have those same qualities. It makes them light enough for a starter, plus they tend to be slightly lower in alcohol, so you can have a few extra sips to ease into conversation.”
And when it comes to a wedding, it’s all about making it delicious and easy. “As with any wedding or event, you want to try to curate every element; your wine selection is no different. At the same time you don’t want to alienate any of your guests,” Smith advises. “For light reds, I would go Beaujolais all day. These wines can be a great value as well. My top pick would be magnums of Julien Sunier Beaujolais. The wine is delicious, a great value and pouring out of magnum bottle is a good look for the happy couple.”