Berger on wine: Rosés veering toward bone dry

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Rosé wines may be entering a new era in the United States, one in which the word “dry” can mean both “slightly sweet” and “completely, austerely dry.”

Until now, it was hard to find a truly dry pink wine.

Not only can this be confusing, but it reminds me of the earlier era in U.S. wine (the early 1980s) when white zinfandels were sweet. None were dry.

But first some crucial background on sweetness in wine:

Even wines with lots of sugar can taste dry if the acid is high enough.

Even wines with zero sugar can taste sweet if the acid is low, and especially if the pH and alcohol are high.

Also, when a label on a bottle of German wine uses the term “trocken,” potential buyers know the wine is dry … but it likely will have several grams of sugar.

The German wine law allows up to 9 grams per liter of residual sugar (nearly 1%) on trocken wines because in almost all cases, the acid is so high that without any sugar, it would be like licking an under-ripe grapefruit. Sugar provides balance to tart wines.

Yet despite the austere nature of such “trocken” wines, retailers in major cities tell me such wines are all the rage with riesling lovers.

And riesling isn’t the only wine that can have a trace of sugar. Even in tiny amounts, sugar delivers flavor, and in some wines, the structure benefits greatly.

Among the wines in which you typically find small amounts of sugar today are sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, gewurztraminer, pinot gris, riesling, viognier, and even brut sparkling wines. And many more.

In a recent column here, I stated how I denote (in my tasting book, for my use only) three levels of perceived sweetness:

“Dry” for wines that are crisp yet soft; any wines whose acidity is just a bit low.

“Drry” (two R’s) for wines where the sugar used to harmonize the mid-palate is imperceptible, and the wine is structured for food. They can be hard for wine newcomers to understand.

“Drrry” for wines with zero sugar and an aftertaste so tart it’s pucker-y and austere. This category is relatively new, but is finding adherents.

Wines in Category 1 often include many European wines with lower alcohols. The category can include French muscadet and Sancerre; Italian whites (pinot grigio, falanghina, Greco, cortese), some vinho verdes from Portugal; most of France’s Chablis; German silvaners, and Australian semillons.

Both domestic pinot gris and Gewürztraminer usually are in the category 1, where a trace of sugar blunts any potential bitterness. You rarely see either wine in Category 3.

Pink wines, which have become all the rage in the last few years in by-the-glass offerings, in restaurant, and for patio-sipping, have for the most part been sweet or off-dry, with most in Category 1 and some venturing into Category 2.

However, in the last year or two, rosés have evolved toward bone-dry. These can be fascinating, if a bit challenging to those who want their drink wines ice cold.

Ice-coldness exacerbates zero sugar.

In Category 3, you are encouraged to consume them cool at most.

One pink version that developed its own Category 3 in the 1980s was called “vin gris.” Often this was dry, white pinot noir aged in barrels. Most were dry and got richness from its barrel contact.

Discoveries of the Week

2018 Complant Rosé Pommes-en-Main ($25) — The aroma of this pale, salmon-ish pink wine is faintly like zinfandel, the main grape in its makeup. The wine is absolutely dry on the tongue. Only its 12.4% alcohol gives it any weight.

The brand is a new one from the father-son team of Dan and Sam Baron. Dan has a long list of impressive credentials (Dominus, Silver Oak.)

2018 Villa Ragazzi Rosato di Sangiovese, Oakville ($28) — This is one of the best sangiovese-based pink wines. It’s from the Oakville Ranch of Greg and Michaela Rodeno (she was an executive with Domaine Chandon and St. Supery).

Ragazzi’s red wines are equally as dramatic. The 2014 is $42 and is among the best outside Chianti. The pink is bone dry and perfect for purists.

Neither of the pink wines is for those who want a sweeter, blush wine.

Sonoma County resident Dan Berger publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a subscription-only wine newsletter. Write to him at He is also co-host of California Wine Country with Steve Jaxon on KSRO Radio, 1350 am.

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