April is synonymous with rosé wine season. It's when pink juice begins arriving on store shelves in the same way smelt appears at fish fries and crocuses pop in sun-drenched lawns. While it may still seem a bit cold to enjoy wine that is best suited for warm summer afternoons, rosé-heads can't help themselves; they're already pulling corks to see what the 2013 harvest is/was all about.
If you think of rosé as the sweet plonk of the '80s, know that things have changed. In fact, it's the incredible range of this style that makes the spring rosé fling so thrilling: Open four bottles, even from the same geographical area and grape varietal, and there will be compelling differences. One may skew strawberry Jolly Rancher (in a good way) while another will be saline and savory.
The diversity shouldn't worry you. Unlike so many ponderous wine categories where choosing just the right bottle becomes a headache, rosé isn't meant to be terribly serious (although it can be profound in its way). The point is spontaneity, simplicity, purity. Think Zorba the Greek extolling the virtues of a single roast chestnut eaten by the sea, not a birthday dinner in Manhattan with pairings by novelist and wine writer Jay McInerney.
What a relief. What unmediated pleasure.
The Europeans get the purpose of rosé — they live it. As a result, you might notice that (generalizing horribly) rosés from France or Spain often have a certain carefree vibrancy to them. They're not afraid to be rustic, untamed or inexpensive.
Americans, by contrast, seem hell-bent on making pretty serious juice. The good producers, anyway, and this is a very good thing for rosé perception in this country. But do note what kind of afternoon you want to have — bike riding à la Amélie, or experiencing a wine that wouldn't be out of place on a yacht.
From the first few bottles sampled this season:
For sheer frolic, the ebullient Basque rosé Ameztoi ($18) can't be beat. It's light with a saline twist that makes it an ideal partner for seafood. Also from Spain, the Ostatu ($14) is a medium-bodied rosé that strikes a nice balance between bright acidity and rich flavor. New to Wisconsin this year, the much talked about Donkey and Goat rosé ($29) is a bit austere, needing a little time to open up and reveal its complexity. Finally, a Raventós rosé ($20), also from Spain, is a stunning blend of joy and restraint. Perfect to drink alone or at that first glorious picnic of the year.