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Sommelier Charles Springfield On The Year-Round Pleasures Of Rosé

A wine educator’s abiding love and enthusiasm for the pink drink from Provence.

All Zagat Stories are written by our editorial team. This story is presented by our partner Wines of Provence. We’ve chosen this partnership to show that, at a time when we are all craving connection more than ever, there is no better way to connect than through wine.

A global leader for premium rosé wine, Provence rosé is classically terroir-driven and should be enjoyed not only as a summer indulgence, but as a year-round wine of choice.

Amidst changes to everyday life, Wines of Provence wishes to send a message of strength and support to their valuable partners and industry peers, and remind their loyal community of the essence of the Provence Rosé lifestyle: enjoying life! Speaking of which, check out The Infatuation’s maps of favorite spots for enjoying Wines of Provence rosé in NYC, LA, and Chicago. Please Drink Responsibly 21+.

Charles Springfield is a sommelier and wine educator based in New York. His most recent book, Maneuvering Rosé Wine with Style, came out in summer 2020.

I’ve felt a lifelong affinity with wine. Although I grew up in the Midwest, my grandmother was from New York, and she loved wine. She was always a part of my life.

People get into wine at different times in their lives, and it can feel like a little bit of a catch-up to understand wine. What I really love about wine education is that it allows me to empower my students and consumers to feel more confident in their decisions and understand the why—why grapes are the way they are, and more—so they can make better decisions for their personal enjoyment.

I thought I knew a lot about wine, until I started working in the business about 10 years ago, and realized how much I really didn’t know. I really fell in love with teaching people about wine when I lived in Manhattan—just understanding the wine regions, the wine world, the history, the context, the situations, the occasions. Really getting to understand the grape varietals, the soils, the terroir.

I do regional classes because the wine world is very French-centric. France has its fingerprints all over the wine world in a great way. I explain why wine grapes are different in Germany as opposed to Napa Valley or even New York, how climate differences and weather patterns affect the vintages and the grapes.

It’s fascinating for people to see it, because when it comes to wine education, people can think of winemaking as very esoteric. It’s kind of mystical or mysterious. When you break it down and tell people that it’s actually just basic farming, it becomes a lot more tangible for them. The grapes get so much sun, they get so much water, the roots get minerals and nutrients from the soil, and then the harvest comes and you make wine. I mean, it’s not that simple, but they get to understand that it’s just an agricultural product. It’s from the earth. Even if we think of it as a gift from the gods—and I think it is, too—wine is nothing to be intimidated about.

I initially got interested in rosé back in the mid-2000s. I was working in PR and advertising in Milwaukee, trying some of the lighter-colored, drier rosés from Provence. Before that, the rosé wines I’d had were medium to dark in color. That was what I was used to. I thought it was really interesting. I didn’t really think about the range of colors associated with rosé except that it was pink.

When I moved to New York, and I started seeing this sea of light-colored rosés, and when I tasted them, I understood why it was so popular—it was really refreshing for the summertime. By 2010, we were starting to see people drink rosé in the Hamptons and at the beach and in the park. It was on everybody’s restaurant lists and happy hours. Then when I actually got into the wine business, the whole category opened up to me. I started seeing how things fit in this kind of rosé puzzle.

I started working in a wine shop within four months of moving to New York, a little boutique on the Upper West Side. We had a small section of rosé, and I remember trying Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence for the first time there. That rosé really stood out to me because it was so fresh, and you got pink grapefruit, and a little bit of strawberry, and a little bit of salt. It was just so delicious. Being exposed at my part-time wine job in Manhattan, and then going out with my friends—rosé was everywhere, and everybody was serving rosé from Provence. In the back of my mind, without even realizing it, I was filling in the gaps of styles of wines that were available, from the pale and delicate style of Provence wines to the deeper, darker Malbecs.

Within a year, I got into a sommelier certification program with the Sommelier Society of America in New York, and I was certified as a sommelier in 2012. From the Society’s founding in 1954 to when I started in the program in 2011, rosés weren’t a big part of it. They taught us what rosés were and how they were made, but I don’t remember it really coming up except as some very regional thing in France. But learned about rosé at the shop, through independent study and research, and, of course, tasting rosés on a regular basis. I’m actually going back to the Society, this time as a professor. I’ll be teaching some wine classes for future sommeliers. It’ll be interesting to see how the rosé curriculum has evolved since 2011.

When I was studying, I really started to understand the differences between the regions, especially in Provence, with styles like Côtes de Provence, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, and Coteaux Varois en Provence, and getting more familiar with the grapes. Those are actually some of my favorite grapes, because I’m a big fan of southern French wines. Then I began teaching rosé classes.

One of the things that I really love is the visual quality of rosé. You can have a color that looks like rose water, to rose gold, to copper, to a little like fuschia and peach skin. It’s really so dynamic, just to see the color and see how that corresponds with the flavors. And those flavor profiles are just amazing.

In addition to my love of wine, I’ve had a lifelong love affair with writing. When I was in junior high school, I did a book report on Langston Hughes, a big writer and poet in the Harlem Renaissance. That brought me to Harlem where I live now. His ashes are buried down the street from where I live at the Schomburg Center. When I was in college, I was a student journalist. My first job out of college was as a general assignment reporter in New Orleans at the Times-Picayune. The writing has always been with me.

What you learn in journalism is how to whittle down very complicated information to make it more accessible. That really translates to being a sommelier and a teacher, because a lot of wine is complicated, and a lot of students feel intimidated by it. I take all this information in my head and present it in a 90-minute class. I want to make students excited and engaged, and inspire questions and dialog, as opposed to beating them over the head with a lot of information. I edit myself when I’m teaching, and when I write, I get to be a lot more thorough. A lot of the information that I may leave in my head when I talk in class, I’m able to put it down on the page.

When I started researching Maneuvering Rosé Wine with Style, I took a deep dive into the history of rosé. That led me to Provence in 600 BC, when the Greeks came to colonize southern France—then Gaul—and they started making these first rosés, or amber-colored wines. And later, Gaul was annexed by the Roman Empire, and that propelled winemaking from there.

What I really thought fascinating was how even for a long period after, Provence was out of sight—it wasn’t easy to get there from Paris in that era, for example. Then there was all this new attention from the British nobility and the upper classes who came looking for a place to get away from the cruel English winters. They ushered in this whole Belle Époque era, where the French and Russian nobility came in the mid-late 1800s, and they turned Provence into a hotspot of sun-kissed lifestyle and fun and relaxation.

Rosé was a part of that lifestyle because it gets so warm down there in Provence, and rosé was considered a nice drink to refresh and keep yourself cool in the summer heat. I thought about rosé as the underdog, And now you have world-class rosés being produced throughout Provence. People can’t get enough of them. Wines from this region came to be on everybody’s palate.

For people new to these wines, I tell them rosé is made from red-skinned grapes, but in Provence, they often want a lighter style, a lighter color. It’s based on aesthetics and flavoring, because the weather is really warm—they get about 3,000 hours of sunlight. These conditions would normally produce dark red wines, but they leave the skins to sit with the juice for a small amount of time to produce these really light, fresh, bright, crisp rosés.

I want people to realize that rosés are made from red-skinned grapes, but they have some unique elements. As opposed to deep or dark red fruits like a cherry or a plum, you might get faint strawberry or watermelon notes, or maybe a hint of guava or peach or apricot—some really dynamic flavors that you can’t find in a red, and you can’t find in a white.

I ask students to look at the colors, analyze them, and talk about how maybe this wine had about two hours of skin contact, and this one had about six. You can see those differences in coloring. Provence has several different grape varieties which can also influence the color of the wine. When they smell rosé and get those hints of fresh strawberries, or a little watermelon, or a little bit of sea salt, or maybe even a little fresh jalapeño, they say, “Wow, this is something really unique and distinctive.” Understanding the process of wine—from growing to production to tasting—can open up a world of enjoyment you might never think possible.

These days, rosé has proved itself to be very dynamic with a lot of value. Restaurants and retailers carry rosé all year because people are getting out of the mindset that it’s just a summer wine. When I first started working in the wine business, we may have had a small section of rosé at a store. Now you see whole aisles of rosé. There’s a sea of rosé options, and a lot of those are from Provence.

It’s true that rosé is associated with the summertime and sun and fun and leisure and relaxation. Since it’s so warm in the south of France, they often drink rosé à la piscine—by the pool or by the ocean. Provence is blessed to have this kind of environment where it’s warm for most of the year. We don’t have that in New York City, or where I grew up in Wisconsin, so it’s nice to carry over that perspective and drink rosé year round. It’s a perfect wine for food pairings because it has a nice texture, a nice flavor, and good acidity.

And when it comes to classic food pairings with rosé—sure, many people haven’t had bouillabaisse from the south of France or aioli and vegetables. But just think about what’s fun to eat in the summertime. I think about fish tacos, or ceviche, or a nice watermelon and pesto salad. I tell people that rosé is a lot more enjoyable when you have some food to go along with it—especially when you think about foods that are synonymous with Provence, like olives and olive oil, sardines, garlic, and pesto dishes or sauces.

One of my key points when you try rosé for the first time is that there are some really nice values you can find from the Provence region—some wines under $20. Play around with those to begin with. You can explore those different regions you may have heard about in your local wine shop.

I want people to enjoy the nuances of rosé. But don’t take it too seriously. Build your appreciation and palate, but just have fun with it.

When I got the idea to start working on my rosé book in 2019, I was envisioning taking a quick trip to Provence for the first time. I’ve been to Paris and elsewhere in France, but I haven’t been to Provence. My vision for the cover of the book was for me to stand in a lavender field with a glass of rosé and a pink suit.

I haven’t made it to Provence yet, but when I get some of these other books checked off my list, maybe that will be a good time to set up shop there to research and write a larger educational book. One thing that’s important to me is there’s a lot of influence from North Africa in that part of France. I’d like to see how these different traditions from North Africa—food, farmer markets, bazaars—influenced the South of France and Provence. And if I ever decide to retire, maybe I’ll go to Provence to write, and paint, and perfect my garlic aioli recipe.