Summertime Wines: In the Pink

Santé
The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals
Summer 1998
Page 30-33, 54-56

Summertime Wines: In the Pink

Overheard at a recent party: “I always go for the rosé. Nobody ever drinks it, so I figure it’s got to be good.”

Overheard at a recent sommeliers’ wine tasting: “Yeah, but why would anyone want to drink rosé? It’s all sweet and uninteresting.”

Overheard at a recent wine dinner: “You like rosés? It shows you have a good palate.”

Pink wine has such disparate images that it’s just plain hard to figure. Any American from my generation, falling midway between baby boomer and genxer, grew up with the first White Zinfandels, the cool-shaped bottles of Lancers and Mateus and the occasional “other” fruit-based rosé with down-home labels, such as Boone’s Farm or Annie Greensprings. In other countries, pink wine is much more of a tradition: the French have had Tavel for years, the Italians, Cerasuolo, the Spanish, Navarra.


WHAT IS A ROSÉ?

General Characteristics
Light, delicate, vin gris and fresh, fruity, saignée-style rosés are delicious to drink as aperitifs or with first courses. A few have the complexity to stand up to a range of cuisines. Rosés vary from bone-dry to sweet and slightly fizzy. In general, these pink wines are inexpensive to moderate in pricing, making them nice choices for bar pours and house wines.

Aging
These wines are best drunk as young as possible – no more than two years after harvest.

Recent Vintages
Vintages are insignificant as the wines are not made for aging.


Rose article for Sante (4)Producing Pink
There are three main methods of making rosé. The most obvious one is to blend red and white wine together to make pink. This is the method of most sparkling wine producers. In fact, in the European Union, the only place I know of where it is legal to produce rosé wine by this method is Champagne.

The other two methods basically differ in the same way that making white and red wines contrast. The vin gris (grey wine) method is to take red grapes and treat them as you would white wine – crushing and pressing the grapes and then fermenting the juice without skins, stems or seeds. The premise here is that with sufficient pressure, just enough color and extra skin tannin and flavor will show up in the finished product.

The saignée or short-term maceration method treats red grapes as red grapes. They are crushed and then fermented. The wine is racked off the lees after the winemaker decides that just the right color of pink and depth of flavor has been acheived. Fermentation is then continued with just the juice.

There are other types of rosé making. As many of you know, red grapes have white juice on the inside. The color component is all in the skins. There are, however, grapes that have some of their color within the juice itself, such as Italy’s Grignolino and France’s Poulsard, and in some less developed winemaking areas, red wines are literally bleached of their color by passing them through activated charcoal filters.

What do these rosé types mean to you, the wine buyer? Vin gris wines, having been fermented like white wine, tend to age quicker, and are best consumed as young as possible. On the other hand, the short-term maceration wines, having at least a touch of tannin for structure, seem to last slightly longer and have more intense fruit flavors. While few wines are labelled as to which method was used, color is a good indicator.

European Classics
The truly classic areas of rosé production number three. Tavel, Provençe and Navarra. Tavel is a rosé-only appellation on the right bank of the southern Rhône and is also the name of the bone-dry, Grenache-based wine with small doses of other typical local varieties, such as Cinsault, Clairette, Mourvèdre and Carignan. Often more expensive than other rosés, classic Tavel shows more quality and depth than other French rosés. Pricing ranges from $80 to $124 a case. At the higher end, Vidal-Fleury and neighboring Château d’Acqueria are can’t miss bets.

Provençe and neighboring Languedoc are well-known for Cinsault and Grenache-based rosés. Typically pale, dry and vin gris-styled, these are wines that are often best drunk “over there.” For the most part, they seem not to travel well; even high-end wines like the well-known and rather pricey Domaines Ott rosés, show signs of early oxidation.

Navarra, located in northeast Spain, is a moderately sized production area with a reputation for producing light, fruity reds and rosés from Garnacha, the Spanish name for Grenache. The wines are fruitier than similarly produced Tavels; they seem to travel better, and they cost less. On the other hand, Navarra rosés are generally produced for easy, simple drinking and have less depth and complexity. The few available here from good producers sell out quickly.

The vineyards at Mas de la Dame in Les Baux de Provence

The vineyards at Mas de la Dame in Les Baux de Provence

Youth Movement
The world of rosé is much vaster than one would suspect, and their are to many to review all at once. I decided to leave out dessert wines and sparkling pink for now, and because there are so many White Zinfandels and Merlots, I felt that those, too, deserved their own article. The price range of rosé is also widespread. While the majority are in the value category, quite a few are in the moderate range, and a few of the top releases make it to the prestige price level.

Pink wine is made for young drinking, and the majority of 59 samples reviewed were either 1996 or 1997 vintage. A surprising 14 wines from 1993 through 1995 vintages are still in the market; unfortunately, as my tastings showed, all the 1993s and 1994s and most of the 1995s were oxidized. Quite a few were corked as well, leading me to believe that not as much care is emphasized in the production and bottling of these wines. Given that these mature rosés often linger on restaurant winelists, it’s no wonder that a large portion of the public thinks rosés aren’t all that pleasant to drink.

Grape variety also played a big part in the quality and shelflife of rosés. Grenache, or Garnacha, tends to oxidize quickly. Other grapes, such as Syrah, seem to keep their fruit longer, but, for whatever reason, are made in a style that produces sweet watermelon and bubblegum flavors, and they’re not my favorites for restaurant drinking.

The most important conclusion I can draw from my reviews is that age is the number one purchasing factor. Bluntly, if you are offered pink wine that is more than one vintage “out-of-date,” you’re running a high probability of doing yourself and your customers a disservice. That means that as of the time of this article, anything but a 1996 or 1997 is probably a mistake. If you still have 1995s on your list, it’s time to pour them off by the glass, checking bottle by bottle for oxidation.

The number two factor, though, in truth, it should always be your number one, is to taste the wines before buying. Make sure the style is something that fits with your cuisine. With wines ranging from light, crisp, delicate and bone-dry, to fruity, off-dry and sometimes even a touch fizzy, there’s a lot of ground to cover.

In the end, the rewards are worth the research. I have to admit, that when I see a good selection of quality, youthful rosés on a wine list, I know that someone has done their homework. It perks my interest up in their list immediately, and I’ll probably order one. Maybe you will too.


REVIEWER’S CHOICE

Martinez Bujanda Valdemar Vino Rosado / 1997 / Rioja
100% Garnacha
Proving the point that youth is critical in good rosé, this is vibrant, full of fresh cherry and berry flavors, a touch of spice and absolutely delicious before or during a meal.

Castello di Ama Rosato / 1996 / Toscana
100% Sangiovese
Dark cherries and a touch of spice. Always a favorite and makes a great bar pour and/or apertif.

Domaine Bruno Clair Rosé / 1996 / Marsannay
100% Pinot Noir
One of my favorite pink wines of the world. Deep berry fruit, earthy, spicy, the perfect foil for salmon and other “meaty” fish.


Value:

Castello di Ama Rosato / 1996 / Toscana
100% Sangiovese
Dark cherries and a touch of spice. Always a favorite and makes a great bar pour and/or apertif.

Bonny Doon Vineyard “Vin Gris de Cigare / 1997 / California
36% Syrah, 28% Grenache, 12% Mourvedre, 8% Cinsault, 6% Sangiovese, 6% Other
A juicy blend of orchard fruits and berries. One of the most complex in the tasting and quite able to stand up to most meals.

Laurent Charles Brotte Syrah Dry Rosé / 1996 / Côtes-du-Rhône
100% Syrah
Fresh berries and a touch of lime juice. Bright, vibrant flavors, the way a good rosé should be. I’d be happy with this on any list.

Jean-Paul Brun “Domaine des Terres Dorées” Rosé de Saignée / 1996 / Beaujolais
100% Gamay
Red currants and spice. A tasty quaff with some seafood to balance the acidity.

Julian Chivite Gran Feudo Rosé / 1997 / Navarra
100% Garnacha
Cherries, strawberries and cream. A delicious, fruity package.

Georges Dubœuf Syrah Rosé / 1996 / Vin de Pays d’Oc
100% Syrah
A beautiful rare salmon color. Imagine watermelon squirted with a touch of lemon juice and just a faint hint of rose petals. For the genre, this one is tough to beat.

Eberle Counoise Rose / 1996 / Paso Robles
100% Counoise
Fresh cream, a touch of cherries. Try it with a grilled chicken breast.

Illuminati “Campirosá” / 1996 / Cerasuolo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
100% Montepulciano
Black cherries, light spice and good complexity. Definitely a winner on its own or with poultry or veal.

Domaine Lafond Tavel / 1996
60% Grenache, Cinsault 10%, Clairette, Picpoul, Bourboulenc, Mourvedre, Carignan
Creamy smooth with flavors of cherry and blueberry and just a touch of a spritz. Quite a pleasant quaff before or with dinner.

Domaine de Longval Tavel / 1996
Watermelon, strawberries and a touch of creaminess. For the price, as an apertif, this would delight anyone.

McDowell Grenache Rosé / 1996 / Mendocino
100% Grenache
Vanilla, cherries and a touch of spice. A great choice for a bar pour or with lighter fish dishes.

Castillo Perelada Rosado / 1996 / Empordà – Costa Brava
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Plums, light earth and a touch of spice. Delicious throughout the meal.

Real Companhia Vinicola “Lagosta” Rosé / N.V. / Portugal
Tinta Roriz, Tinta Francisca, Tinto Cão, Touriga Nacional
A whole cocktail of fruit flavors, dry, well balanced, and for the price, an outstanding value for bar pours. The packaging is too cool for words.

Regaleali Rosé / 1996 / Rosato Sicilia
Delicious strawberry fruit and a touch of spice. Always a favorite as an apertif.

Réserve St. Martin “Val d’Orbieu” Rosé de Syrah / 1997 / Vin de Pays d’Oc
100% Syrah
A fresh, fruity, strawberry bubblegum flavor makes this a nice choice for those who like the white zin style but want to try something new.

Roussel “Domaine des Jonciers” / 1996 / Lirac
A nice earthy nose, lots of fresh cherry fruit and a touch of spice. A bit bolder and bigger than most of the wine tasted and holds up well with dishes that have a bit more weight themselves.

Château Routas “Rouvière” / 1996 / Coteaux Varois
65% Cinsault, 25% Grenache, 10% Syrah
Slightly bitter cherry fruit, light spice, and a good finish. One of the more pleasant southern French rosés tasted.

Mas Sainte Berthe “Cuvée Passe-Rose” / 1996 / Les Baux de Provence
40% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 13% each Cinsault, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon
Good acidity, fresh berries with a squirt of lime juice – a whole fruit salad in a glass. The most impressive of the southern French rosés.

Jaume Serra Rosado / 1997 / Penedès
100% Tempranillo
Lightly earthy, bright berry fruit. A nice choice with lighter meats.

Martinez Bujanda Valdemar Vino Rosado / 1997 / Rioja
100% Garnacha
Proving the point that youth is critical in good rosé, this is vibrant, full of fresh cherry and berry flavors, a touch of spice and absolutely delicious before or during a meal.

Vega Sindoa Rosado / 1996 / Navarra
Tempranillo, Garnacha
Raspberries and cinnamon in a light, easy drinking style. Good acidity makes it a nice partner for seafood dishes.

Moderate:

Château d”Aqueria Tavel / 1996
Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Clairette
Cherries and cream, with a bit of spice and green tea on the finish. Very enjoyable, especially with spicier fish dishes.

Michele Calo e Figli “Mjère” / 1996 / Alezio Rosato
80% Negroamaro, 20% Leccese Malvasia
Creamy smooth, plums and a touch of cilantro. One of the more intriguing rosés tasted and a great complement to spicier cuisine.

Domaine Bruno Clair Rosé / 1996 / Marsannay
100% Pinot Noir
One of my favorite pink wines of the world. Deep berry fruit, earthy, spicy, the perfect foil for salmon and other “meaty” fish.

Château de L’Engarran “St. Georges d’Orques” / 1996 / Coteaux du Languedoc
Bright strawberry fruit and a touch of creaminess make this one of my favorites from southern Franc.

Etude Rosé / 1996 / Carneros
100% Pinot Noir
Bright, lively fruit, spice and a touch of graham. Delicious on its own or with lighter meats.

Domaines Bunan Scea “Mas de la Rouvière” / 1996 / Bandol
Grenache, Cinsault
Light, delicate fruit with a nice minerally component. A great creamy mouthfeel. A nice pairing with your first course.

Prestige:

Swanson Rosato / 1997 / Napa Valley
100% Sangiovese
Strawberries, spice and a touch of candy corn. Great with pasta and cream sauces.


The following wines (leaving out those that were oxidized or corked) were in my original submission but were edited out by the magazine:

J. Vidal-Fleury Tavel / 1996
50% Grenache, 35% Cinsault, 10% Clairette, 5% Other
Light berry flavors, a bit of yeast, and very delicate. As an apertif or with hors d’oeurves.

Château Ferry Lacombe “Cuvée Lou Cascaï” / 1996 / Cotes de Provence
Bright cherry fruit and a touch of lime flowers. There is a faint greeness on the finish which is not unpleasant. A nice apertif or salad partner.

Les Clos de Paulilles / 1996 / Collioure
Strawberry and watermelon bubblegum in spades. If you’re looking from a light, fruity quaff, this makes a nice alternative to the usual white zin.

Canei Mellow Rosé / N.V. / Italy
Grapey, orange marmalade, definitely off-dry and a touch of spice.

Fonseca “Lancers” Rosé / N.V. / Portugal
Fizzy, off-dry, and tasting of strawberries and cream. Surprisingly better than expected.

Sogrape “Mateus” Rose / N.V. / Portugal
Slightly fizzy, dry, with flavors of rasperries and citrus. Far better quality than many far more expensive white zins…

Marqués de Cáceres Dry Rose / 1996 / Rioja
Light earthiness, strong floral notes and slightly underripe cherries. As an apertif this makes a tasty glass of wine.

Bodegas Montecillo Rosado / 1996 / Rioja
100% Garnacha
Sour cherries with a touch of spice and wood. A little too high in acidity to balance well for my tastes.

Firestone Vineyard “Gemstone” / 1995 / Santa Ynez Valley
84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 4% Muscat
Toasted marshmallows, a touch of earth and a hint of flowers. Just a touch of oxidation. An oddity, recommended with duck and game birds.

Heitz Cellar Grignolino Rosé / 1996 / Napa Valley
100% Grignolino
Strawberry jam and a touch of lime juice. A nice choice with lighter poultry dishes.

Pedroncelli Zinfandel Rosé / 1997 / Sonoma County
100% Zinfandel
Sweet honey, light berry fruit – no different from the typical white zin.

Saintsbury Vin Gris / 1997 / Carneros
100% Pinot Noir
Green fruit, a bit of a spritz, not particularly exciting.

Sokol Blosser Vin Gris / 1997 / Oregon
100% Pinot Noir
Raspberries, lemon juice and a bit of earth. Also has a bit of a spritz. An interesting apertif.


Santé is a glossy format trade magazine for restaurant wine buyers and educators. I wrote as a freelancer for them on and off from the first issue in November 1996 until November 2002 when they decided to stop using freelance writers.

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