Flirting With Rosé
by JAMES SELBY
Let me give you some visuals. Any patio setting or comfortable table. A loaf of a thick-crusted bread. A bowl of bouillabaisse peaked with lobster, fresh white fish and tomato, laden with a pungent garlicky aioli, tinted yellow-orange from saffron. Or a picnic with prosciutto and melon, marinated olives, salumi and cheese. A pan bagnat (meaning “bathed bread,” a sort of a Niçoise sandwich drizzled with olive oil; writer Calvin Trillin says when you eat a pan bagnat, the olive oil should run down your wrists). Or a barbecue with sweet, spicy pork ribs and grilled chicken. Or beef and vegetable kabobs accompanied by minty yogurt sauce.
I hope I’ve hooked you in, because here is where I might lose you. Each of these dishes – their flavors and heavenly scents – bellow for rosés. Before you turn to the next page, allow me to speak to the pleasures of these easygoing, jaunty wines.
Don’t think pink. Think copper, terra cotta, amber, sun-burnt, coral, rare-to-medium-rare, salmon, watermelon—one of any number of colors that don’t suggest cotton candy or white Zinfandel. What is to be found in rosés both humble and divine is the sensation of biting into an early raspberry, a just-picked cherry, a ripe strawberry dotted with wild honey and sprinkled with lime juice. These are robust wines that can shoulder any strong flavor you throw at them. Yet they are also refreshing afternoon sippers on their own. Bone-dry rosés can be hearty, masculine and spunky, like those of Tavel, a small region across the Rhône from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where rosés are produced exclusively. Strapping, bold versions made from Aglianico or Syrah come from Southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia. Rosé can also be sassy, bright and flirtatious. Case in point: the 2011 Bodegas Muga Rosado from Rioja region of Spain, made with Garnacha, Viura and Tempranillo.
All of this sounds terribly Mediterranean, but plenty of cold-weather regions produce rosés as well. Germany makes refined, deeply complex blush wines from the Pinot Noir grape, classified Kabinett (dry) or Spätlese (off-dry; a touch of sweetness.) These are sometimes labeled Weissherbst and achieve colors ranging from pale gold to magenta. The precious little rosé that Oregon releases each year is also made from Pinot Noir. It’s an expensive grape to grow, but the rosés, lean and elegant, are relative values. How do vintners manage to pull that off?
To answer that, let’s address how rosé is made. I went one better than Google by contacting Philip de Give, a lifelong fine wine specialist in Santa Fe and frequent contributor to this periodical. “There are four ways to make rosé,” he replied. “One is by blending red and white, really only done for cheap wine and, amazingly, Champagne! Two, maceration, or letting the grapes sit and ferment a short time on the skins to extract color. Third, saignée, French for ‘bleeding,’ where juice is ‘bled’ from the production of red wine, making the red darker and more intense—the by-product being rosé.” (This method accounts for Oregon producers being able to offer rosé at a reasonable price.) “The fourth,” said de Give, “is direct press of grapes. Some winemakers use a combination of methods.”
To be fair, not everyone is enamored with rosé. In a recent article entitled “Rosé Reluctance,” The New York Times’ Eric Asimov writes, “I don’t hate them. They just don’t interest me.” Mr. Asimov is among my favorite wine critics. I was crushed like a grape in a press. Similarly, I know a local couple who are drinkers of Napa Cabernet Sauvignons and spare no cost in collecting them. If I mention rosé, they lose enthusiasm for life. That’s all right. If we all liked the same wine it would be a dull world.
Anyway, I have confrères. According to a Nielsen Report, sales of rosé increased by twenty-six percent in 2011, far outstripping regular wine sales growth. One of this summer’s best wine events was put on by Arroyo Vino, Santa Fe’s newest independent wine shop, on Camino la Tierra, an easy ten-minute cruise from the north end of town. For a nominal entrance fee you could sample nearly fifty still and sparkling rosés from every region of the world. Tents were pitched amid piñon trees behind the store, a band played, and Chef Steve Lemon, from the O Eating House, made pizzas in an outdoor oven. Ladies in summer dresses and men in straw hats made an Impressionistic tableau. Brian Bargsten, the young and knowledgeable owner of Arroyo Vino, not only hoped to sell 130 tickets, he had a waiting list. He expects to stage an even bigger event next summer.
Rosés made in the previous year come on the market in mid-spring; 2011 is the current release. Generally lower in alcohol than most wine, they make a carefree, exhilarating starter. Pull one out of the refrigerator the moment you come home from work and are trying to decide what to make for dinner. Then, once you decide on rosé, you may as well keep with it. It easily pairs with anything that a light red or white wine would; it’s an especially good match for salads with palate-numbing vinaigrettes. Despite the image of being only for spring and summer quaffing, rosé will enrich your culinary repertoire all year-round. On the first sharp autumn day, make a pot of mussels Provençal with fennel and herbs and chase it with a 2011 “Gris de Gris” from Domaine de Fontsainte in Corbieres. (“Gris” or grey on a label refers to wine made from lightly, green/grey grape varieties like Cinsault or Grenache Gris.)
If you have the wit and fortitude to drink Rosé in the winter, stock up early in the season. Ninety-five percent of all rosés are sold in the summer, and by September they become scarce. Buyers for retail shops often clam up on rosé purchases just as hot weather peaks, fearing they’ll end up with inventory they can’t sell in the fall. At that point, older rosés may be in stock, but it’s worth being somewhat wary of them, as their quality diminishes after a couple of years, losing the fruit and acid that makes them so lively. On the other hand, vintage Rosé Champagne can last decades. In the one-percent department, Rosé Champagnes, vintage or tête de cuvée (top of the line), are made from the best grapes, in the best vintages, often in exquisite bottles and can cost hundreds of dollars. Ninety-nine percent of non-vintage sparkling rosé doesn’t require a refinance. There are domestic sparklers, cava from Spain, and Italian Prosecco. Many regions in France—like Alsace, Loire, Bugey, Burgundy, Limoux—produce versions that grant the double pleasure of bubbles and the rooted character of a red or “grey” grape. Cremant de Die from the Rhône is as charming and crisp as the sound of its name.
If actors were to play Rosé in all its moods, there’d be Laura Dern as Rambling Rose, Rita Hayworth as the one with gumption, and Neil Patrick Harris as the foxy sparkling variety. If ad men were clever, they’d give us Christina Hendricks on the French Riviera, lifting to her lips a chilled and dripping glass of Tempier Bandol Rosé. Don’t get your hopes up. As New Mexico only receives a dozen cases a year of this precious rosé—full-bodied and tart—the campaign would probably be overkill.
You can turn the page.