I was at an extraordinary wine dinner recently, and in chatting with the very expert guests I sort of stumbled on an interesting consensus: almost everyone I talked to about the subject agreed that a well-made rosé was as good a choice as any to match with a wide variety of foods, especially in the warm weather we’re enjoying. One professional specifically told me that at a recent tasting of big-name juice, he returned to a simple rosé as one of his favorite wines of the night, refilling his glass with it rather than some over-hyped behemoth. Everyone nodded knowingly when I said that summer is my time to save some wine money by buying cases of affordable pink, keeping precious powder dry for bigger cold-weather reds to match with rich stews and braises later on. When it comes to the most basic ratio of pleasure per dollar, good rosé is about as rewarding as wine gets. So here’s a little primer for the novices among you.
I’m referring to the style I like best (and just about only): bone-dry and lightly colored, and almost invariably from the South of France. I’ll use Provence as shorthand, but that can be extended into several neighboring regions; what matters to me is the style and the irresistibly tasty garrigue (wild herbs) that perfectly balances the fruit and acidity in a well-made example. If you’re not familiar with it, or have only ever had white Zinfandel (oh, the horror. Seriously, end-of-Apocalypse-Now HORROR) then this post is for you.
Q: How is it made?
A: Red grapes are crushed, but then the juice is drained off of the skins after a short time, taking only a fraction of the color; this method is called “saignée” or “bled,” as the juice is bled off the skins before picking up enough color to make it red. The result has mainly characteristics of a white, but with a subtle and seductive complexity in the form of red fruit flavors and a gentle grip of tannin that help it stand up to sturdy food.
Q: What does rosé pair well with?
A: Pretty much anything you would normally eat in hot weather, from vegan lentil salad to barbecued chicken or even burgers. It’s superbly food-friendly.
Q: Is there a certain kind of glass I should serve it in?
A: It comes in a glass.
Q: Rosé is pink. If I drink it, will it make me gay?
A: While at first blush (heh) rosé can resemble such extremely girly beverages as the cosmo, when it comes from the right part of the world and/or is properly made it can in fact be defined principally by masculine flavors like woody herbs and minerals. And strawberries, pretty often, but in a good way.
Also, if it bothers you so much, drink it out of an opaque mug. And maybe talk to a professional about why this is something you worry about so often.
Q: Is it expensive?
A: It’s cheap; most bottles sell for under $15 retail and that money is well spent; quality is high across the board from good producers. Ask your local reputable seller which he or she recommends, making sure to specify that a Provençal profile is what you’re after. Syrah, Grenache, and Carignane are all widely used down there, along with other varietals (Bandol rosé, made from Mourvèdre, can be special. Tavel, the only appellation in France that is only rosé, is unique and often beautiful). Some bottles can get up into the $20 range, and in some cases there’s more complexity to be found there. Again, talk to your store and try a few. Use the case discount to your advantage; toss a couple bottles of $6 red and white in for cooking with, and enjoy the ten or fifteen percent savings on the whole case. It’s easy to walk out with 10 very drinkable bottles for $100.
Another helpful fact: if you find yourself paying upwards of $40 for a bottle of Domaines Ott, then you are a complete asshole.
Q: Should I serve it cold? Cool?
A: Chilled is good, but I like to let them warm up a bit over time. The color and flavor imparted by the grape skins also means that some of the rich and volatile compounds that make red wines so interesting end up in rosés. Letting them come up to near room temp by bottle’s end can be an interesting exercise in teasing apart the strands of flavor in a given wine. A good bottle can almost work like three different wines: ice-cold, it’s pretty much a white; in between, it’s rosé; approaching warm, it’s almost a light red. Now that’s a bargain.
Q: Isn’t there good rosé made in other parts of the world?
A: Yes, but to me far too many of them taste like candy or soda. If you’re trying to seduce a high school student, something like that might be right up your alley. If not, and you’re a complete newbie, start in Provence so you learn what it’s supposed to taste like.
Q: Do they age?
A: Surprisingly well, in some cases. Lopez de Heredia from Rioja is famous for easily lasting 10 years and developing all sorts of sexy nuance along the way. There’s a Tavel I like from 2005 that’s drinking beautifully right now, and which matches with all sorts of surprising things. For the most part, though, they’re meant for quaffing soon after purchase. Drink them.
Q: Are you going to suggest some good ones?
A: I can, but there’s no guarantee your local store will carry them. The three stores near here where I usually shop for such things have selections that overlap hardly at all. Also, if you actually read this blog then you’ll know I often mention bottles that I enjoy with dinner. You can use the handy “search” feature to find posts that feature such mentions. I do think that people learn more when they buy a few to see what they like rather than buying a name because somebody told them to.
I hope this helps. Honestly, there’s nothing besides a first-rate local microbrew that offers so much versatility and pleasure in the summer drinking category. And since summer is officially under way, you should all get to it. A good bottle will make your next meal better, whether it’s a simple BBQ or a fancy dinner that you spend three days preparing.
Also, chicks dig it.