The spray from the tsunami of rosé hitting our shores just soaked me. I know rosé is popular, but the latest evidence of its popularity floored me: An offering of the 2016 Le Rosé de Chevalier. Bordeaux’s Domaine de Chevalier making a rosé? Really. It’s as though Château Lafite Rothschild decided to make a rosé. Domaine de Chevalier is THE benchmark producer in Pessac-Léognan, making classically framed and balanced wines, and one of the few to produce equally stunning reds and whites. Their wines, even their second wines, L’Esprit de Chevalier, perfectly express the nuances and allure of Pessac-Léognan. Indeed, if you want to know how wines from Pessac-Léognan are supposed to taste, without manipulation that often obscures the origin, reach for a red or white Domaine de Chevalier. So why are they stooping to make a rosé? The first three words of the title of a book by my good friend John Anderson, who is also a Bordeaux expert, springs to mind, Follow the Money: How George W. Bush and the Texas Republicans Hog-Tied America, (Simon & Schuster).
As regular readers of this column know--and if you didn’t you could tell from the introductory paragraph--I am not a fan of still rosé. (Champagne and other bubblies are in an entirely different category.) Although rosés are cool and refreshing, most lack complexity. I realize I’m painting with a very broad brush because there are rosés that deliver lots of character. Rosés from Bandol or Tavel in the south of France, to name just two, can make you sit up and focus on what’s in your glass. But most rosés don’t demand attention, which, of course, is likely much of their appeal. Most people do not want to think about the nuances of wine, especially in the summer.
But for those who want a cool and refreshing, rosé-like experience and want to think--at least a little--about what’s in the glass while sitting on the porch or deck, I suggest chilling red wine.
Before I make specific recommendations, here are a few basic principles. You chill the bottle by immersing it in a bucket filled with both water and ice--not just ice alone--because the combination hastens chilling. Alternatively, a half hour or so in the fridge will work. As a last resort, should you have forgotten to think ahead, drop a large ice cube in the glass of wine, stir twice and remove. It chills the wine without diluting it. Credit for that trick goes to Jean Louis Carbonnier, the Director for the Americas for Château Palmer. (He’s quick to mention that he has never done it with a glass of Château Palmer.)
Choose a low-tannin, high-acid red because chilling accentuates the wine’s tannic structure, bringing out astringency, and the acidity keeps it juicy and lively. Lighter styled reds devoid of tannin and packed with acidity work best. So leave the Classified Bordeaux, such as Château Palmer, the Grand or Premier Cru Burgundy and California Cabernet Sauvignon with their weight and prominent tannins in the cellar ‘till fall. On the other hand, young Bourgogne Rouge from lighter vintages--not the highly acclaimed 2015s--work well because these wines come from vineyards where ripening is often suboptimal, leaving the Pinot Noir grapes with high acidity and fewer tannins. While not a Bourgogne Rouge, but made from Pinot Noir grapes by a top-notch Burgundy producer, Louis Latour’s Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir from the Var in the south of France ($14), would be an excellent choice for the ice bucket.
My recent favorite trio of chill-able reds comes from a place you’d least expect to find them--Piedmont, home to tannic Barolo and Barbaresco, two of Italy’s more famous wines, neither of which you’d want to chill. One, Barbera d’Asti, is familiar to consumers, though not one people think to chill. The two others, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato and Pelaverga di Verduno will be familiar only to Italian wine geeks and to the savviest sommeliers. Consumers should learn about these aromatic reds because they are equally appealing served at “normal” temperature in the fall.
The Barbera grape, one of Italy’s most widely planted grapes, does exceptionally well in the area around Asti in Piedmont. (More about the difference between Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba in a future column.) Near the town of Asti, Barbera produces a high acid, low tannin, fruity/spicy wine that is eminently food friendly. It is a perfect match for the rich Piedmontese fare, but I wouldn’t limit it to those dishes because it is an extremely versatile wine, matching nicely with anything from pizza to hearty pasta to grilled meats--and yes, to the ice bucket. For chilling, reach for traditionally made Barbera d’Asti, such as Vietti’s Tre Vigne ($17) and not ones whose charms are overdone by the vanilla flavors imparted by too much oak aging.
Onto Ruchè and Pelaverga. Ruchè, an aromatic, low tannin red grape, is the basis for the DOC Ruchè di Castagnole. It conveys a wonderfully unforgettable mixture of delicate perfumed elements--rose and lavender--and black pepper-like spice that seasons the red fruit flavors. The best ones have balance and persistence. Look for examples from Cantina Sant’Agata ($16), Crivelli ($24), Ferraris ($18), and Tenuta dei Re ($18).
With all of 50 acres planted in total by roughly 15 producers, Pelaverga di Verduno makes Ruchè look commonplace. The grape, Pelaverga piccolo, also named Pelaverga di Verduno after the Piedmont village where it does best, never makes a full-bodied wine, only light to medium bodied ones full of perfume. Its bantam weight and floral character, coupled with the grape’s inherent acidity and lowish levels of tannin, make it ideal for chilling. If you can find one from Comm. G.B. Burlotto ($22), Fratelli Alessandria ($22) or San Biagio ($15), grab it.
Not so surprising is Beaujolais. The source of all red Beaujolais, the Gamay grape possesses lots of inherent acidity and little tannin, which makes the wine perfect for time in the fridge. Although I am a vocal proponent of the cru of Beaujolais, the 10 named villages of the region, I suggest reaching for a simpler--and lighter--Beaujolais-Villages or straight Beaujolais for summertime chilling. The widely available bottlings of Beaujolais-Villages from either the Maison Joseph Drouhin ($14) or Maison Louis Jadot ($12) would fit the bill just fine. Both, in their slightly different ways--the Drouhin typically being a touch lighter, the Jadot a bit fuller and richer--are impeccable examples of what good Beaujolais-Villages has to offer.
The sun is setting on this hot and muggy August day, so you’ll excuse me while I put a bottle of Barbera d’Asti in the fridge.
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Email me your thoughts about rosé or chilling red wines at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein
August 16, 2017