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Pass the Rosé, Mack
By Michael Franz
Aug 1, 2005
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They say that confession is good for the soul, so here goes: when I began writing about rosé wines, I did so without having the slightest interest in the stuff.  Although I was well aware that dry rosé is a very different animal than sweet "white Zinfandel," I just didn't think of rosé as worthy of my attention.  It could be pleasant but not really profound, and since I wrote about wine with the sole intention of learning about the world's great wines, I simply could not work up any enthusiasm for rosé.

As it happened, I began writing about rosés only because I once overheard another writer mention that her newspaper expected her to turn in a column about them each year.  Fearing that I might be making myself conspicuous by omission and thus imperiling my future as a wine writer, I steeled myself to regularly drink pink.

Luckily for me, ignorance can be overcome by experience.  Experience has taught me that well-made dry rosé, when fresh and very young, is simply one of the most delicious of all the fruits of the vine.  When thoroughly chilled, rosé is a great choice for a warm evening, since it can be as refreshing as a white wine, but can stand up to many grilled foods better than a white.  This is because rosés can approximate lighter red wines in terms of weight and depth of flavor, yet they are also frequently better than reds in hot weather, since they have less weight and tannin and can be chilled to lower temperatures without losing their appeal.

However, the question behind my initial indifference remains: can rosé wines attain profound greatness?  I still think that the answer is no, but I no longer think that the question is well framed, or that the negative answer is particularly important.  The question must be answered negatively because rosés seem inherently incapable of attaining the level of complexity of the world's great whites and reds.  And rosés are demonstrably incapable of ageing beneficially.  There is little doubt that a big, concentrated, deeply flavored Cabernet that is artfully crafted in fine oak casks can attain heights to which a rosé can never aspire.  Match the two head-to-head under most conditions, and that Cabernet will beat the daylights out of a rosé.

But on a steamy summer night, when any bodily move might make you break a sweat, is that still true?  When climatic conditions dictate that dinner consist of light foods prepared on a grill, which would you rather drink: a fresh, vividly fruity, crisply acidic, thoroughly chilled rosé...or a warm, thick, soupy glass of oak and tannins?

If you want the Cabernet, it is all yours.  Where I'm concerned, please pass the rosé--profound or not.  In terms of performance at the summer table, I'll bet that it is the Cabernet that will suffer a drubbing when compared to the rosé.  Rosés are arguably the most versatile of all wines as partners for food, falling as they do into the gray area between whites and reds.  This enables them to pair up beautifully with moderately robust foods like salmon, swordfish, tuna, chicken, pork or veal.  They are superb with cold soups and many vegetarian dishes.  And for a quick, light summer meal, you just can't do better than a nice piece of fish and some sliced vegetables, all simply brushed with olive oil and grilled with a dusting of fresh herbs.  Add some crusty bread and a juicy, fresh rosé--and you'll be converted to the so-called Mediterranean diet for life.

Speaking of the Mediterranean, we should address one final issue for individuals (especially males) who come to rosé from an upbringing in the United States.  Rosés are extremely popular all around the Mediterranean, yet they've always been under-appreciated here.  This may be partly due to the fact that American males have a peculiar tendency to regard certain foods and drinks as being gender-specific.  For example, it was a common saying in the U.S.A. in the 1980s that 'real men don't eat quiche.'  I admit (here we go with another confession) that I never quite understood what was supposed to be unmanly about quiche.  But we all understand, don't we, that your Average Joe American might have a problem with pink wine?

We were all drilled in the gendered, blue-versus-pink color code of childhood, and since few males dare to wear pink clothing at any age, we can understand how a guy might have qualms about standing around at a party with a glass of rosé.  But here's a word of warning, guys: you'd better be very careful to know where you are located before declaring that "real men don't drink pink wine," because I've seen plenty of men in France, Spain, Italy and Greece who love rosé--some of whom could probably snap your neck like a twig.

Top wines from my recent tastings of current-release rosés appear below, with approximate retail prices:

Domaine Tempier, Bandol (Provence, France) 2004 ($28, Kermit Lynch): The bad news is that, whenever any commodity is manifestly the best of its kind, one pays accordingly.  The good news is that, when you buy this wine, you are assured of getting the best of its kind.  Tempier's rosé is consistently outstanding, and is perhaps the only wine of its kind that can actually improve for a year or so and then level off for a while before heading into decline.  The 2004 is a bit less flashy at this stage than some prior vintages that I've tasted, but still outstandingly symmetrical in structural proportions, with precisely delineated aromas and flavors and unusually impressive length.  If you can get past the imposing price, this is simply the best.  91

Tegernseehof, Dürnsteiner, Wachau (Austria) Zweigelt Kabinett 2004 ($11, Select): Neither Austria nor the obscure Zweigelt grape seem likely sources for outstanding rosé, but this wine is exactly that.  With very light (onion skin) color, it doesn't even look like most rosés, and it shows its northern European origins with strikingly bright acidity.  This impression is fortified by a bit of unresolved carbon dioxide that lends a lightly prickly texture reminiscent of a Mosel Riesling.  With very subtle, delicate flavors but still adequate substance to work with many foods, this is both distinctive and delightful.  90

Domaine de Saint-Antoine, Vin de Pays du Gard (Rhône, France) 2004 ($9, Robert Kacher Selections):  This bottling shows superb balance between fruity expressiveness and dry seriousness.  Flavor notes of bright red cherries and plums predominate, with nice freshness thanks to seamlessly integrated acidity.  With a surprisingly long finish for a wine of this type and price, this is a strikingly impressive wine.  89

Chateau de Ségriès, Tavel (Rhône, France) 2004 ($15, Kysela): This very classy wine shows subtle but fresh, fruity aromas and flavors recalling ripe peaches and cherries, with a dry finish that is nevertheless long and generous in flavor.  Fruit and acidity components are nicely interwoven, adding to the overall sense of sophistication.  89

Bodegas Valdemar, Rioja (Spain) "Essencia Valdemar" 2004 ($10 CIV USA):  Crafted from 100% Garnacha from estate vineyards in Logroño, this is impeccably dry but nevertheless amply flavored.  Very well crafted, it shows pale strawberry color, subtle aromas, and restrained fruit flavors that are poised precisely on the line separating juiciness from austerity.  Superb balance will allow this to pair nicely with a vast array of foods.  88

Domaine de Gournier, Vin de Pays des Cévennes (Languedoc-Roussillon, France) 2004 ($9, Kacher Selections):  Very expressive aromas and flavors of ripe red cherries and strawberries are vivid but not overbearing or overtly sweet.  Juicy and full of fun but also great with a wide range of serious foods, this is a superb value.  88

Vega Sindoa, Navarra (Spain) 2004 ($8, Jorge Ordoñez/Henry Wine Group):  Made from equal portions of Garnacha and Cabernet, this is a lovely wine with real guts and depth (presumably from the Cabernet component) but also a fresh, frivolously fun side (presumably from the Garnacha).  Notes of plums and cherries predominate, and though this packs a bit more punch than most rosés, it has excellent acidity and a very fresh, crisp finish.  87

Viña Salamanca, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Leon (Spain) Rufete 2004 ($8, Billington):  Fresh and fruity but also dry and very versatile, this shows light ruby color and delicious fruit that recalls fresh red cherries and strawberries.  87

Chateau Grande Cassagne, Costières de Nîmes Languedoc-Roussillon, France) 2004 ($10, Kacher Selections):  Vivid red cherry fruit is the main attraction in this delicious wine.  It shows a bit of sweetness, but the fruit component is so expressive that the sweetness doesn't come across as a distinct or distracting element.  Juicy and full of fun, this is great for sipping on its own or for pairing with lightly spicy foods.  87

Torres, Penedes (Spain) "De Casta" 2004 ($9, Dreyfus Ashby):  This bottle sports one of the first screw caps that I've ever seen on a wine from Spain, suggesting that yet another bastion of closure conservatism may be giving way.  The contents of the wine are every bit as worthy of remark as the closure, with lots of red fruit flavor that tails off into a classy, nearly dry finish.  87

1 + 1 = 3, Penedes (Spain) 2004 ($14, Grapes of Spain):  Uncommonly dark in color and deep in flavor, this wine clearly results from a longer maceration than is typical, and yet it functions very nicely indeed, with nice fresh aromas and juicy, lengthy flavor notes of strawberries and red cherries.  This is a great choice for dishes that call for a full-flavored rosé or even a light red.  87

Viña Alarba, Calatayud (Spain) 2004 ($7.50, Jorge Ordoñez/Henry Wine Group):  Generously flavored if just a bit chunky, this wine offers lots of juicy fruit flavors that will stand up nicely to grilled fish or white meat dishes.  86

Solo Rosa, California (U.S.A.) Rosé 2004 ($15):  Produced by wine writer Jeff Morgan, this is a blend of 50% Sangiovese and 50% Merlot.  Morgan's devotion to rosé is evinced by the recent publication of his book, "Rosé:  A Guide to the World's Most Versatile Wine" (Chronicle Books, 2005).  The wine is generously endowed with fruit and flavor and fleshy texture, and though my personal tastes run to leaner, less overly fruity rosés, this will prove very pleasing to many tasters.  86

Casa Solar, Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla (Spain) Tempranillo 2004 ($6, CIV USA): This is a very interesting wine at an eye-poppingly low price.  With assertive black cherry fruit and even a bit of tannin, this is much more robust than most rosés, and a slightly earthy finish accentuates this impression.  86

Jean-Luc Colombo, Coteaux d' Aix en Provence (Provence, France) "Rosé de Côte Bleue" 2004 ($12, Palm Bay):  Juicy and packed with flavor, this leans to the sweeter, more obvious side of the rosé spectrum, with relatively low acidity but a finish that is sufficiently dry to permit successful pairing with foods bearing a bit of spice or charring from the grill.  86

Vinavera, Napa Valley (U.S.A.) 2004 ($15):  A blend of Syrah and Grenache, this shows very nice fruit flavors but also--perhaps surprisingly--just a little whiff and taste of oak.  Nevertheless, the red fruit flavors are lovely, and this is a great choice as a thoroughly chilled hot-weather accompaniment to moderately robust foods that might otherwise call for a light red like Pinot Noir or Chianti.  85

Tortoise Creek, Vin de Pays d'Oc (Languedoc, France) "Rosé d' Une Nuit" 2004 ($8, Winesellers, Ltd.):  This gets the award for best name and cutest label among all the wines reviewed here, but I wouldn't include it if not for the fact that the wine is also indisputably delicious.  Very fresh and direct, it features simple but penetrating aromas and flavors of strawberries and red cherries, with fine acidity and a clean, crisp finish.  85