Wouldn’t it be nice to have a wine that bridged the gaps between occasions and personal preferences; a “One – size – fits – all” wine that everyone liked every time? Something the “red only” folks could knock back with their “white only” friends; a wine of compromise and omnipotence. For those of you who have strayed away from the forgotten category of lightly pigmented wines, this edition of Wine Press Northwest identifies so many good Rosé wines; well-suited for me (as an omnivore who never missed a party), and I would suggest for you, likewise.
Although my wonderful father would dash Château Ste. Michelle Grenache Rosé into our glasses at family dinners during my youth, my first solo blush with Rosé was in 1968 when I was traveling through Portugal and ran onto this delicious pink substance called Mateus Rosé. Lightly petulant, balanced just into the sweet side, my praise for this wine followed me into the 70’s. The flat-rounded Mateus bottles were the preferred medium to hold a wax-dripping candle placed on a trunk doubling as a coffee table. It was just a short walk in your paisley-print bell-bottoms across a mustard-colored shag carpet to marvel at the orange Lava Lamp next to your incense sticks in a Lancer’s Rosé crock bottle. Fire up the fondue pot with some Velveeta and good times filled the room... Groovy, baby.
Then, in the late 1970s, when my hair was marginally shorter, the pink wine White Zinfandel hit the market with nuclear force. The new category called “Blush” was invented and the world turned pink again. An ocean of White Zin was sold, creating the forum for varietal Rosé. Back in the day before you needed a mortgage to buy a ton of Red Mountain Merlot, the always great Kiona Winery made a Merlot Rosé that was killer. Preston Family Wines produced Gamay Beaujolais Rosé for years until government restrictions barred the name... It seems the French took exception to the Beaujolais reference, as uncharacteristic as that may sound about the French.
There are two basic ways to make Rosé; accidentally and on purpose. Accidentally, normally white Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris can sometimes carry a magenta hue imparted from their brick-colored skins. Also, certain grapes like Pinot Noir, when grown in a hot environment, will yield particularly lightly colored wines, arguably less colorful than some wines that are intended to be a Rosé. The questionable way of making a pink wine on purpose is when the winery is short of cash and excess white wine is made pink with a few eye-droppers of red wine to get the color.
Finally, the purposeful method most prescribed is fermenting red wines as if they were white; removing juice from the color – imparting skins one way or another, resulting in a delicious pink wine. Winemakers use various techniques, but the magic is in getting the desired color without getting the bitter compounds that come from the solid components of grapes. What they want are visual phenolics, not tactile phenolics, or the winemaker is forced to override the bitter compounds with sweetness; better living through chemistry. In other words, the best Rosé is made from grapes grown to make Rosé, not as an afterthought or a salvage process.
Typically, Rosés are low in alcohol and strong in fruit. It is more than the power of the suggestive color that Rosés typically have red fruit nuances like strawberry, cherry, cranberry, raspberry and the like. The myriad of styles of Rosé have no rival, with colors ranging from nearly clear to deeply red, tart to mellow acidity and sweetness levels from bone – dry to candy. Indeed, one of the best, if not the best, applications of Rosé are pink sparkling wines, sometimes called Blanc de Noir. And because of the endless possibilities of flavor profiles that come from any kind of red grape that is grown, it results in unimaginably broad food and occasion enjoyment.
Legend tells us that the venerable ham sandwich is the food match for Rosé, maybe due to the consistency of color. It is true... a ham sandwich on white with a little mild cheese and a water glass full of Rosé is delicious. However, confining the consumption of Rosé to simple foods is, in my humble opinion, overly restrictive and misguided. In many cases, I cannot think of a better wine to go with BBQ sauce-smothered ribs, or at the other end of the spectrum, baked Halibut with a mango salsa. Asian food, particularly with a little heat, is an extraordinary match for Rosé. I recently had a ribeye that was salted by the chef, then by the sous chef, and then I think the janitor may have dumped a little salt on it, resulting in a very tasty salty steak without time to ask for another attempt. I had a beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon dialed in, but it just did not match the salty character of the meat. So I went with a glass of Grenache Rosé and it was astounding... who knows why, but it worked.
I don’t feel any less a man when I have a pink wine in my hand... I think of it as the golf of wines, relying on finesse and not raw power. Rosé is tasty, quaffable, broadly applicable and just flat hits the spot with food. It is with confidence I highly recommend you integrate Rosé back into your libation rotation and consume it in moderation, frequently.
COKE ROTH is an attorney who lives in Richland, Wash. He is an original member of Wine Press Northwest’s tasting panel. Learn more about him at cokerothlaw.com.