As the oppressive heat of summer in Florida approaches, it is time to start thinking about cellaring those bottles of big varietals like cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, and petite sirah for next Fall. Before you turn towards that chardonnay or pinot gris aisle, though, this might be the time to think about something pink. Many who think of the Sutter Homes White Zinfandel may blush at such an idea, but those who have had a true rosé know that it can be a treat. Rosé is typically a bargain, as you can often find a great bottle for $10-$15; they are immediately drinkable; and most are pleasant to the experienced wine drinker but friendly to the novice.
So what is a rosé? Pink wines are produced either by removing the grape skins early in the fermentation process (typically after only a few days), blending, or a process called Saignée—that is, bloodletting. In the third of these methods, lighter juice is extracted (or bled) from a vat, allowing the remaining wine to become stronger or more tannic. The siphoned juice is then used to make a rosé. Traditionally, pink wines are refreshing but dry, and often one can even taste a hint of the tannin that would be present in the stronger wines. The most common varietal used in the process is grenache (seen in the picture), a wonderful blending grape prevalent in the Cotes du Rhone region of France.
It might be painful to make that first pink purchase, but if you find the right one, a whole new corner of wine drinking will open up for you. It is just important to know what to look for. A blush is usually—but not necessarily—a sweet pink wine sold only in the American market and typified by the white zinfandel prevalent in many grocery stores. A rosé is what you should pursue, and the best of them originate from Spain, where the wines are called rosado (I like the Rioja and Navarra regions) and France (Anjou and Provence are the most common). Try something from these regions first, and look for a wine that is mostly grenache or, as it is called in Spain, garnacha. I went to my local wine store and picked up three bottles to try out. Any of these would make a great first pink wine, and they show the variety available.
The Bodegas Piedemonte 2009 Rosado, from the same vineyard as the last wine I reviewed, is 100% grenache and the most unique of the three I tried. It is much darker than a typical rosé; I can only describe it as the color of a child’s fruit drink. The nose on this wine was the most intense strawberry aroma I have ever smelt in a wine. The flavor, too, was bold, with a light acidity and strong, jammy strawberry and raspberry taste. The wine is too big to drink by itself; drink it with paella (for which it was made), or a southwestern salad. I did not think of this until later, but I would very much like to try dark chocolate the next time I try this wine.
On the more subtle side, the Domaine La Manarine 2010 from Cotes du Rhones is also 100% grenache, but much lighter. Its color is coral, and its nose is a very light fresh cut apple with a hint of strawberry and perhaps even violet. It had a mouthfeel of apple, mild strawberry, and just a touch of cherry, but it was exceptionally dry. It was certainly my favorite of the three. Its perfect pairing is just a warm summer day, but if you have it with food, I would try an appetizer like crab cakes or gravlax. If you are bold enough, try it with a late morning brunch.
Finally, the Saint Andre de Figuiere Cuvee Magali from Cotes de Provence is a wonderful example of a typical rosé. It has a light salmon color and a nose of melons along with a hint of flowers. It is dry and has a melon flavor complemented by a subtle hint of berries. Though a French wine, I would pair this with traditional Italian finger foods such as olives, prosciutto, or a fresh tomato bruschetta.