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From the Vine: Pink Summer

by on June 29, 2018 3:18 PM

It’s that time of year again when we all realize that rosé is the perfect wine for summer and we excitedly go see what the local state store has stocked on its shelves.

Well, maybe not all of us – maybe some of you are still reluctant to dabble in the pink stuff, for fear of finding a wine that is too sweet, having been scarred by a white zinfandel experience and having vowed to simply avoid anything even remotely resembling a wine that color. For others, perhaps it’s just the pinkness of rosé that keeps you away – maybe it’s too feminine looking (gasp)? Whatever your hesitation, I am here to say, “Fear not!” for the pink stuff is just the thing you need to round out your summer grilling sessions.

Yes, the wine is pink. But it’s so beautiful in a wine glass, or champagne flute, that it’s practically an added accent to your dining table, or like an accessory to your outfit when you hold it in your hand. It’s simply beautiful to look at (we’ll stay away from using the word “pretty”). But beauty is only skin deep. Or is it grape-skin deep? Perhaps.

What you are going to love about rosés is that they can really range from bone dry to very sweet, come in both still, frizzante, and sparkling versions and as such can complement whatever you may be cooking. Even if it’s just burgers. Rosé can be an aperitif, a beautiful salad companion, an appropriately flavorful match for grilled meats, an understated accent to a delicate dessert, or even just a digestif. How is this possible? How can it go with everything? Well, let’s examine that.

Rosés come in all colors, varieties, and dry/sweetness levels, so you can always find one to work with whatever you are eating. Very light, crisp rosés of the palest pink color are usually what are found in Provence, a large wine-growing region in France known well for its rosé production. Rosés from this area are usually made from some combination of Cinsault, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Carignan, among others. Depending on the blend used, the wines can vary in body and flavor profile.

Our group tasted more than a dozen rosés from Provence and found most of the wines similar in taste and flavor profile. Most of them were very pale, crisp and tart, some with subtle strawberry and others with a little watermelon. These were light, seafood-and-summer kind of wines, and some of us admitted that we would have liked to have seen a little more “oomph” in flavor than we’d found in the Provencal wines.

The place to find the “oomph,” if you’ve got the money, is the Provencal sub-region Bandol. Silicon and limestone soils, coupled with a warm coastal climate perfect for the late-ripening Mourvedre grape, mean these wines tend to have spicy and earthy flavors with some notes of strawberry. Expect to pay at least $20 if not $25 or even more for a bottle of rosé from Bandol.

But there are options when it comes to French rosé; there are other regions to explore beyond Provence. The Cotes du Rhone, the Languedoc, Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Loire Valley all produce rosés. Cotes du Rhone and Langeudoc rosés are more likely to resemble those of Provence because many of the same red grapes are grown in Provence as in Cotes du Rhone.

Tavel, a southern sub-region of Cotes du Rhone that by law produces only rosé, is made predominantly of Grenache and Cinsault, though Syrah and Mourvedre are also allowed in lesser quantities. Wines from Tavel are distinguishable from Provencal rosés because the grape juice is left in contact with the skins for a longer period of time, resulting in a rosé that is a bit deeper, richer, with a darker color and more tannins, with greater aging potential than any other French rosé. Tavel also tends to run above the average in rosé price per bottle.

And then there are the rosés of Bordeaux, made out of Merlot and/or Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, or Petit Verdot. These wines, too, are a bit more robust than their Provencal counterparts.

In Burgundy, rosé is made from Pinot Noir and the Gamay grape, most notably from the Marsannay sub-region. And while the wines are considered to be quite good, they are very hard to come by, particularly outside of France. Loire Valley rosés, on the other hand, are easily found in Pennsylvania, and can run the gamut from dry to very sweet. A rule of thumb is that Loire rosés are sweeter when they come from the more western sections of the middle Loire. Cabernet d’Anjou and Rosé d’Anjou are sweeter than wines that bear “Rosé de Loire” on the label, which by law must be dry, or rosés from Touraine, which is in the more eastern section of the middle Loire. These wines, too, will likely be much drier than those rosés from the Anjou region.

If you are looking for a light, bright, crisp wine to go with your raw bar, your herbed and/or simply grilled fish, a summer salad, you should look for a wine from Provence. If you want something to sip and to experience more obvious fruit flavor, I would look for a Rosé de Loire or a Grenache-heavy rosé, perhaps from the southern Cotes du Rhone. Bandol and Bordeaux rosés will hold up to grilled meats in a way that will make you think, “Who needs red wine with steak when it’s 90 degrees outside and I’m standing over a hot grill?” A rich, round rosé is exactly what the sommelier ordered for such an occasion.

And here’s the best news of all. The North Atherton Wine and Spirits store is chock full of rosé right now. Rosé started to make a comeback about 10 years ago, when people realized how varied and versatile the wine could be. Eight years ago they were super-trendy. So it makes sense that in 2018, Pennsylvania has caught up with a trend that started in 2010! But who’s complaining? There are so many rosés on the shelves to choose from, you could have a heck of a summer exploring them all.

You’ll find that the majority of French rosés in the store are from Provence. But don’t be afraid to check out rosés from other places. Try a Malbec rosé from Argentina, a Cerasuolo from Italy, a rosé from Rioja in Spain. They are different from each other. They are similar. In most instances, I would say look for recent vintages.

As I would say about any wine, there is a perfect place and time for each and every one of them. I hope in the next two months you have a chance to take in a sunset with a delicious glass of rosé while you enjoy the remarkable green-ness of a central Pennsylvania summer.

à votre santé!

Lucy Rogers teaches wine classes and offers private wine tastings through Wines by the Class. She also is the event coordinator for Zola Catering.
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