A fresh look at rosé ― the West's great-value summer wine
It's hard to take a glass of pink wine seriously. That's thebeauty of it, as long as it's a glass of good pink wine ― crisp and dry, the likes of whichEuropeans have been drinking on sultry summer afternoons forcenturies.
Unfortunately, in this country, pink wine went the way of whiteZinfandel ― commonly sweet and flabby, like old strawberrycandy gone weepy. Savvy wine drinkers became suspicious of thecolor pink. Except the winemakers. They know that a well-made dry rosé is both refreshing and interesting. Accordingto Louisa Sawyer Lindquist, who makes one in Santa Barbara Countyunder the Verdad label, a fresh, fruity, dry rosé combines thebest of the red- and white-wine worlds: "It matches more foods thaneither, but you don't have to think about it ― or sit aroundpraising its glories."
More and more Western vintners are producing this wine they loveto drink. But in true American style, they're playing withtradition. They're using a gamut of grapes, from Grenache and Syrahto Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Presumably, the finished winecarries the flavors of the varieties it started with.
Makers here are also using a mix of methods. One common inFrance ― called saignée ― was devised by red-wine makers whowanted to concentrate the flavors of the juice on the skins, sojust after crushing the grapes, they "bled" a portion off the top (saigner means "to bleed"), leaving a richer red behind. Theymade the pale-pink juice they had siphoned off (pale because thejuice of most red grapes is clear; it only becomes red in contactwith the skins) into a bonus wine, with few of the tannins orbitter phenolic compounds that wine picks up from the skins andseeds. Fred Scherrer of Scherrer Winery in Sonoma County uses thesaignée method. His goal is to limit "the tutti-frutti side ofthe wine" and maximize acidity and minerality, hallmarks of goodEuropean rosé.
Lindquist takes the other basic approach, starting withwhole-cluster grapes and pressing them in a gentle European-stylebladder press, to give the juice as little skin contact aspossible; others crush the grapes first and leave the juice on theskins for a short time, to extract a little more color.
What with these different starting points and optional tools andtricks to use along the winemaking way ― from barrelfermenting to blending in red wine at the end for appealing color― there's no standard Western rosé style. But the bestversions are crisp and refreshing, with bracing flavors rangingfrom berries, cherries, and spice to faint citrus, flowers, andminerals.
I went in search of the foods these flavors work well with.Happy results with Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Mexican,and Cuban dishes, as well as Dungeness crab. But a tip fromScherrer ― who declares dry rosé the perfect partner forall pink shellfish ― yielded my favorite match: shrimpsautéed in garlic-infused olive oil, sprinkled with freshrosemary right at the end.
OUR PANEL'S PICKS
We assembled a crew of staff from around the magazine toblind-taste about 30 dry rosés, mostly from California, butincluding a handful of ringers from France, Italy, and Spain. Amidexclamations like "Look at that color," "Wow...zingy," and "I needa beer!" we found favorites:
Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2003 (California), $11
Iron Horse Rosé de Pinot Noir 2003 (Green Valley, Sonoma),$15
Miner Rosato 2003 (Mendocino County), $12
Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2003 (Carneros, CA),$16
Scherrer Vin Gris 2002 (Sonoma County), $14
SoloRosa Rosé 2003 (California), $15
Swanson Rosato 2003 (Napa Valley), $18
Tablas Creek Rosé 2003 (Paso Robles, CA), $27
Verdad Rosé 2003 (Central Coast, CA), $13