A bottle of wine blushed with pink sits on a table outside. Moisture beads the surface of the chilled bottle. As the corkscrew drills into the cork, there’s a slight squeak and then the satisfying pop as it pulls free of the bottle. The wine splashes into the glass, pink shot through with coral.
Rose used to be my guilty pleasure. Serious wine drinkers dismissed the stuff out of hand, the memory of all those terrible — and extremely popular — white Zinfandels from the ‘80s marring their good sense. Most, it is true, weren’t very good — too fruity, a touch sweet, plain dull.
Not all that long ago, rose, at least in this country, meant wine designed for those who didn’t really like wine and furthermore didn’t have a clue.
How times have changed.
Now walk into a wine store and the roses are proudly displayed up front and in numbers that seem to grow exponentially every year. The spectrum of colors goes from pale onionskin at one end through peachy gold, pink, rose and on to coral and a deep rose just this side of red. Particularly pale examples are sometimes labeled “blush.”
White Zinfandel has pretty much slunk away into the back corner, ceding the spotlight to a new class of roses from California, Oregon, Washington and wine regions around the world. I find old favorites mixed in with roses from odd corners of France or Spain, or even Germany.
The French have understood and celebrated rose all along. Those from Provence and Tavel in the southern Rhone have long been the gold standards, though Tavel has had its ups and downs. The dry, crisp pinks are the perfect match for the French Riviera’s tapenade, aioli, bouillabaisse and grilled fish.
Bandol, the tiny appellation between Toulon and Marseilles, makes some killer roses from Mourvedre. Domaine Tempier’s Bandol rose has practically been the house wine at Alice Waters’ celebrated Chez Panisse since the beginning. It’s one of my favorites too, but at nearly $40 a bottle, not a regular on my table.
I’m still drinking through my 2012 French roses. Good thing, because 2013 has not exactly been a stellar year for roses in France. All the more reason to discover examples from other wine regions stepping up their game with well-crafted, easy- or not-so-easy-drinking rose. Some of the best are made only in limited quantities and will disappear from wine shops relatively quickly.
Roses come in a variety of styles. I tend to gravitate toward those that are dry, not too fruity, crisp and aromatic. Overly fruity, flabby roses don’t make it past the first two or three sips with me. The wine has to have some structure and grace — and a finish that entices you to take another sip. Roses are often made from southern Rhone grapes, Pinot Noir, Mourvedre and sometimes even Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc.
The best strategy for finding the style you prefer is to pick up half a dozen different bottles from a trusted retailer. Throw a rose tasting, then go back to buy more of the ones you fancy. Next, perform the same exercise at a different wine retailer. It’s going to be a long summer.
A rose fancier once told me, “As great as they can be, you don’t want to drink them in the winter.” I beg to differ. Here in Southern California, we’ve got summer days sprinkled throughout the year. You never know when a sweltering day will pop up. And being something of a previsionniste or forecaster, I’ve got my stash of rose ready year-round for that pop-up sweltering day.
A SAMPLING OF WORTHY ROSE WINES
Here are the first of my rose picks for summer. Most of these hover in the $20 range, but there's one standout bargain tucked in this list too. To find any of these bottles, check winesearcher.com.
It's hot out there. Time to start chilling those bottles down.
— 2013 Dragonette Cellars Rose (Santa Barbara)
A southern French-inspired blend of Grenache and Mourvedre with just a dab of Syrah from the Vogelzang vineyard in Happy Canyon, one of Santa Barbara's newest AVAs. A lovely pale onionskin in color with flashes of coral, it carries the scent of strawberries and melon. The taste is clean and bright, with a mineral tang. It's impossible to take a sip and not notice this rose. It has a presence and a mouthwatering finish that urges you to take another sip. About $20.
— 2013 Château Miraval Cotes de Provence Rose (Provence, France)
The second vintage from Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's wine estate in southeast France is a spectacular rose from an unspectacular year. Made by the Perrin family of the renowned Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate Château de Beaucastel, the 2013 Château Miraval rose is elegant and fresh, with a scent of wild strawberries. I could drink this very serious rose all summer long. From $20 to $25.
— 2013 Robert Sinskey Vineyards Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Los Carneros (Napa Valley)
Year after year, Robert Sinskey turns out carefully crafted rose from a dedicated block of organic Pinot Noir. Dry and crisp, his vin gris has a refreshing tartness reminiscent of rhubarb. Best experienced well chilled and with food, even if it's just a bowl of olives or a dark purple smear of tapenade on croutons. From $25 to $29.
— 2012 Charles & Charles Rose (Columbia Valley, Wash.)
A gorgeous pink, the Charles & Charles rose from Columbia Valley in Washington State is scented with rose petals and cherry. This blend of mostly Syrah with Mourvedre and tiny amounts of Cinsault and Grenache is ripe and smooth on the palate, very fresh and harmonious. It's also quite the bargain. About $10.
— 2013 Tercero Mourvedre Rose (Santa Barbara)
Keep an eye out for Tercero's elegant 2013 Mourvedre rose from grapes grown in Happy Canyon's Vogelzang vineyard. Winemaker Larry Schaffer stomped the grapes himself. Just released, it's on the wine-by-the-glass list at the new Faith & Flower in downtown Los Angeles. You can also buy it at the Tercero tasting room in Los Olivos. It should be hitting the shelves of other local wine shops soon. $20.
— 2013 Lioco Indica Rose (Mendocino County)
A Riesling lover turned me on to this rose from Mendocino County, from former Spago sommelier Kevin O'Connor and his partner Matt Licklider at Lioco. Lots to love about this example made from dry-farmed Carignan, with its pretty floral nose and bright red fruit flavor tempered with lime and notes of mineral. From $16 to $18.
— Justin Vineyards Rose (Paso Robles)
Not convinced about rose? Try this Cabernet Sauvignon rose from Justin Vineyards. It's pale salmon in color, and it has the structure and punch to hold its own against bold flavors. Dry and crisp, with a cleansing tartness, it would even work with salumi or charcuterie. And it could go straight to the table too. $20.
FOODS THAT PAIR WELL WITH ROSE WINES
Which foods pair best with roses? The question is almost beside the point. Roses are made for warm summer evenings, dinners outdoors with friends and laughter. Serve dishes that fit with that kind of setting and you're on the right road.
Think of summer foods, like tomato salads, olives, salumi, vegetables right off the grill. Roses love brash flavors: salty, a little spicy, redolent of summer herbs like basil and oregano, and, of course, garlic.
Olives, cured with cumin and garlic or baked with herbs? Of course. Prosciutto and melon? Perfect. Toasts with tapenade? Even better.
Pork sausages right off the grill are terrific with roses, and so are grilled vegetables, such as peppers, zucchini and eggplant, seasoned with handfuls of basil and moistened with good olive oil.
To my mind, there is no single better match for a dry rose than a good aioli. Mash garlic and a little salt in a mortar and pestle. Beat in a couple of egg yolks, stirring until they're lemon-colored. Very slowly, a drop at a time at the start, stir in olive oil and maybe a little lemon juice, depending on your preference (I think it helps match the wine better). It should be the consistency of soft mayonnaise.
Serve this with as many accompaniments as you have time to prepare. Steamed vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans, fingerling potatoes and the stems from chard, are almost required, as are hard-boiled eggs. I also like artichokes, either simply steamed or steamed and then finished on the grill. Grilled onions are terrific too. And grilled seafood makes it feel like a meal — shrimp, squid, sardines or a combination.
And rose-friendly dishes don't have to be savory. If you've got a little bit of wine left in the bottle, try sipping it with sliced peaches or cut-up strawberries, just very lightly sweetened.
— Russ Parsons