WineLine No. 32
Written and © copyright by Dave McIntyre
Aug. 1, 2003

"Real men DO drink pink!"

Rosé wines got a bad reputation from "White Zinfandel" and "blush" wines that were all the rage during the 1980s and early '90s. But most of those were little more than soda with a kick, perfect for the blue-hair crowd that wanted to demonstrate "moderation" by easing off hard liquor or younger drinkers wanting to move up from Bud but not yet ready for prime wine.

Even among dedicated oenogeeks, rosé pales, so to speak, in the face of an overwhelming preference for red wine. Rosé is somehow regarded as an interloper, an inferior (white) wine masquerading as a red in a pathetic attempt to gain social acceptance. Poseurs who spend much of their social lives trying to impress others with their wine knowledge run in fear from rosé as a reflection of their own inadequacies.

Rosé's tarnished image was not helped either by news reports that Saddam Hussein's favorite mealtime rinse was (is?) pink Mateus.

But a true rosé is an ideal hot-weather wine. Well chilled, it can slake your summer thirst, and it's a great match for Mediterranean flavors like olives, capers, anchovies and garlic. It's a great wine for patio or sidewalk dining, and should be on the summer wine lists of "Mediterranean" and casual restaurants - anything beyond the steak house.

And if you're convinced that only pinot noir is suitable for your grilled Copper River salmon, this summer I urge you to try a rosé from Sancerre in France, such as Henri Bourgeois, or the Saintsbury "Vincent vin Gris" from California. (A secret you can share with surprised guests: these rosés are made from pinot noir.)

Rosé is typically made either by "bleeding" off some free-run juice from red wine, (thereby concentrating the main wine and producing a pink one), or by limiting the maceration time for red grapes and pulling all the juice off the skins after a few hours. Jug rosés not worth drinking are often blends of red and white wines. And just to show the danger of generalizations, fine rosé Champagne is also typically a blend of red and white. The extra ingredient is care and skill in winemaking.

The best rosés come from France and Spain. From France, look especially for rosé from Tavel and other southern regions, such as Côte-du-Rhone or the Languedoc. Most of these that reach our shelves here in the U.S. combine deep, strawberry red color and juicy berry flavors on the palate. My perennial favorites, including from the 2002 vintage, are Chateau Grande Cassagne and Domaine Fondreche, both imported by Robert Kacher Selections, and Ochoa from Spain's Navarra region, imported by Frontier.

Although I'm a fan of nearly everything from and about Provence (the wine, the cuisine, the hype ... ), I'm not fond of rosé from the Côtes de Provence; these tend to be pale orange in color, dilute in flavor and oxidized. Often they are poured into a sexy bottle, embossed with the word "Provence" and then jacked up in price.

Rosés are best when fresh, so look for the 2002 vintage for this summer. There are, of course, exceptions. Some appellations, such as Bandol and Sancerre, do actually improve with a second year in bottle. You'll recognize these by their acidity and structure. Also, Spanish wineries tend to release their rosados two years after the vintage without adverse effects.

And not all California rosés are to be ignored. Bonny Doon, Saintsbury, Joseph Phelps and McDowell wineries all produce excellent versions that could banish the specter of white zinfandel forever.

Australia is now getting into the rosé game, but in an unfortunate way. Some dim bulb in a marketing department apparently read a 1980's era wine column from Stateside (is the antipodean post really that slow?) and came up with the idea of sending White Shiraz to compete with White Zin. I've tried two recently, from Banrock Station and Thirsty Lizard. Both had decent fruit, but they were marred by excessive residual sugar. (The relatively low alcohol content on the label was another tip-off that the wines were modeled after White Zin in more than name.)

Why the Aussies would risk damaging the reputation of their Shiraz by dumbing it down this way is beyond me. Perhaps they take us for a market of fools, since we're sucking down Yellow Tail like there's no tomorrow. If there's a knock against some of the cultish Shiraz wines - and the potential for a backlash - it is that they can be syrupy, over-extracted and sweet. These White Shiraz offerings can only reinforce that perception.

Now, ferment these babies dry, label them as Shiraz Rosé or even Pink Shiraz, and you'll have a dynamite Rhone-style wine with Aussie flair.

Dave McIntyre

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