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Rosé is Seriously Good Wine

Don’t write off rosés because you’ve had a few candy-sweet pink wines

Fine Cooking Issue 39
Photo: Scott Phillips
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Don’t let that pink hue fool you: rosé is for grownups, and serious wine drinkers love it. It isn’t candylike, it doesn’t taste remotely like bubble gum, it’s a great partner for food—and come summertime, pink is what you want to drink.

With a low to medium alcohol level, wonderfully perfumy nose, bright acidity, and refreshing blast of red berry flavors, rosé wines are charming. (I normally stay away from wine words that don’t evoke flavor or texture, but with rosés, “charming” definitely applies). When you’re drinking, that mouthwatering zing of acidity brings you back for another sip, and when you’re eating, it sets you up for another bite of food that captures the magic of what eating and drinking is all about.

Rosé comes from red wine grapes

Rosé can be a blend of several different red grape types or made from just one. In southern France, you’ll find Grenache-based rosés from appellations such as Tavel and Cairanne, and fuller bodied Mourvèdre-based rosés from Bandol. There are rosés based on Cabernet Franc from the Loire, and France’s most expensive, exquisite rosé wine, rosé Champagne. The Italians make delicious rosés from Sangiovese, the main grape found in Chianti; the Spanish use Grenache as the French do (in Spanish, it’s Garnacha), as well as Tempranillo, the main grape in Rioja. I’ve enjoyed rosés made from Pinot Noir produced in the Napa Valley. (When they’re made from Pinot Noir, lighter rosés are also referred to as vin gris—”gray wine”—because of the coppery-pink color the skins give to the juice.) Other delicious rosés from California are made from Rhône-style blends of grapes, such as Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre.

Contact with grape skins gives rosé its color

A wine becomes pink wine before fermentation actually begins. Here are a couple of different ways that rosé gets its color—and its character.

  • Maceration. After the grapes are crushed, they’re moved to a large stainless-steel vat, where the juice stays in contact with the grape skins. After the desired color is achieved, the juice is drained off the skins into another vessel to ferment. Thick-skinned grapes, such as Syrah, Cabernet, or Zinfandel, have shorter skin contact time, while thinner-skinned grapes, such as Grenache or Pinot Noir, are left on the skins longer. The longer the maceration time, the more color, flavor, and character are imparted to the finished wine.
  • Saignée, or “bled.” The grapes and skins—usually a blend of dark-skinned, intensely flavored grapes that would make a big, powerful red wine—are crushed and left in a large, stainless-steel vat. After an hour or two, a certain amount of juice is drawn off or “bled,” and fermented into a delicate rosé (the juice that stays behind is made into red wine). Saignée allows a winemaker the option of making a delicate rosé wine from intensely flavored grapes (it also concentrates both the color and the flavor in the juice that remains with the skins). The resulting rosé will be complex and flavorful, but lighter than the resulting red wine would be.
  • Blending red and white wines together. This is how a lot of mass-produced blush wines are made. (A lot of people pooh-pooh blush wine, but I don’t. Blush gets people drinking wine who might not otherwise do so, and this popular seller helps wineries stay in business so they can keep making the high-end stuff.) Blending is also the way rosé Champagne is often made, and in France, that’s the only time blending red and white wines is legal.

Rosé is deliciously versatile

Rosé’s lively acidity and light to medium body make it a friendly partner for a wide range of flavors. Here are some delicious excuses to open a bottle:

  • Smoked salmon with capers on toast.
  • Tomatoes and garlic on grilled baguette slices.
  • Seared veal chops, especially with fuller-bodied, Mourvèdre-based rosés, like those from Bandol.
  • Seared swordfish or tuna, brushed with some fruity olive oil, smeared with an olive-based tapenade.
  • Paella with shrimp, clams, and scallops.
  • Simple poached salmon with rosé Champagne.

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