A Rosé-Tasting Party to Kickstart Summer

published Jun 9, 2011
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The long, cold winter and wet spring had me scouting the wine stores early this year, hoping to spot the first arrivals of rosé wine. For me rosé is more than a simple pink wine. While a symbol of summer sipping, the diversity of styles makes rosé a versatile partner at the table. With that in mind, welcome to my annual roundup of the rosé wines.

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In preparation for this post I have tasted as many rosé wines as possible over the past month. Having bought twelve more bottles last week, I decided to call in the help of four friends to taste through them. These are friends who love to cook, eat and enjoy wine, but who are not involved in wine in any way professionally.

Tasting sheets and glass in hand we made steady progress. The exercise was fascinating in many ways.

Firstly, it was so much more fun than sipping, swirling and spitting all by myself. Wine, after all is a social drink.

Secondly, it was fascinating to hear their comments; particularly how quick they cut to the chase on either liking or disliking each wine. As a wine professional, I have to be objective and judge each wine on its intrinsic merit, regardless of whether or not I personally care for it. Despite the different ‘subjective – objective’ approaches to the tasting, we were pretty unanimous with our favorites. But before discussing the wines, here is a short recap on how rosé wines are made, and a few tips on buying rosé.

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How Rosé Wine Is Made

Typically rosé wines are made from black (or red) grapes, and traditionally the wine is fermented dry. While different production methods exist, the most usual is ‘maceration’, whereby the black grapes are gently crushed and the juice is left in contact with the skins for short time to extract just enough color to achieve the desired hue. The length of time depends on the grape variety used, as well the winemaker’s color and style preference.

Once the maceration is complete, the wine is fermented, like a white wine, off the skins. The choice of fermentation vessel, as well as fermentation temperature, also influences the resulting style of wine. Cooler ferments tend to produce more fruit driven styles, while warmer fermentation temperatures give more structure to the wine.

Some styles such as ‘Blush’ or Vin Gris are the palest in color, as they do not go through any pre-fermentation maceration. Off-dry or sweeter styles are usually fermented dry and then some sweetening concentrate is added back, or the fermentation is stopped before all the sugar has been converted into alcohol.

Most rosé wines are best enjoyed within a year or two of their release. While many can hold up well for a few years, they really do not improve with extended bottle age. Colors range from the palest salmon hue to deep neon pink. Aromas and flavors are diverse and run the gamut of strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant, cherry and watermelon interwoven with all sorts of dried herbs, spice, and floral notes.

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4 Tips for Buying Rosé Wine

  1. Look for the current vintage, which this year will be the wines of 2010. We had mixed luck with the 2009’s included in the tasting.
  2. As most rosé wines do not indicate whether dry or off-dry, it is worth remembering that in general, Old World-producing countries are mainly dry. For the New World, ask the sales assistant, if the back label information does not help. Another tip is to look at the alcohol level. If below 11 or 12% the chances are it might be off-dry.
  3. Ask about the grape variety/varieties. Many rosé wines are blends of different grape varieties. For example most Provençal and Rhône rosés are varying blends of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Syrah. However, today we see much more varietal rosé, made from every black grape imaginable.
  4. Experiment – Rosé wines are keenly priced. Most run from under $10 to about $20. Try different ones for sipping, or for savoring with your favorite summer foods.

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The Tasting: Our Favorite Rosés

Two Austrian rosés, one made from Pinot Noir and one from Zweigelt, topped the bill, though I think the Pinot Noir had a slight edge. Our next favorite was a rosé from the Basque region of Spain, more austere, slightly spritzy but incredibly minerally and refreshing. Other favorites included a Minervois (Languedoc, France) and one of the Côtes du Rhone.

The most disappointing was a Pinot Grigio Rosato, from the Veneto (Italy), which was flabby, syrupy and tasted of bitter burnt jam. Admittedly, it was a 2009, so slightly over the hill but I think it also seemed ‘forced’, losing its delicacy, which resulted in an aggressive bitterness.

The wines recommended below include the best from this weekend’s tasting as well as favorites that I have found over the past month.

2010 Sono Montenidoli Canaiuolo Rosato, IGT Toscano, Italy, $24 – Delicate pale salmon color. Subtle but enticing nose of peonies, exotic citrus and a savory minerality. Crisp, bone dry with layers of delicate red fruit flavors and savory spice. Good structure with minerality following through to a long refreshing finish.

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2010 Bonny Doon Vineyard, Vin Gris de Cigare, Central Coast – Very pale salmon color. Attractive nose with notes of white cherries, redcurrants showing hints of dried herbs and an earthy savoriness. Refreshing with lively flavors of wild red berries that persist to a moderately long finish.

2010 Domaine Collotte Marsannay Rosé, Burgundy, France, $15 – Made from Pinot Noir this is also pale salmon in color. Refined nose suggestive of fresh wild cherries and raspberries. Crisp, taut and minerally, with delicate but lingering flavors of red fruit and hints of black pepper and underbrush.

2010 Alpha Zeta Rosato, IGT della Provincia di Verona, Italy, $10 – Much deeper in color – almost neon pink. More obviously ripe black cherry and sweet raspberry aromas. Though overtly fruity, the wine is quite dry with spicy, earthy flavors that balance the ripe fruitfulness. Not terribly complex, but a great everyday wine that is robust enough for grilled meats.

2010 Cep d’Or Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France, $12 – Very pale salmon hue. Fairly classic Provencal rosé, with delicate flavors of watermelon, cherry, strawberry laced with notes of earthy garrigue. Refreshing, moderate concentration of flavors that mirror the nose. Perfect with a Salade Niçoise, grilled sardines or even pizza margarita.

2010 Wolffer Rosé, South Fork, Long Island, New York, $14 – Made from a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the wine is a pale salmon color. Fairly intense nose of ripe peach, guava and raspberry. Zesty and refreshing with plenty of lively flavors across the palate. Ripe stone and berry fruit flavors follow through to a juicy, fruity finish.

2009 Stift Goettweig Messwein Rosé, Kremstal, Austria, $15 – Made form Pinot Noir, this was by far the favorite among the ladies, myself included. It was elegant, well structured with an underlying minerality that gave the wine focus. Delicate aromas and flavors of redcurrants, white cherry and wild strawberry spoke quietly but persistently with hints of spice and dried herbs.

2010 Nigl Zweigelt Rosé, Austria, $18 – Another of the ladies’ favorite. Though also Austrian, it is made from the local Zweigelt grape. Deeper in color with more lively, upfront fruit, yet it is anchored by a savory earthiness, that helped define the wine. A wine well suited to sipping on its own, or enjoy with cured meats, salami, grilled swordfish or eggplant.

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2010 Rubentis Ameztoi, DO Getariako Txakolina, Spain, $23 – Delicious, racy, spritzy, minerally and slightly austere. If you are a high-acid fan, then this is one for you. Delicate flavors leaning toward orange citrus, sour cherry and wild strawberry. Wonderfully refreshing and lively on the palate. Moderately long minerally finish. I liked this on its own but it almost begs for some fatty cured meats, oily fish such as sardines or rouget. It worked perfectly with our chilled asparagus soup topped with warm poached egg.

2010 Domiane Tour Boisée Rosé, Minervois, France, $12 – A very strong favorite of one of the ladies. Another old world minerally, dry rosé. Others thought it a little simple. I quite liked its subtlety and savoriness. Pale salmon, dry, not very fruity – more delicate aromas and flavors of watermelon, cranberry and savory dried herbs. A versatile wine for summer salads, simple grilled fish or a tomato tarte Tatin.

2010 Domaine les Aphillanthes, Côtes du Rhone Rosé, $15 – This was the preferred of the two Côtes du Rhone tasted. Deeper in color – almost sockeye salmon. Dry and fairly broad flavored, earthy, almost a little rustic (or honest if you prefer) but has some complexity – certainly not a styled wine. Made from a fairly typical Rhone blend of Carignan, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Would be great with more robust dishes such as lamb kebabs or a hamburger.

2010 Olivares Rosado, Jumilla, Spain, $10 – Made from Monastrell (known as Mourvèdre in France), this wine was fairly neon pink in color. Most of the ladies expected it to be sweet and were pleasantly surprised to find it dry and somewhat earthy. Monastrell is not a shy variety and this is a more full-bodied rosé. The flavors are very ripe – black and red cherries and berries. Delicious with salami or other fatty cured meats.

2010 Las Lilas Vinho Verde Rosado, Portugal, $9 – A delightful, easy drinking, slightly off-dry Rosado. It wasn’t a firm favorite but I found it quite pretty. Spritzy with racy acidity nicely balances the slight sweetness on the finish. Light-bodied (only 10.5% alcohol), this is a very pleasant summer sipper, either on its own or with light hors d’oeuvres.

2010 Vina Salamanca Rosado de Lágrima Vino de la Tierra de Castilla Y León, Spain, $12 – Made from a blend of the local, little known variety Rufete, and the well-known Tempranillo. Quite deep pink in color, the nose displays warm, jammy red fruit, with hints of creamy caramel and anise. Fairly robust, yet fruity and modern, it is broad on the palate with warm ripe red and black flavors that would pair well with a nicely charred flank steak with chermoula.

2010 Quo Grenache Rosado, Campo de Borja, Spain, $10 – Made from Grenache (Garnacha in Spain). Deep pink color. Lush, jammy aromas of mixed berries, hints of spice. Smooth texture, with lots of juicy, ultra-ripe flavors of raspberry and strawberry compote. Easy drinking, not very long but has an attractive earthy kick on the finish. Would work well with merguez or other grilled spicy sausage.

2010 Lealtanza Rosado, Rioja, Spain, $15 – Made from Tempranillo, deep cherry pink color. Aromas of sweet red berries with hints of orange citrus. Creamy candied flavors of cherry compote, pineapple and cranberry. Refreshing tang balances the sweet fruit. Easy drinking, summer sipper to enjoy on its own or pair with that would work with tapenade, salami, olives or pizza.

What rosé wines are you sipping this summer?

Until next week enjoy some pink wines!

Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.

(Images: Mary Gorman)