The other night I was out to dinner for a friend’s birthday. A friend of his – a mighty smart and good-looking guy – said to me, “Tell me what I need to know about wine so I can look good on dates.”
Training to be a sommelier is like learning to drive a car. You may pass the exam (barely), but the real learning starts once you’re out on the road.
My expertise has accumulated over the course of my life and is enriched by every connoisseur I meet – both professionally and personally. Like any other subject matter, wine is vast and all encompassing. There’s nothing black and white about it. Although, in winemaking terms, red grapes are referred to as ‘black’ – take Pinot Noir for example. White is white, à la Pinot Blanc. Pinot Gris/Grigio (grey) is the middle. And it’s pink. Say what? Oh yes, and that brings me to the first installment of my summer series on wine education for dating… Rosé.
Rosé. Why the hype? Love it or hate it, everyone’s got an opinion. Or worse, they’re afraid to associate themselves with it. But why?
The answer (sorry California) is White Zinfandel. Also known as White Zin, it is traditionally quite sweet and low in alcohol. It satisfies a very particular palate, and enjoyed a great deal of success in the 1970s when Sutter Home first made it famous. White Zin set in stone many Americans’ perception of rosé. Pink, sweet, and barely alcoholic. However, Rosé wines have actually been in existence for as long as history can account for winemaking.
The mild character and pleasantness of rosé wines secured them a firm place in winemaking tradition. After World War II, Portuguese wineries produced Mateus and Lancers, both sweet and slightly sparkling wines designed to appeal to the rapidly growing demand in North America and Western Europe.
Before the advent of firmer pressing systems, wines made from dark-skinned grapes could only pick up so much color and concentrate during the crushing process. The result was, naturally, lighter colored wines.
Color, aroma and tannin all come from skin contact. With modern wine pressing technology, winemakers realized they could influence the concentrate and aromatic potency of the wine by increasing skin contact. The French saignée method, or bleeding off, removed juice after the first press to increase the ratio of skin content to juice, which resulted in more intense red wines.
The excess pale pink juice was fermented on the side to produce dry wines with distinct traces of red fruit and spice notes. These wines are high in acidity, bone dry, and pack just enough flavor to accompany the spicy, garlic-heavy dishes of southern France where they account for huge percentages of wine production. There’s no stigma in ordering a glass of rosé with your bouillabaisse. In fact, the shame would be in not doing so!
Italian rosé has been around for ages, and as in Provence, grew up alongside local cuisine. It’s generally included in the DOC specifications – the legal parameters for wine production in designated growing areas. In northern Tuscany, a local delicacy called Cacciucco – made with a tomato and red pepper based sauce is traditionally paired with dry rosé.
Going back to Pinot Grigio, the wine naturally produces a pale pink juice if pressed with the skins. Check out Pinot Grigio Ramato from Veneto. Voilà! There’s a fact to impress your lady.
So when you come upon rosé on the wine list, remember to treat it with respect. This wine has roots, far deeper than the “super Tuscan” choice the manly man inside of you thinks he ought to drink (and he ought to if he is having a steak).
The best way to approach rosé is to know what you are getting, and why.
Here are some selections for first, second, third dates and special occasions. Know your rosés and make her blush:
1. Wölffer Estates Rosé
A local favorite from Long Island, New York, this wine is made by blending the juice of Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes prior to fermentation. Pale, almost salmon pink with delicate fruit aromas and a dry salty finish.
2. Croteaux Merlot 181
Made from 100% Merlot in the saignée method by a pair of French Canadians living in the North Fork with a strictly rosé winery. This one is their lightest bodied wine with notes of honeysuckle and a sea salty finish. Clean, dry, and ultra-summery.
3. Rosa del Golfo Rosato
This choice comes from Salento, Puglia, the heeltap of Italy’s boot heel. It’s made from Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera, both red grapes that normally produce wines of extraordinary aromatic potency. The wine stays on the skins for about 24 hours, in what local winemakers call the lacrima or tear method. Not unlike saignée, it produces pale pink wine with subtle versions of red wine aromas. This rosé is particularly flavorful with notes of strawberry tops, dried herbs and violet, and finishes dry and sea-salty.
4. Domaines Ott Rose Chateau Romassan
A quintessential rosé from the Bandol region of southern France. Made from Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre grapes, its complex bouquet incorporates Mediterranean herbs and the sea breeze. Smooth and dry, it is one of the most popular rosés around. Find out why.