Summertime means it's rosé time!
Rosé wine seems to have officially shed its reputation as an off-dry “intro” wine in the United States. Never before have I seen so many different rosé wines offered at American restaurants and retail outlets, which is a very good thing during these sultry, dog days of summer.
Whenever the weather warms, I begin to grill outdoors, cook with olive oil and take advantage of all the fresh produce from the farmers markets. This is a very Mediterranean way of eating, and it calls for dry and refreshing wines with moderate levels of alcohol and low tannins, which helps explain why Southern France dominates the dry rosé category.
Many Southern French rosés are made with a technique known as saignée (from the French word for “bleeding”). The hallmark of this technique is that after a few hours of contact with color-giving grape skins, some juice from a red wine vat is “bled” off and fermented separately. This helps concentrate the red wine and yields rosé as a byproduct.
Better still is the “skin-contact” method used when rosé is not merely a byproduct but the primary goal. A notable example is a style of Pinot Noir rosé known as Vin Gris that is produced in Alsace. The longer the skins are left in contact with the juice, the more intense will be the color of the final wine.
Top-quality dry rosé, like those produced in Provence — the motherland of dry rosé — is produced to exacting standards using the skin-contact method. Provençale rosé can range in color from bright pink to onion skin (pelure d'ognion). While more color can sometimes mean more body, I've consistently found that the very best dry rosés have a very pale cantaloupe color.
The rosés recommended below are produced from grape varietals typical to Southern France, but dry rosé is produced worldwide and can be made from any red varietal. Look for the most current vintage of rosé of Pinot Noir from California, rosado from Rioja or rosato from Tuscany. Always serve chilled and pair with fresh ingredients cooked outdoors.
2011 Caravinsérail “In Fine” Rosé, Ventoux, Rhône Valley, France
This organically farmed dry rosé hails from the Ventoux appellation. The Ventoux is a sprawling, rough terrain area that serves as a transition from the Rhône to Provence. A typical blend of 80 percent Grenache and 20 percent Cinsault will show a pale pink color and taste of strawberries and wild herbs. Serve chilled with a plate of sliced tomatoes, country pâté and a good baguette. (Available at La Buvette, $12.95)
2011 Triennes Rosé, Provence, France
The Triennes rosé has a classic pale cantaloupe color with flavors of strawberries, white flowers and wild herbs. Triennes is a joint project between two of Burgundy's most prestigious winemakers: Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac and Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée Cônti. It's superb when paired with grilled chicken, summer squash and cucumber salad. (Available at The Winery, $19)
2011 Charles & Charles Rosé, Columbia Valley, Washington State
This is a collaboration between Washington vintner Charles Smith and rosé specialist Charles Bieler, with just 12.7 percent alcohol and made using the skin-contact method. It's dry with flavors of watermelon, strawberries and fresh herbs. Syrah dominates the blend at 88 percent along with 9 percent Mourvedre and 3 percent Grenache. Pair with grilled sausages, sweet corn and greens. (Available at Brix, $11.99)