Rosé Colored Glasses [Older]

#180 – July 21, 2011

With New York temperatures reaching 100ºF today (even before taking the tortuous humidity into effect making midtown Manhattan feel like a breezy 109ºF), I am sure I will be forgiven for focusing once again on the heat. As I make my way to work each day through a sea of mugginess, my thoughts focus on any and all means to refresh myself from the searing heat and naturally turn to the most refreshing and summery of wines – the goddess of goodness – Rosé. While I do sometimes enjoy Rosé during the year and with all due respect to Eric Asimov, Rosé is and always will be the perennial summer wine for me since, to quote Bill Ward, the second job of a wine in the summer is to be refreshing (the first job year-round is to be delicious).

As someone who revels in the continuous proliferation of great kosher options for the budding wine lover, I enjoy most varietals and many wine making styles as long as they are well done. However with all that said, during the scorching summer months I find myself reaching for Rosé more often than many of the other fantastic heat-busting available delights such as Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc or even sparkling wines (all of whom provide delightful respite from the terrors of a New York City July or August). With a beautiful pink color, tons of fresh and tart berry fruits, a typically low(er) alcohol content and crisp refreshing acidity, it’s the perfect summer beverage best enjoyed out of doors and well chilled. In my opinion, it also happens to be a wine insanely well suited to the Mediterranean climate and fare, making it another candidate for marketing good Israeli / Mediterranean wines. An added bonus is its low price and extreme versatility making it a delicious match to most foods. As you will see from the tasting notes below, Rosé can and is made from almost any red grape including Barbera, Carignan, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese with the more interesting versions coming from Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache and Mourvèdre.

Rosé (French for pink) is used to describe the wines who fall into the color spectrum between red and white and are produced in a number of different ways. One method of producing Rosé is maceration in which, following crush, the [white] juice of red grapes is allowed to have minimal contact with the grape skins (typically a few hours to a few days) before they are discarded (the longer the contact with the skins the darker in color (and the more full-bodied and tannic) the wine will be). Given the limited contact with the skins, almost no tannins are imparted into the juice allowing the wine to be enjoyed well-chilled (see last week’s newsletter for the chilling effect on tannin). Another method is known as the Saignée method which is a byproduct of making red wine in which the wine maker “bleeds the vats”. If a wine maker desires to increase the intensity of a red wine, they may drain some of the pink juice prior to fermentation resulting in a higher concentration of red juice and a more intensely flavored wine. The drained pink juice is fermented as a separate wine giving us Rosé. Another, far less common method that usually results in inferior wines, is blending red and white wines which is really only utilized in Champagne where Pinot Noir is added to a Champagne base to create the sexist of all wines – Rose Champagne (see below for my note on the one great Rosé wine I have tasted, a Rosé Champagne from Laurent Perrier). Another, less common, method is via maceration, in which the Pinot Noir grapes are allowed [very] brief skin contact during fermentation (the methodology utilized for the Laurent Perrier below).

In the United State Rosé is also referred to as blush or White X, with X being replaced by the grape from which the wine in question is produced. An example would be White Zinfandel which, for some unfathomable reason, tends to be a pretty popular wine but remains a wine you should never ever drink. If there was ever a wine that could compete with Bartanura’s Moscato d’Asti for my hatred – White Zinfandel would be at the top of the list (and several rungs above any other potential competitor). Besides its general inferiority, most White Zinfandel wines have an unpleasant bubble gum flavor and almost every kosher version is a poster child for why plenty of people out there still think all kosher wines are terrible. According to Jeff Morgan, the postwar popularity of White Zinfandel in the United States is a deciding factor in the disdain many oenophiles have for Rosé. Now, if only Jeff, a renowned expert on Rose, would add a crisp refreshing Southern Rhone-style Rosé to his repertoire we’d be all set! While not set in stone, blush wines are usually those on the slightly sweeter side as opposed to dry and crisp Rosé wines.

As noted above, one of the best things about Rosé is its deliciousness chilled, providing substantial assistance in assuaging the exhausting effect of the heat and humidity. I try to serve Rosé at about 46-50ºF (8-10ºC) – slightly colder than its optimum drinking temperature which allows the wine to warm up ever so slightly on the table or in your glass as opposed to suffering a too-warm Rosé – never a pleasant experience. Coupled with its relatively low alcohol and extreme food-pairing versatility, Rosé is the quintessential picnic and/or brunch wine, matching beautifully with omelets, chicken salad, fried and lightly grilled fish and most of the other lighter fare which I find myself enjoying as the mercury starts skyrocketing.

While many prefer a little fruit and residual sugar in their Rosé, my personal preference is for exceedingly dry and crisp – a tough wine to find, especially in the kosher world where most Rosé wines are a little fruitier than I like. For many years my favorite Rosé was Tabor’s, made from Cabernet Franc grapes. With this wine apparently no longer being made, the delightful Agur Rosa only being sold in Israel (although we had it at the Sensi event for Leket – hope you got to enjoy some there) and the incredible Castel Rosé seemingly a one-time wonder (see newsletter #132), I am on quest to find a new favored Rosé to go with the Recanati, the only one of my top five favorite Rosé wines sold in the US. As Rosé wines are unfortunately not as common in US wine shops as I would like, this is tougher than it sounds. Some of the blame for Rosé’s lack of popularity may lie with the wineries, for which, in many cases, Rosé is either an after-thought or dumping ground for inferior red grapes. While Rosé is inexpensive to make it also has a low profit margin resulting in wineries not investing any serious time or effort. Granted, with the exception of a few Rosé Champagnes, there has never been a “great” Rosé wine and probably never will be, but that doesn’t ever excuse a lackluster effort. In recent years, Israel has seen an increase in the world of Rosé, both qualitatively and quantitatively. To that end, over the last few weeks & thanks to JS, RT & YF (my wine mules), I sourced a nice bunch of Rosé wines from Israel, most of which I enjoyed and some of which are described below.

Two last things to keep in mind when plunking down for a Rosé: similar to white wines, Rosé wines are meant to be drunk as close to release as possible so always look for the most recent vintage year as they lose their bright, fresh flavors quickly and Rosé is not a wine to be taken seriously – they are meant to be fun – so chill, relax and enjoy!

Available in the United States

Binyamina, Yogev, Rosé, 2010: While I feel like Binyamina’s Yogev series is a mixed bag – different wines doing better in different vintage years (the Cabernet Sauvignon-Petit Verdot blend seems to be a consistent hit for me), their Rosé is usually a good bet for something good but a little different. This year the wine is comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel giving us a great summer quaffer whose fruit is accompanied with hints of spice and rock that I found gave the wine a little extra oomph.

Dalton, Rosé, 2010: A light, easy-drinking and refreshing wine but this year it seems a little too fruity for my tastes, precariously bordering (but not there) on the bubble gum danger zone. Nice and fruity with strawberries and boysenberries on the palate with an ever-so-slight undertone of pleasing bitter citrus tempered but just enough acidity to prevent the fruit from turning flabby. While most Rosé wines are not meant for sophistication, this wine is pure fun – an easy date!

Galil Mountain, Rosé, 2010: Concocted from a smorgasbord of red grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera and Pinot Noir with Sangiovese making the bulk of the wine at over 60%, this a very refreshing wine. A bright and cheerful wine that is perfect for a picnic and very well priced. Plenty of tart red berries and almost as dry as I like it, this wine has plenty of acidity to keep it fresh on your palate, regardless of how high temperatures rise.

Hagafen, Don Ernesto, Vin Gris, 2010: Standing out both in the varietal – Syrah and a relatively high level of alcohol for a Rosé – 13.7%, this remains a refreshing summer wine (and part of my quest to try more of the non-Israeli value-priced wines on the market). The Syrah provides a pleasing and unexpected bite of spice that plays nicely with slightly subdued fresh red berries and makes this wine an interesting one. Very much enjoyed during a hazy afternoon picnic lunch of cold chicken salad overlooking the Hudson River [only available in the US].

Laurent Perrier, Rosé Brut, n.v.: The only kosher Rosé Champagne made by a “real” Champagne House and a delicious treat (especially as it combines Rosé and Champagne – two of my favorite things). Less obligatory and more romantic (and expensive) than regular Champagne, Rosé Champagne has exploded in popularity over the last decade with more and more Champagne Houses trying their hands at producing this lucrative wine. This version is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes and, as with most Rosé wines, is pretty light on the palate. Loaded with typical yeast, toasted bread and green apple flavors, these accompanied by lush strawberries, cherries and hints of slightly astringent citrus. This is a fun (albeit expensive fun) wine and a great accompaniment to any summer festivities. A real treat [only available in the US]!

Recanati, Rosé, 2010: Made mostly from Barbera grapes with a bit of Merlot and easily available in the both Israel and the US. Lots of classic rose fruit on both the nose and palate with good acidity and a gentle hit of bitterness that balances out the fruitiness quite nicely. A wine for relaxing with and great for a summer brunch (or almost any other occasion as a great match to lighter dishes).

[To my Knowledge,] Only Available in Israel

Agur, Rosa, 2010: After enjoying the 2009 vintage of this wine on a trip to Israel I happily had it brought in specially for the Sensi event that benefited Leket. I wrote about this great little winery and its eccentric wine maker back in newsletter #149 and continue to enjoy their wines, with their white and rosé being really fun and fresh. Made with by the Saignée method, this wine has a relatively flat nose of fruit without the exuberant berries bursting forth that I usually love in a Rosé. However, the palate more than makes up for it with plenty of bright red fruit including raspberries, strawberries, cassis and watermelon. Good acidity backs up the fruit making for a delightfully refreshing wine and a great match to the light and refreshing fare one seeks out during these oppressively hot days.

Domaine Netofa, Rosé, Galilee, 2010: One of the wines included with the Eshkol Pessach shipment of the Leket Wine Club was a delicious blend from this new winery (read about them at the end of the Leket Wine Club’s Pessach selections). Pierre Miodownick also has a higher-end wine and this Rosé which, like the blend was really fun and enjoyable to drink beating back the heat and humidity with a cheerful smile. Utilizing the same grapes as the blend (Syrah and Mourvèdre), this wine has a bit more body than many of the other Rosés I reviewed, good fruit and a nice reflection of terroir with some flinty rock on the mid palate.

Ella Valley Vineyards, Rosé, 2010: Probably the first wine I have tasted from this overlooked and under-appreciated winery that I didn’t love at first taste. I assume it’s a result of being their first try at Rosé and will definitely grant the 2011 another shot but, while well-made with cherry and berry fruit, it was a little to sweet for me and lacked the bracing acidity that would have grated the sweetness the necessary edge. I can envision folks enjoying this really well-chilled on its own as an aperitif.

Older Tasting Notes

Castel, Rosé du Castel, 2009: Castel Winery has long been the favorite winery of many wine aficionados. While I love their wines and truly appreciate their elegance, balance and structure; Castel is not among my all-time favorite wineries, a fact mostly based on personal preferences and wine-making style (I tend to prefer Israeli style over French). All that said, their first Rosé wine, like all their other offerings, is a resounding success and well worth seeking out. Unfortunately only 3000 bottles were made of this first run, none of which were imported into the US. However, if you can get your hands on a bottle or two from Israel as I did, you will be richly rewarded as this Rosé, made from 100% Merlot and drunk well chilled is wonderful. Almost orange in color – crisply dry, loaded with strawberries, guava and sunshine with just the right balance of acidity, tannins and spice to get everything bouncing around nicely on your palate, it actually evolved over the hour or so it took us to get through the bottle. A perfect picnic wine (other than its more-expensive-than-usual-for-a-Rosé price tag of about NIS 80), and one that is guaranteed to enhance any outdoor summer experience. At 14%, the wine is carrying a little more alcohol than I would like for an outdoor summer wine but (other than for its potential affect on you) it isn’t noticeable.