Monday, June 3, 2013

Thinking Pink

“A bottle of white, a bottle of red,
Perhaps a bottle of rosé instead.” 

“Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” by Billy Joel  

For me, it’s definitely rosé. I love pink wine. It’s thirst quenching – especially on a warm summer day. It pairs well with many foods, tastes good, and is pretty to look at.

I’ve often requested a glass of rosé at a wine bar or in a restaurant and have been frustrated by the lack of choices – or suffered the sneer of the bartender or waiter, as if I were asking for ‘plonk.’ But I stand by my long-held view that rosé is a tasty, sometimes splendid, choice as an apéritif or with lunch or dinner. And rosé seems to be catching on with more consumers.

More rosé is being produced these days than ever before,” says Los Olivos, Calif. -based Larry Schaffer, owner and winemaker of award-winning Tercero Wines. “Rosés tend to be inexpensive, and that certainly makes them more attractive to many people. Rosés can be very food friendly, and that attracts folks as well. It's becoming 'cool' to drink rosés now.”

Rosé is neither red nor white, but at the same time both red and white. It’s usually made from red grapes, although many blended rosés will include some white grapes. There are several ways to create rosé, the simplest (and least sophisticated) being to blend a small quantity of red wine with white wine, producing an inexpensive fruity style wine. Think of the White Zinfandels you can get for well under $10 at the supermarket.  A blend of red Zinfandel and more aromatic white varietals like Muscat and Riesling, these white zins gained popularity in the 1980s, but are frankly not my idea of a true rosé. This blending method is not even allowed in the European wine market (except for when making pink sparkling wines.)

A more traditional way to create rosé is to start the process as if making red wine, but changing it up a bit. The winemaker can just directly press the red grapes, extracting a minimum of color and tannin from the skins, producing a delicately colored rosé. Or, the winemaker can draw off some juice anywhere from 6 to 48 hours after the beginning of the fermentation. Wine with the least amount of skin contact produces a light-colored rosé that’s extremely low in tannin – good examples of this method are rosé wines from Provence in the south of France. Wines kept on the skins for up to two days will have darker color and more tannin. Tavel is France’s Southern Rhone produces very fine and fairly pricey rosés in this style.

The most common method is bleeding (saignée in French), where a portion of the juice is removed after fermentation is underway and the rest remains in contact with the skins to produce robust red wines. Here the rosé is a byproduct of the red wine production, and since the grapes are not specific to rosé wine (which normally have less color and higher acid), these may not the best representations of rosé.

The red grapes most often used for rosé include Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Pinot Noir, and the styles of rosé wines produced run from pale pink or salmon colored wines with a light, red berry nose and palette, to deeper pinks (sometimes even orange) with floral, earthy, minerally, black-fruit nose and palette.

“I prefer to use Mourvedre for my rosé because, to me, this grape adds a little 'something else' other than straight fruit qualities to a rosé,” says Schaffer. “I always find a touch of herbaceousness and a nice quenching quality, not to mention a bit more body than many other rosés.”  Schaffer’s 2012 Tercero Mourvedre Rosé ($18) is available directly at or at his small, but lovely, tasting room in downtown Los Olivos, Calif. Schaffer is often there, pouring barrel samples from his wine beakers, and ready to talk wine. (Schaffer was recently named one of nine “new legends in Santa Barbara County” by Touring and Tasting Magazine. Read at

Other wonderful rosé wines abound. Here’s a sample of some 2012 vintages (besides Tercero, mentioned above) that I’ve tasted recently, which you can find either online or at a wine shop near you: 

J.L. Quinson Côte de Provence ($6 at Trader Joe’s) is a great value for the price, with a floral nose and citrus and stone fruit on the palette. 

Mordorée Dame Rousse Côte du Rhône ($17; is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignon and Mourvedre, and typical of the saignee method of production. This wine has orange, cherry, and a touch of aniseed on the palette and would pair well with grilled meats or fish.

Fiddlehead Cellars Pink Fiddle ($18; is 100% Pinot Noir-based and has an earthy, gamey quality, typical of this grape. Fiddlehead was one of the wineries featured in the 2004 film “Sideways.”

Liquid Farms Rosé is a Santa Barbara-grown Mourvedre-based wine made in the lean, mineral-driven style of Provence rosés ($24; 
Jolie-Pitt & Perrin Miraval ($24; is produced at the French chateau of Hollywood power couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, in conjunction with the long-established Perrin family of winemakers. So it’s not just a “celebrity wine,” but a product of true, Provencal winemaking traditions. I found it remarkably refreshing and light in style.

So think pink, and drink up. And, if in California, check out the 2nd annual “Real Men Drink Pink” wine festival in Paso Robles on June 23. Ticket sales benefit breast cancer research (

Until next time, cheers!

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