Try On Something Pink for Summer

By Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

One hot summer afternoon in the early 1980s, when Andrew was a young 20-something living in Berkeley, Calif., he had his first taste of Sutter Home White Zinfandel. He had never had a wine quite like it -- refreshingly fruity, noticeably sweet and, yes, pink -- and he liked it.

Back then, so did a lot of other people, and they sent Sutter Home's new-style "white zin" soaring in popularity. To this day, white is still the best-selling form of zinfandel in the United States, outselling the red a half-dozen times over.

For Andrew and many others, though, the sweet simplicity of blush wines went out of vogue as their palates grew more sophisticated. But after years of staying away from anything pink, both of us are among the many drinkers who have recently come around to favor bone-dry rosés, sending these well-made, complex wines to their own height of popularity.

Pink wines are made from red grapes that are allowed to ferment for a much shorter time than for red wines, so the grape skins spend less time leaching their color into the juice. The process (which the French call saignee, derived from the verb meaning "to bleed") is halted when the wine is merely light to dark pink instead of red.

Blush wines such as California's white zin are typically off-dry (slightly sweet) to sweet in flavor. However, rosé wines tend to be drier than dry and are made around the world. Even far outside their spiritual homeland in Provence, spicy rosés are a staple of summer drinking. With one foot in the world of white wine (especially with their light-to-medium body, refreshing acidity and chilled serving temperature) and another in the world of reds (with their red-fruit flavors), they can pinch-hit for either team. That explains their extraordinary food friendliness, especially with Mediterranean cuisines (think French bouillabaisse and Spanish paella).

We tasted our way through dozens of pink-hued wines recently and came up with 10 favorites. Several, including this week's picks, showcase the grenache grape (called garnacha in Spanish wines), which contributes lemony citrus flavors and a peppery spiciness. The 2007 Les Deux Rives Corbieres Rosé ($11) is a classic blend of grenache (50 percent), syrah (35 percent) and cinsault (15 percent), bringing to mind a compote of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.

Karen's pick is the well-made, well-balanced and well-priced product of the oldest wine-producing dynasty in Spain, which has been making wine for 11 generations. The 2007 Julián Chivite Gran Feudo Rosado ($12; $10 at Calvert Woodley) is made from garnacha grapes that are macerated for 24 hours, after which the "free-run" juice is separated only by gravity, not mechanically extracted (which can impart bitterness). This refreshing wine is an exceptional value.

You could say Andrew's pick is the product of a relative newcomer: Jaboulet, founded in 1834, has two centuries' less winemaking experience than Chivite. The robust yet refined 2007 Paul Jaboulet Aine Cotes du Rhone Parallele 45 Rosé ($12) from France is a blend of grenache, Cinsault and syrah that varies from year to year to feature the vintage's best grapes from the vineyards, which sit on the 45th latitude. The 2007 finds an ideal match in salade nicoise.

Rosé wines can be made with virtually any red grape, as our other choices this week show.

Gamay: The 2007 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Rosé ($14) from France has refreshing acidity, bright raspberry fruitiness and an impressively long finish. The bottle's screw top makes it a good choice for a picnic or the beach.

Merlot: The 2007 Wolffer Rosé ($15) from the Hamptons in New York no doubt gets its complexity from its blend of red grapes (merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon) and its base of 40 percent chardonnay. Think of a half-grapefruit with a half-strawberry on top, as served in diners: This wine brings those flavors to life in about the same proportion. It's bound to be popular with lovers of New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

Pinot noir: About as brooding as a rosé can get without turning into a red, the elegant 2007 Etude Carneros Pinot Noir Rosé ($20) has strawberry and red-plum fruitiness and solid structure that make it versatile enough to pair with tuna tartare or a grilled steak. In contrast, one of the lightest-bodied and -flavored rosés we tasted, the delightful 2006 Hermann J. Wiemer Pinot Noir Rosé ($15) from New York's Finger Lakes region, is best suited to be sipped as an aperitif or with light hors d'oeuvres.

Right in the middle, the 2007 Van Duzer Pinot Noir Rosé ($16) from Oregon's Willamette Valley is medium-bodied and well balanced, pairing beautifully with grilled chicken, salmon or tuna.

Syrah: The ruby-colored, 100 percent syrah 2007 Montes Cherub Rosé of Syrah ($18) from Chile, with its cherry and strawberry fruitiness and firm structure, also can stand up to red meats.

Tempranillo: The 2007 Cune Rioja Rosado ($13) is a blend of 80 percent tempranillo and 20 percent garnacha. Once it warmed in our glasses to a slight chill, its rich earthiness shone through even more impressively.

Obviously, zinfandel works for pink wines, too. In fact, we were grateful recently to discover an off-dry white zin at a favorite Thai restaurant when its lackluster wine list turned up no other viable options to pair with our green chicken curry. This summer, we're even more grateful to have a new roster of dry rosés to pair with just about everything else.

Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, authors of "What to Drink With What You Eat" and the forthcoming "The Flavor Bible," can be reached through their Web site, www.becomingachef.com, or at food@washpost.com.


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