Are roses as bad as the wine connoisseurs and the wine press would have us beleive? Probably. However, despite all the cloyingly sweet, clumsy roses on the markte, there are several distinctive roses that offer relief from those flaws as well as from summer's heat.
Most oenophiles probably had their first wine encounter over a glass of rose. In all likelihood, it was a bottle of Lancer's or Mateus from Portugal, as these two wines were, and remain today, two of America's most popular wines. If the interest in wine and the person's income were sufficient, the novice wine drinker probably progressed to slightly sweet white wines, then to fruity off-dry red wines, and utimately to the more serious and expensive dry red and white wines of the world.
It is at this last stop in the evolution of a person's wine taste that the serious wine drinker tends to look back on roses as simple stuff for those beginners who just yesterday dicarded their can of Pepsi. This attitude ignores several important issues. First, wine is a beverage meant to complement food. Some of the most enjoyable wine-food match-ups I have ever had include roses from southern France served with spicy Provencal cooking, and Greek roses served with the day's catch from the Aegean.
Skeptics will no doubt say it was the ambiance, not the wine, that made the meal; yet the point is, summer temperatures and typical summer cuisine are better complemented by a fine rose than a full-flavored bordeaux or California cabernet sauvignon. Secondly, there are distinctive rose wines that are not simply innocuous blends of white and red wines, but rather wines with character and charm produced by people who specialize in rose wines, and who do not view rose as simply a compromise between a red and white wine.
Who produces the best rose wines? Today the most interesting and expensive roses come from France, while the best values come from California.
French roses are produced everywhere, yet the best are from the Anjou section of the Loir Valley, the Travel area of the Rhone Valley, the Cotes de Provence region, and in Champagne.
Tavel can produce very dry, full-bodied roses with surprising depth and complexity, yet the finest tavels retail for $7 to $9 and thus are poor dollar values. Nevertheless, if you desire a tavel (the wine was highly thought of by such luminaries as Louis XIV, Balzac and Richelieu), I would recommend a tavel from a reliable grower/negociant firm. The 1978 Delas Freres Tavel ($7.99) and the 1978 Paul Jaboulet Tavel L'Espiegle ($7.99) are quite good. A good estate bottled tavel is made by the Chateau D'Aqueria, but I have not seen any recent vintages on the market.
Further south, amidst the glamor of the French Riviera, are vineyards centered around the flashy and fleshy seaside resort of St. Tropez. These vineyards produce several lovely Cotes de Provence rose wines which are austere, fresh, crisp, dry wines and meant to be consumed within two years of the vintage. The best known Cotes de Provence rose in this country is the overpriced Chateau de Roseline ($7.49). It is a good example of the region's rose wines despite its lofty price. Consumers should consider any of the Cotes de Provence roses if priced for less than $5 and no older than two years.
The Arjou region of the Loire Valley produces a significant amount of rose from gamay, cabernet sauvignon and groslot grapes. The wines from this area imported to America tend to be sweet and clumsy. Amond the current offerings on the market, the 1979 Moc-Baril Cabernet D'Anjou Rose ($3.99), is sligthly sweet with an attractive coppery salmon hue. The highly publicized nonvintage. Nectarose ($4.459) is heavy and sweet with little of the freshness of charm one expects from a rose.
Lastly, there is one type of French rose that merits special attention even from the most finicky wine connoisseur. Rose champagnes are rare and expensive beautiful to look at and usually a superlative tasting experience. They are risky to produce, and most champagne firms only produce tiny amounts of these wines from their finest vintage years. Rose champagnes are bone dry and are fuller-bodies and richer than their golden counterparts. They tend to fall into and out of fashion every so often. At the moment they are experiencing rapid support in both this country and France, an interesting phenomenon in view of their extremely high prices and scarcity.
If you are in an income bracket similar to a successful movie star or super athlete, and have the inclination to spend bid dollars on a bottle of champagne, I highly recommend the exquisite 1975 Louis Roederer Crystal Rose at the staggering sum of $69.95, or the marvelous 1973 Tattinger Comtes de Champagne Rose at only $54.95. The less adventurous will find almost as much excitement from the 1975 Perrier Jouet Brut Rose at $27.95, and Moet Chandon's 1973 Brut Imperial Rose at $25.95.
With all the fanfare given California's "serious" wines, few people have bothered to notice that California's new vintage-dated roses are as good as they come. This is not to suggest that a lot of mediocre to poor rose is not made in California, but rather that many of the most recent bottlings of roses from California are extremely well-made wines which are fresh, charming and lively. The best California roses will indicate on the label the grape variety, the vintage and the geographic origin of the grapes. Consumers should look for roses made from zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, grenache and gamay grape varieties.
In tasting through a horde of roses for this article, I found the following fine California wines to represent not only the best values, but also some of the most interesting roses on the market. They share in common a light, fresh, lively, fruity character and a slightly sweet taste balanced nicely against the wine's acidity. They are ideal summer wines which offer both relief from the scorching heat and surprising charm. They are listed in order of my personal preference. Highly Recommended California Roses 1980 Inglenok Cabernet Roses ($3.19 to $3.49) Robert Mondavi Napa Gamay Rose ($5.69) Simi Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon ($4.89) 1979 Monterey Vineyards Classic California Rose (3.69) N. V. Charles Krug Vin Rose ($2.99 to $3.49) WINE BRIEFS
How many times have you sampled a wine that tasted all right, but smelled slightly soapy or musty? In some cases, it may be a flaw in the wine, but in most cases the culprit is the wine glass. Whether washed in a dishwasher or by hand, wine glasses tend to capture surrounding kitchen or room odors, the result being an invisible buildup of unpleasant nonwine smells. Soapy odors are quite common and are usually the result of inadequate rinsing. The initial contact with the wine releases these trapped odors in the glass and can spoil the enjoyment of the wine.
I employ a simple test to determine if a glass that appears clean is "soiled" with some invisible soapy or musty odor. Simply hold the glass close to your mouth and exhale into the glass. Immediately smell the glass after exhaling; in an overwhelming majority of cases you will pick up some annoying off, soapy or musty odor in the empty glass. The longer the wine glass has been stored without use, the greater the chance that a damaging odor is present. If you pick up any smell at all, simply rinse the glass with fresh water, and you will be assured of tasting your wine without having added any unwanted component.