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Summer is a painful time for wine geeks who live by this saying: “The first duty of a great wine is to be red.” Not that I fully agree with that—but I feel your pain. You long for something cool and refreshing, but it is just too darned hot to drink powerful reds. My answer is simple (and doesn’t involve beer): think pink! A good Rosé may even keep a confirmed red wine drinker from having withdrawal symptoms.
People too often seem skeptical of Rosés. Admittedly, they have a bad reputation. In particular, people assume that they are off dry or sweet. In days gone by, it was certainly all too easy to find sweet, cheap French pinks that had few virtues. Then, credit the USA for permanently blackening the reputation of Rosés by creating something called White (or Blush) Zinfandel, which became a huge marketing success. Judging Rosés by those standards is like suggesting that all cabernets should be judged only by what the Czech Republic turns out.
By the way--there is no “white” zinfandel grape. “White” zinfandel is made by pulling the skins of red grapes away from the juice before the color gets too dark.
Contrary to reputation, the great Rosés, from regions like Bandol, Tavel and other places in the South of France and around the world, are in fact dry, not sweet. (Every wine reviewed at the end of this column is dry.) Their virtues are many. They have tons of flavor, and are not TOO subtle, which is great in the summer, since if they are drunk outside or with spicy foods nothing subtle will be noticed. They can be drunk chilled, yet many still have enough body to stand up to foods that might ordinarily cause us to call for a red wine.
The crisper wines (meaning: high acid) are particularly refreshing on hot days, and work well as aperitifs. The bigger ones match up particularly well with foods that might often require reds, like burgers, fried and breaded chicken and the like.
One tip, by the way: don’t drink them TOO cold. Extreme cold will dull their flavors--as with any wine. Fifty to sixty degrees is better than thirty-five to forty degrees.
Make sure any Rosés you buy are fresh. Ideally, a Rosé should be at most one or two years old, assuming perfect storage. That is, look to buy 2004s for this summer if at all possible. Buy as young as you can find. Only the very best age, and even then, not for long. Make sure that whatever you buy has been well stored. These wines are easily damaged.
The best of these wines, in short, are not your average blush wines, and far exceed what you can expect to get from White Zinfandel, or the like. You'll be surprised at just how good some of them are. In any event, there's no point to drinking a profound Bordeaux outside in 90 degree heat, as the bouquet wafts away, and the heat makes the wine alcoholic and clumsy.
Although there are upper levels Rosés closer to the $20 price range (like the 2004 Chateau Pradeaux or the famous Domaine Tempier from Bandol), the wines reviewed below are all under $15 and deliver a lot of bang for the buck. They hold their own with pricier items. They are all current releases from the 2004 vintage, which seems to be producing a lot of fine pinks, especially in the South of France.Locally, Rosés are hard to find. I was told that Pennsylvania had very limited plans for Rosés, and those that did come in would be in short supply. This year, I walked into the Center City Super Store looking for Rosés, and again there is not much variety, other than the White Zins, and similar wines. The manager could direct me to only two pink specialty items, both of which (the Falesco and the Viguiers) are reviewed below. If you're local, shop around. Otherwise, good luck...
2004 Minervois Rosé (Chateau d'Oupia) QPR Winner
Elegant and charming, this has a pale, salmon color, and impeccable balance. It has fruit and flavor, to be sure, but the acid mingles with the fruit and results in a seamless whole, without a touch of candied notes some pinks get. It has plenty of body for a Rosé, but also tons of finesse. It never seems weak or thin, though, despite its emphasis on balance. This is a great aperitif for drinking this summer. It may not literally be the best wine here, but it is certainly the most charming and harmonious. Drink it on the porch while daydreaming. Its friendly style will make it a crowd pleaser. Comes with synthetic cork. $9.99. 89 points.
2004 Les Baux de Provence Rosé (Mas de Gourgonnier) QPR Winner
This has a dark, strawberry color, and a certain brooding quality at times, despite being very fruity. It will be a good match for heavier foods that would normally call for reds. Its aromatics are strawberry-nuanced, and it is rather deep for a pink, intense and penetrating. Although there is a touch of a candied note early on, as the wine warms up and airs out, it shows fine depth, drier fruit, persistence of flavor and continuing intensity. Some might find it a touch too intense, as there is something a wee bit harsh on the finish at first. Still, this is a lot of wine for a Rosé. Under certain circumstances, I might prefer to open the d'Oupia, above, such as with lighter foods or for use as an aperitif. Bigger isn't always better. This should hold up better than the d'Oupia, though. $12.99. 92 points.
2004 Cotes du Rhone Rosé "Les Viguiers" (Cave de Rasteau) QPR Winner
Another fine French '04 rosé--seems like quite a vintage. This runs $9.99 and is classically styled, reminding me of a lot of better Tavels. Once it warms up, it is sunny and cheerful. It is very bright, dry and tinged with raspberries. The brightness around the edges makes the pungent fruit seem restrained and elegant, but there's a lot of fruit here. It has good weight for a rosé, but is very light on its feet. Refreshing, crisp, sometimes exhilarating, and very traditional, it has an excellent finish, too. What a great wine for a warm summer day. Comes with synthetic cork. 89 points.
NV Bugey Vin du Cerdon Sparkling Rosé Wine "Méthode
Ancestrale" (Renardat-Fâche) QPR Winner
A bit off dry, this wine from a small French appellation near the Swiss border, features a lot of gamay. It is fruity, with good acid, just a touch of sugar, lightly sparkling, and nicely wrought. It is a simple quaffer in a sense, but it is pleasing, tasty and enjoyable, an uncomplicated and inexpensive sparkler for the summer. Around $15. 88 points.
2004 Vitiano Rosé Umbria (Falesco) QPR Winner
This is all but a red wine. The disguise is pretty good. Vitiano is, of course, Falesco's entry level designation for great, bargain reds as well. The color here is very dark, and the wine is remarkably full bodied and deep. For just $9.99, you get something opulent that will fulfill perfectly one of my principal rosé functions--letting you drink something cold with foods that might otherwise call for a red. This went great with fried and breaded chicken. This is not as crisp as some of the other wines here, but its cherry-tinged fruit is well supported with acid and all the components are perfectly integrated. This is the most concentrated pink on the page. It's quite a deal, but for some circumstances and food matchups a lighter, crisper wine will actually work better. 92 points.
2004 Cotes du Ventoux Rosé "Signature" (Chateau Valcombe)
Delicate in nose and in color, to the point where it seems just a little pinker than a white when held to the sunlight, this is predictably on the elegant side. It is very bright, and what flavor there is on the finish comes from the acidity in the wine. It is rather austere, and the flavors are very restrained. If some pinks on this page are red wines in disguise, this is a white wine in disguise. This was a bit too restrained for my tastes, but it will be refreshing on a hot day. $12.99. 85 points.
2004 Rosé Clairet (Saint-Thibeaud)
This pink Bordeaux has pretty candy notes up front, which resolve into something a little better as the wine gains its footing. It has medium weight, good balance, some charm and elegance. It has a certain refreshing quality, although it flattens out a bit too quickly. Still, quite nice. 87 points.
2004 "Le Printemps" Rosé (Saisons des Vins--Copain)
This Mendocino, California producer produced a very elegant wine in this vintage. It is beautifully balanced, with some intensity and flavor remaining. The finish shows a bit more power. This is rather restrained, but the flavors evolve nicely on the finish, and the fruit is more obviously there than on the Valcombe, above. A well done, classic pink in a dry style. $12.99. 87 points.
Rosé (Domaine de la Mordorée)
Very dark red color. If the Falesco (on this page) is the deepest, the Gourgonnier the most intense, the Viguiers the brightest and the d’Oupia the most charming, this takes honors for Most Flavor. Yet, it does well in every category, impeccable balance, loads of gentle charm, and good weight. It is on the lower side in acid. Despite its lovely flavors, it is not a fruit bomb, with candied, almost-sweet nuances. Its raspberry and cherry flavors linger on your tongue, and they are pure and delectable. This puts it all together. It is seamless and harmonious. Some might prefer a livelier wine in some circumstances, though. I actually found this for $11.99, although I've seen it for quite a bit more. The first bottle I rated 93 points, the third more like 91. A fine wine either way.
2004 Rosé Syrah/Grenache (Pax) QPR Winner
Dark in color and full bodied in mouthfeel, this is big and burly. Yet, it seemed to finish a bit harsh, and I wondered if its alcohol was showing, and if the wine were a bit hot. Sure enough, the label list 14.8%, a heckuva tiring hit for a Rosé. I couldn't help but like its richness and its roundness, though. It is so full in the mouth that it makes you feel as if you are drinking a red--which is sometimes what I want. That's a heckuva hit of alcohol on a hot summer day, though, and that will be a turnoff for many. Around $12. 89 points.
For local availability (Philly/South Jersey): The Falesco and Viguiers were obtained at the Philadelphia-Center City Super Store; The Pax was from Canal's-Marlton; the Mordorée from Chambers Street Wines, New York; and all of the remainder from Canal's-Hainesport.
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