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Drink rosé!

Credit: Gil Kulers for the AJC

Credit: Gil Kulers for the AJC

You know when a felicitous wine-and-food pairing just sneaks up on you? You’re eating something mindlessly, then you take a swig of whatever’s in your glass, you stop dead in your tracks. Wow. Food wine both suddenly taste so much better thanks to the presence of the other.

This happens to me all the time when I’m drinking rosé.

I remember being in a tapas bar eating Spanish ham with my fingers and polishing off a bottle of rosé with a friend, and thinking it was the best thing I’ve ever eaten.

I also remember having a nicoise salad with briny black olives, a too-generous glug of olive oil over the tuna and red, red summer tomatoes. That glass of rosé on the side? Etched in my brain as the ideal mate.

And then the other week, I was eating hot chicken at One Eared Stag — chef Robert Phalen’s answer to the great specialty of Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville. It was a fried thigh caked in cayenne that gave its crispy skin the red under-glow of hennaed hair. It came piled on top of a piece of spongy white bread and topped with a few slivers of bread-and-butter pickle.

Once I turned my attention from this chicken to my glass of Chateau de Lancyre Rosé, I saw stars.

You should know this: rosé wines are essentially white wines made from red or black grapes. After the crush, the skins are left in contact with the juice for a couple, three days, imparting a pink color. In most cases the grapes are grown and picked for rosés, but sometimes the wine is produced as a by-product of red wine production; some of the pink-tinged juice is drained off early to give the rest of the juice longer contact with the skins.

You should also know this: A lot of bad rosés may turn you off the color pink for life. And I’m not just talking about mom’s white zinfandel.

Rosés are best in the first year after production, when the fruit flavors are bright and appealing. But stores often sell older vintages that take on candy-like flavors. Some take on a flavor that reminds me of circus peanuts — those big, orange chews that we ate as kids when the good candy was gone.

I also get the impression that a lot of winemakers who usually focus on red wines like to try their hands at making a rosé of their signature varietal, be it pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon. These wines often lack that steel edge of summer freshness — the strawberry that cuts like a knife — that make rosés such an amazing match for salty food.

For that is the secret to rosés: they love salt. If they have strawberry, raspberry or cherry flavors lurking in the background, these only become more pronounced when you combine them with a bite of cured ham, or an olive, or a crumbling slice of dry sheep’s cheese, like manchego. It’s like salting melon.

These salty foods can make your tongue shrivel at first contact, like skin in ocean water. But they often have a caressing flavor of fat just waiting to make your tongue happy. Rosés, which have a touch of creaminess in their best iterations, give that fat a tug.

Of course, there’s a part of the world where the food is salty, the sunshine bright and the rosé flows like a river. If you want to taste what rosé is about, look to the Mediterranean.

I’ve tried plenty of tasty, thirst-quenching rosés from Spain and Italy, but it’s the southern French ones that made me so mad for these wines. Here are a few that I often see in the stores where I shop. (And when I Googled them alongside the word “Atlanta, ” I pulled up some stories from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s wine writer, Gil Kulers. So I know I’m in good company.)

Domaine de Nizas Rosé

Years ago we rented a house for a week right around the corner in the village of Nizas in the Languedoc region of France. So I’m biased by travel memories. But I do love this rosé, which always has a round, lightly creamy balance and long finish. It’s an elegant rosé that I wouldn’t hesitate to serve at dinner or before. It’s a great friend to big platters of cured meats and cheeses. It unfortunately gets a little more expensive each year, now averaging about $15 a bottle.

Parallele 45 Rosé

This wine from the Cotes du Rhone is a companion to the reliable red wine under the same label from Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aine. It’s a little sharper and a little pinker than the Nizas. It’s really good with goat cheese. The $10 price makes it better for everyday drinking.

Domaine Houchart Rosé

Can I admit that I like this rosé mostly for its pretty label and screw top? It’s a nice wine to bring out before dinner, or when someone drops by and you want to sit on the patio with a bottle and a bowl of popcorn. It’s a little more astringent, but has a nice flavor that reminds me of the dried strawberries you get in Special K cereal and a long finish. It’s a fun wine, and it’s only about $12.

Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel

This wine is the picture of rosé elegance. Its pale pink color belies its full flavor, creamy body, sharp acidity and well-structured flavor. It’s expensive (about $18) and serves as an entry-level wine to some of the terrific, pricey rosés from this producer. I like to serve it with, well, anything. It brings out the best in all the summer food I like.

- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog

13 comments Add your comment

Rodney

June 25th, 2012
8:47 am

” … circus peanuts — those big, orange chews that we ate as kids when the good candy was gone.”

EW. :) I always hated those things.

I’m a rose’ fan – many of my friends make fun of me for it, so much so that I feel like I have to announce “It’s a rose’, not a white zin!” just so they don’t think me gauche.

It’s nice to see someone with a little uumph touting the rose’ – it’s a perfect summer bottle IMO.

Geno

June 25th, 2012
9:29 am

I hear you, Rodney.

I always try to find a nice Tavel rose to enjoy with turkey and ham on Thanksgiving. Give it a try this year.

Gil Kulers

June 25th, 2012
10:44 am

Thanks for the shout out, John. You really can’t beat a crisp rosé on a muggy summer day….or night.

RK

June 25th, 2012
12:53 pm

I had a rose’ aha moment, too, on my honeymoon in Provence 6 years ago — Domaine Ott, which you can find in the US now (very distinctive bottle).

just me

June 25th, 2012
1:11 pm

Its always nice when someone allows themselves to do something new instead of just going along with what the wine snobs think. I personally, only enjoy red wines, more specifically Merlot. So I drink it with anything: seafood, poultry, red meats, veggies, cheese, etc……EVERYTHING. Why torture myself drinking white wines just because it ‘GOES’ with something? I drink what I like.

[...] Read More… [...]

Steven

June 25th, 2012
1:44 pm

enjoyed the article JK. Just me- I am sure that alcoholic mess merlot goes well in the cool breeze summer of ATL.

N-GA

June 25th, 2012
3:23 pm

I enjoy wine almost daily and have almost 800 bottles in my wine cellar. For more years than I care to disclose I have been telling people about dry rosé. (Geno – Tavel is my go-to rosé).

John, many rosés are made by blending red wine with white although I prefer those that are made from the gentle press of red grapes. Rose is not a “sipping” wine. It is made for quaffing! However readers must be forewarned. It seems that bottle of chilled rosé seems to disappear much more quickly than a bottle of red wine.

John Kessler

June 25th, 2012
11:11 pm

Thanks, Steven. I think it’s great if someone likes merlot with all kinds of food. I’m not convinced that those of us who think some wines go better with certain foods than others are necessarily snobs….but to each his own.

th

June 27th, 2012
11:53 am

Yonah Mountain Vineyards makes a nice Rosé.

Michael

June 27th, 2012
9:13 pm

As a relatively adventurous eater/drinker, though one with a mild aversion to white wine and a general reluctance to dabble into rosés, I recently had an “aha!” moment for the ages, so it is good to know that I am not alone. A quick recap of the scenario:

In May, my wife and I spent a week in Ocracoke – the rustic, Southern-most island of the Outer Banks in North Carolina – and I made it a point to stop by the local fish co-op that sells the daily catch from the island’s fishermen. As I was strolling into the shop midweek, one of the older grizzled mariners was carving up a 100 lb. tuna on a plank in the covered dock next to the shop where the ships pull in in the evenings. The tuna had been hooked a few hours prior and I ended up getting a few pounds of the tuna with the full intent of cutting it into thin slices and eating it sashimi style with only a drizzle of lemon and EVOO, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

On the way home, I stopped at the wine shop looking for a good pairing. The proprietor recommended Crios rosé, made from Malbec in Argentina. Somewhat skeptical of the idea due to my lack of familiarity with rosé, I had a hunch that the two would go together and decided to grab a bottle.

After cooling it down and preparing the tuna as I had planned, I laid out a plate, poured two glasses, and set up on the dock behind the house overlooking the sound. The tuna was immaculate and upon the first sip of the rosé, my eyes literally rolled in the back of my head. The words “fresh”, “sublime”, “synergy”, “nirvana”, and the like do not come close to describing this particular pairing. It was easily one of the top food/wine moments of my life and now I am singing the praises of rosé from the highest mount….

John Kessler

June 28th, 2012
9:36 am

Loved reading your story, Michael! Thanks so much for sharing.

art

June 28th, 2012
6:39 pm

Michael, great story dude! I’m originally from NC and have many fond memories of the Outer Banks and Okracoke…. You hit it out of the park… And JK, kudos for a great read on Rosés… We are truly blessed to have you at the AJC… I hope “they” know that!