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