Think Pink

From black skinned grapes like tannat and cabernet sauvignon to the delicate pale green skin of most white wine grapes, all grape juice starts out clear.

Think about it. When you cut open any grape, what color is the juice? From black skinned grapes like tannat and cabernet sauvignon to the delicate pale green skin of most white wine grapes, all grape juice starts out clear.

How then do we get red and rosé wines from this clear juice? The answer is skin contact. Simply put, mash up all those dark skinned grapes and let the juice hang out in contact with the skins in order to extract rich color from the mix. Winemakers do all sorts of things to maximize this color — pumping and mixing and smooshing and plunging and stirring etc… But what if you just want a hint of color and limit the time that the mushy mix hangs out in contact with the percolating grape juice? This is how most rosé wine is made, by using traditional red wine grapes like pinot noir, syrah, grenache or carignan but by limiting the amount of time the dark skins stay in contact with the juice so that just a hint of color is imparted.

A second method is what I’ll call the Chinese restaurant carafe approach — order a carafe of pink wine at your local Szechuan joint and an industrious waiter in the back will likely fill it half full with red wine and then top it off with white wine in order to create a pink color. Blending finished wines is another way to achieve pink color and sometimes this is done with great skill and intent by winemakers; it isn’t always an indication of cheap quality. Winemakers in Champagne for example typically blend finished pinot noir and chardonnay wines in order to achieve pink bubblies with consistent style and color. These wines can be some of the most delicious and coveted Champagnes on the market.

What about food pairings and rosé wines? While I find them particularly refreshing when served icy cold with summertime foods, they can also be successfully served as “bridge” wines when lighter entreés like salmon or roast pork are ordered with heavier meat dishes. Because they’re not as fully extracted as their red cousins, rosé wines tend to echo the flavor of the heartier versions without full expression. Deep-toned grenache wines from the Priorato in Spain, for example, can be monstrously purple, rich and dark, whereas the same grape is often vinified via the saignée method of limited skin contact into delicious light-bodied rosé wines in Provence.

This Valentine’s Day, why not surprise your sweetheart with something pink? Here is a selection of some of my favorite rosé wines from around the world that are well worth seeking out.

Commanderie de Peyrassol Rosé, “Cuvée Marie Estelle”
(Côtes de Provence, France — 2007)
The first vines at Peyrassol were planted by the Knights Templar during the Crusades and the first recorded harvest was in 1256 — now that’s “old vine” for you! An utterly refreshing blend of syrah, grenache, cinsault and tibouren that is bone-dry with hints of pomegranate, strawsberry and flint. Wildly addictive. SRP $18.

Verdad Rosé of Grenache and Tempranillo
(Edna Valley, CA — 2008)
From winemaker Luisa Lindquist comes this California spin on Spanish varietals. The wine is a lovely coral color with mouthwatering watermelon and persimmon aromas with undertones of cut hay and green herbs. One of my very favorite wines from the Central Coast. SRP $14.

Scherrer, “Explorations”
(Sonoma County, CA — 2008)
Sourced from some of the finest pinot noir and zinfandel vineyards in Sonoma, this wine is rosé wine for red wine lovers. Blended from select vats prior to fermentation, this rosé is aged in very old barrels that impart minimum oak. It’s a beautiful ruby-pink color, with gorgeous scents of candied black cherries and cola nuts. SRP $16.

Patton Valley Vineyard, Rosé of Pinot Noir
(Willamette Valley, OR — 2008)
Yum. Yum. Yum. While this wine isn’t exactly affordable, growing great, sustainably farmed pinot noir is what they’re all about at this tiny Willamette Valley boutique producer. Made from their finest pinot noir fruit in the gentle “saignée” method, this salmon-colored rosé offers hints of fresh peaches, cotton candy, anise and vanilla. Each vintage sells out quickly so try to get on their mailing list if able. SRP $16.

Bruno Gobillard Brut Rosé, “Cuvée Sophie”
(Champagne, FR)
Naming our daughter Sophie gave me a great excuse for buying up a few cases of this boutique “grower” Champagne — rather than being made by one of the big houses that dominate the market for bubbly, Bruno Gobillard is very much a family affair with tiny production and old-fashioned techniques that emphasize minimal intervention in the winemaking process. Exquisite finesse and lingering acidity. SRP $78.

Laurent-Perrier, Cuvée Rosé Brut
(Champagne, FR)
Unlike the majority of rosé Champagnes, the L-P version is unique in that it is not a blend but is instead made from free-run pinot noir juice. This in turn adds not just to the intensity of the bouquet, which offers tantalizing tangerine-cranberry tones, but also to the price. One of the legendary Champagnes truly worth splurging on, save this bottle for that special someone or special occasion. Delicious. SRP $82.