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Alcohol & Spirits

Shades of Rosé

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Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 2:55 PM

click to enlarge a glass of rosé - FLICKR/JEZ.ATKINSON
For years, wine writers have been haranguing their readership to drink more rosé, a category that plainly couldn't catch a break either among macho types who opined that pink wine was too, well, pink, or the rest of the wine-drinking public, who assumed that, since the wine was the color of white zinfandel, it was as sweet.

Thankfully, American wine drinkers have grown more sophisticated. I think it's safe to say that rosé has survived its derogatory typecasting and enjoys a reputation as one of the wine world's most refreshing options. Rosé can be as diverse, as invigorating, even as complex as many red or white wines. It can comfortably embody the best that each has to offer: the nerve of a high-acid white, with a modest tannic payload that gets at the grip of a red. Moreover, as American demand for the stuff skyrockets, the number of rosés imported seems only to grow, making it one of the most explosive categories of wine in the market.

Not all of it, however, is worth grabbing.

I don't want to sound too exclusionary, but if there were a rosé rule of thumb, it would be to choose from a country that's Mediterranean-adjacent. For the most part, that means Spain and France. (Italy, for whatever reason, has never really developed an export market -- perhaps it all gets drunk there?) You could spend your whole summer drinking your way across these two countries and never reach the end of your options.

In France, look south first. Bandol is the epicenter of pink in that country, home to wines whose dominant variety is mourvedre and that, as such, bear a burly intensity of flavor that few pinks can match. The grands vins of the region are Domaines Tempier and Ott, though other wines from Cotes de Provence also will be very good, and more affordable, like the many offerings from Saint André de Figuière.

Many other French regions are known for rosé, including the southern Rhône (Tavel, most prominently), Bordeaux, the Languedoc and the Arbois. My favorite for subtlety and surprise, though, is the Loire Valley, where you can find affordable rosés made from cabernet franc, which seem to have been steeped in herbs and often carry an added complexity -- François Chidaine's ethereal Touraine Rosé is a model of quirky beauty.

Likewise Spain has had a long tradition with the pink, and there's no place more traditional, affordable and delicious than Rioja, which puts garnacha and tempranillo to good use in pink wines. It is hard to go wrong here, but I love the wines of Bodegas Muga and Ostatu; for something considerably more exotic, look to Vina Tondoñia, whose aged rosés (the current vintage is 2000) are remarkable for their complexity.

Elsewhere, Navarra has a broad selection of very affordable pink wines, though perhaps the edgiest pinks from Spain come from Basque country, in and around Bilbao. Txakolinas from Basque country are light and slightly bitter, edged with a modest, effervescent, thirst-quenching fizz, and so light in alcohol you'll be reaching for a second bottle before you know it. (Gurrutxaga and Ameztoi are the two most prevalent brands.)

Not surprisingly, U.S. brands have embraced the rosé trend with, frankly, mixed results. Many tend to be too fruity, too sweet and too low in acid to be sufficiently refreshing. There are exceptions, of course: the lovely pinks of grenache by Verdad and Bokisch, both inspired by Spanish Rosados, the rosés from Cep (from Peay Vineyards), Tous Ensemble (from Copain) and Unti.

Bonny Doon's Vin Gris de Cigare remains a playful blend that is among California's most reliable. It must have inspired two former employees of the Doon, John Locke and Alex Krause, to found Birichino. There, they are making a Provence-inspired rosé so gorgeous, lifted and graceful that I guarantee it will extend your endless California summer as long as there's wine in the glass. Birichino Vin Gris is available at Domaine L.A., Silver Lake Wine, Mission Wine, Everson Royce, Larchmont Village Wine and the Woodland Hills Wine Company.


Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Have a spirits question for a future column? Ask him. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

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